This blog was cross-posted from Medium.
Everyone is talking about cash these days. Cash assistance is being significantly scaled up across the humanitarian system as the preferred modality of assistance, where markets allow. And rightly so. Cash is known to enable household choice and dignity; it is faster to deliver; cash transfers can be more efficiently delivered than in-kind assistance (like tarps, mattresses, bags of rice, or maize); and assists local economies in recovering from shocks. All the big operational players — UNHCR, International Rescue Committee, World Vision, are increasing the proportion of assistance they deliver via cash transfers. As these cash providers zip forward on this cash bus, they must get the foundation right.
Cash itself isn’t risky, but it is critical to ensure that any risks associated with transfers, including risks of gender-based violence, are identified, mitigated, and monitored. For three decades, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has been advocating for tailored humanitarian assistance that meets the specific needs, mitigates risks, and builds the capacities of women and other marginalized populations. This recommendation stands for cash assistance.
Cash providers are getting more sophisticated when it comes to the hardware of cash — the transfer mechanism (ATM-card, mobile transfers, etc.), the amount, the timing, the frequency, the duration, and so on. They also need to be more refined when it comes to the software of cash, including consulting communities about their safety, access, and inclusion. By identifying, mitigating, and monitoring risks associated with the introduction of transfers, cash providers can ensure that cash is safely scaled to best meet the needs and build the resilience of forcibly displaced people, in all their diversity.
Cash providers say they need user-friendly tools to do this. At WRC, we are collaborating with several partners, including the U.S. Department of State — Bureau of Population, Migration and Refugees, African Development Solutions, Mercy Corps, the International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children to deliver the tools. WRC has been testing assessment and monitoring tools in Somalia, Jordan, and Niger, and will be publishing a toolkit on mitigating risks of gender-based violence associated with the introduction of cash.
Amplifying voices of refugees helps cash providers understand the potential impact of interventions as well as possible unintended consequences. For example, Syrian refugee women told WRC during consultations that they feared conflict with their husbands on how to spend the cash. The lived experiences shared by refugees help cash providers understand how they can mitigate the risks of GBV that women face. Syrian women advised that cash providers mitigate GBV by clearly communicating the objective of the transfers: asking each household to identify who should be the recipient, and whether designating a woman would be safe; explaining to men why sharing decision-making power with women regarding expenditures benefits the household; delivering training on GBV to humanitarian staff and households; reducing the visibility of humanitarian staff walking through a community in order to protect the confidentiality of recipients; closely monitoring women’s safety throughout the program; and ensuring that women know where to get help. All sage advice that mirrors best-practice.
Cash providers need to operate differently. Hardware needs to be approached not as a one-time activity, but continually assessed, and perhaps adjusted as needed in order to reduce the likelihood or impact of risk. The software is equally important and may warrant additional program components, such as pairing transfers with psychosocial support and longer-term livelihoods interventions.
We can’t successfully scale cash unless we get it right from the start for refugee women.