Just giving money is no guarantee of women’s empowerment

Conditional cash transfer programs, often aimed at women, are a popular mechanism to address poverty. In this new article, my colleagues and I show how empowerment programs that take advantage of women’s low social status to secure their participation often end up reinforcing gender hierarchies. A shorter version of this article was published earlier in The Conversation (in English and Spanish).

What solutions are there to the gender problems posed by Mexico’s cash transfer program? We don’t cover these points in the article, but here are a few suggestions:

-           Eliminate the conditional quality of the subsidy. Poor men in Mexico do not partake in similarly restrictive programs, which leaves women uniquely placed as subject to the state’s involvement in their lives.

-          Make the program portable. The poverty relief aid we review is nominally portable. In practice, women are tied to their place of registry. This cuts them off from opportunities they might pursue elsewhere.

-          Consider dedicating resources to educational programs that encourage equity. Men and women in rural Mexico often conform to strong gender distinctions. But we note one area where youth interact with each other in non-gender based roles, namely the arts. Right now, arts programs tend to be limited to high schoolers. Arts programs in grade school and middle school could encourage new gender relations while improving students’ overall performance.


Nora Haenn