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Case Study

Impact Evaluation of Cash-Based Transfers on Food Security and Gender Equality in El Salvador

December 2023 — By World Food Programme

1. Gender inequality is pervasive, particularly in developing countries such as El Salvador, and its potential welfare implications are concerning. In El Salvador, only 45.4 percent of women participate in the labour market, in contrast to 74.4 percent of men.

2. Economic development, gender equality in labour market opportunities, and gender equality in autonomy are all strongly linked, but the directions of causality remain unclear and require further evaluation.

3. This impact evaluation is part of the Cash-Based Transfers and Gender (CBT&G) Impact Evaluation (IE) Window, which has been created by the WFP Office of Evaluation (OEV), the Cash-Based Transfers (CBT) Division, and the Gender Office (GEN) in partnership with the World Bank’s Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) department.

4. The CBT and Gender Window aims to establish portfolios of impact evaluations across a series of countries utilizing the same or very similar designs to increase generalizability of results. It aims to understand the impact of CBT interventions targeting women on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as food and nutrition outcomes. The first round of impact evaluations selected for this window, as laid out in the first pre-analysis plan, aims to estimate the impacts of increasing women’s participation in work outside the household (through Food Assistance for Assets, FFA, projects), as a condition of receiving cash-based transfers, and directly receiving a wage (the cash-based transfers), on their social and economic empowerment.

5. The main impact evaluation questions are as follows:

EQ1. What is the impact of women’s participation in FFA (working outside the household and receiving cash in return) on their social and economic empowerment?
EQ2. What is the impact of an unconditional cash transfer to the household on women’s social and economic empowerment, as well as on household income and welfare?

6. Additionally, WFP El Salvador added the following secondary questions (which are not part of the window pre-analysis plan):

EQ3. Does participating in FFA affect the probability of and/or reasons for respondents’ migration?
EQ4. Are there heterogenous impacts of the transfer based on respondents’ exposure to community violence?
EQ5. Does participation in FFA affect key food security outcomes of interest?

7. Overall, the results from this impact evaluation show WFP has the potential to contribute to Outcome 5, “Food-insecure women have greater economic power”, of the 2023 WFP Cash Policy by targeting and supporting women to engage in economic opportunities outside the home.

8. The impact evaluation was designed as a cluster randomized control trial (RCT) comparing 75 communities (encompassing 1,491 households) in three groups:

  • The FFA for women group (25 communities): women invited to participate in an FFA programme and receiving three monthly transfers of United States dollars (USD) 100 each.
  • The unconditional cash transfer (UCT) group (25 communities): provided with unconditional cash transfers to the household (USD 300 lump sum).
  • The comparison group (25 communities): households that are not participating in the project.

9. The impact measurement strategy includes a baseline survey before the intervention, a midline survey during the intervention, and an endline survey approximately one to two months after the project ends. It also benefits from qualitative data that are collected after completion of the project. The impact evaluation’s inception report and baseline report were published in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

10. Baseline findings show that households targeted by the WFP FFA for women programme in El Salvador are highly vulnerable, and 83 percent of households reported relying on emergency or crisis coping strategies. Additionally, around 20 percent of household heads reported that they have moved to another department or municipality within El Salvador, either to look for better economic or educational opportunities or for family reunification. Reliable sources of income and diversified livelihoods from asset creation can therefore meaningfully increase household resilience.

11. Intra-household gender inequality is substantial. Women household heads frequently reported intimate partner violence (IPV) and high rates of depression. In addition, women have less agency over their time use and earn 15 percent of what men household heads earn.

12. Implementation monitoring shows that, while 65 percent of assigned households were participating in the FFA programme at endline, more than 93 percent of these households reported receiving transfers. This means that a significant portion of households in the FFA for women group in reality also received an unconditional cash transfer. In addition, just 42 percent of households assigned to the FFA for women programme had only women participate in the project (which was the original programme objective). Some 23 percent of households sent either only men or a mix of men and women (for a combined 65 percent participation rate). Results must be interpreted in this light, recognizing that observable project impacts on women’s economic empowerment outcomes could potentially have been higher if more women participated in the FFA for women programme.

13. The midline results showed that both the FFA for women and unconditional cash transfer interventions improved household food security compared to the comparison group. Women’s work and income from WFP increased significantly for households participating in the FFA for women programme. However, despite these improvements, there was no significant difference between the FFA for women, the unconditional cash transfer, or the comparison groups in the number of hours spent by women outside the home or any agency, norms, or economic empowerment indicators.

14. At endline, several months after the project ended, the benefits of receiving cash transfers on food security were no longer visible. However, improvements in subjective well-being remained for households in both the FFA for women and the unconditional cash transfer groups. In addition, households that had participated in the FFA for women programme reported statistically significant changes in some dimensions of women’s agency, norms, and economic empowerment, though there were no lasting impacts on women’s time use or non-WFP income.

15. Overall, the impact evaluation found that WFP’s programme had a significant impact on households’ food security during the interventions, and that participating in FFA for Women had an impact on women’s economic empowerment that lasted several months after the programme ended. These results support the theory tested by the evaluation and suggest that offering women an opportunity to receive cash-transfers in exchange for participating in activities outside the house is a more effective way of support women’s economic empowerment than offering households unconditional cash transfers of the same value.

16. These results can feed into the design of upcoming cash transfer programming in El Salvador and inform the implementation of the current country strategic plan (CSP), which focuses on strengthening institutions and filling gaps in the coverage of government food security and nutrition programmes, including support to drought response.