Conditional Cash Transfer Programs and Women’s Empowerment in Colombia

The conditional cash transfer program Familias en Acción is the cornerstone poverty alleviation strategy of Colombia. Conceived as a cash grant to lift low income families out of poverty, it is a demand-side program aimed at increasing parents’ investment in their children’s well-being. One of its core components is targeting mothers as the beneficiaries. Two gender assumptions are thus embedded in the program: that giving benefits to mothers would translate to better health, nutrition, and education outcomes of their children, and that the program would increase mothers’ empowerment by means of increasing their bargaining power. Using Naila Kabeer’s multidimensional definition of empowerment as the process by which those who have been deprived of meaningful choice are able to exercise it, this research assesses whether and to what extent Familias en Acción has impacted women’s agency and empowerment outcomes. To start with, it builds on gender and development literature to understand the origins and embedded gender dimensions of CTPs in general and FeA in particular. It then employs a doubly robust evaluation strategy, first by preprocessing longitudinal data from the program’s impact evaluation with a propensity score matching technique and second, by estimating impacts with a difference in difference strategy. Estimations suggest there is no evidence supporting the gender assumption that the program increases mothers’ intrahousehold decision-making in realms related to children’s school attendance and visits to the doctor. Similar is the case for mothers’ use of contraception and share of domestic work. Findings suggest that, if anything, there is a decrease in the probability of women participating in community-based social and political organizations. Societal norms about the role of women within the household and a sexual division of labor, which are not amenable to the program’s implementation, may explain these findings. Policy recommendations thus focus on adjustments to the program’s design and on complementary programs to consolidate it as an evidence-based, gender-sensitive poverty
alleviation intervention.

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