The impact of PROGRESA on women's status and intrahousehold relations


The objective of this report to examine the impact of PROGRESA on women’s status and intrahousehold relations. The program provides cash benefits linked to children’s school attendance and to regular clinic attendance, as well as in-kind health benefits and nutritional supplements. Unlike previous social programs in Mexico, a unique feature of this nationwide anti-poverty program is its targeting of transfers to the mother of the family. The deliberate decision to give transfers directly to the mother was motivated by the growing literature which finds that resources controlled by women are more likely to be manifested in greater improvements in child health and nutrition than resources controlled by men. Program staff also argue that the design of the program may increase women’s “empowerment” by increasing their control over resources and thus their bargaining power.

The program is composed of several components—cash benefits linked to children’s school attendance, regular clinic attendance, in-kind health benefits and nutritional supplements—but the transfer of significant amounts of income directly to mothers is an innovation in terms of the
design of social programs in Mexico. The size of the amount transferred by the program, corresponding to a 22% increase in the income levels of the beneficiary family, the concentration of this transfer in the hands of the mother, and the enormous scale of the program—2.3 million families in extreme poverty, or almost a third of all rural families in Mexico—suggests that the potential impact of the program in altering the balance of power within Mexican families is large.

Studies which analyze intrahousehold behavior posit that the bargaining power of spouses is key in determining who gets a larger share of household resources. While it may be difficult to measure power within the household, bargaining power may be affected by: control over resources, such as assets; influences that can be used to influence the bargaining process, such as legal rights, skills and knowledge, the capacity to acquire information, education, and bargaining skills; mobilization of interpersonal networks; and basic attitudinal attributes such as self-esteem, self-confidence, and emotional satisfaction.

Studies of women’s “empowerment” address similar issues through a different lens, focusing on gendered power relationships embedded in institutions including households, the state, markets and other domains, and the diverse processes through which women loosen constraints on their ability to make choices within these domains.

PROGRESA has the potential to address all four factors affecting bargaining power, and to influence processes of women’s mpowerment, in the following ways: increasing resources in the hands of women; helping women learn through health education; creating a network of cobeneficiaries with whom women meet on a regular basis; through participation in the meetings and having control of additional resources, increasing confidence and self-esteem; and through promoting the education of girls, improving the position of future women.

Measuring the impact of PROGRESA on women’s status and intrahousehold relations, and the pathways through which this impact occurs, is more challenging. Women’s status is difficult to quantify in the context of large household surveys like the ENCASEH and ENCELs. These surveys have several questions which attempt to tease out various aspects of women’s status and bargaining power, such as attitudes towards women’s roles, questions on who within the household takes major responsibility for certain household decisions, questions on the disposition of women’s income, and questions on women’s mobility and freedom of movement.

Nevertheless, household surveys are blunt instruments with which to examine intrahousehold relations, because the context of such decisions is often unstated, and without adequate understanding of the socio-cultural context, survey results can easily be misinterpreted. Although quantitative data from household surveys will enable the analyst to control for individual, household, and community-level factors which affect decisionmaking, there is the danger that, without grounding in the actual realities of people’s lives, the results could be gross misinterpretations of the truth.

This report takes a two-prong approach to analyzing the impact of PROGRESA on women’ status and intrahousehold relations, using both quantitative survey data and qualitative focus group studies. It is composed of two separate and complementary papers. The first paper, by Bénédicte de la Brière and Agnes Quisumbing, uses the data from the quantitative surveys—the Survey of Socio-Economic Characteristics of Households (ENCASEH) and three successive Evaluation Surveys (ENCEL)—to examine three aspects of intrahousehold relations: how family background of husband and wife influences the human and physical capital they bring to marriage; how husband’s and wife’s resources at the time of marriage affect household decisionmaking patterns; and how parental characteristics affect the relative schooling achievements of boys and girls. While the randomized design of PROGRESA would allow impact to be assessed by comparing the means of control and beneficiary households before and after program implementation, the paper takes a different approach by including individual and household controls in addition to variables capturing eligibility for the program, residence in control or program communities, duration of exposure to the program and amounts disbursed between July 1998 and October 1999. By including these other control variables, the authors hope to refine the estimate of the program’s effects.

The second paper, by Michelle Adato and Dubravka Mindek, is based on qualitative research methods that allowed beneficiaries, non-beneficiaries and promotoras to explain their experience of PROGRESA in their own words. Using the lens of women’s empowerment,” this paper focuses primarily on the perspectives of beneficiaries and promotoras with regard to changes they perceive in their lives, related directly and indirectly to features of the program.

Exploring the assumptions that the central role played by women in PROGRESA has both benefits and unintended consequences; and that women’s and men’s attitudes and beliefs have implications for the success of the program, this study examines: women’s and men’s attitudes toward the role of women as PROGRESA beneficiaries; the perceived benefits to the household as well as increased tensions and time burdens; decisionmaking patterns; changes women describe with
regard to freedom of movement, self-confidence, and ‘opening their minds;’ women’s and men’s attitudes toward the education of girls, adult education that women want for themselves in order to improve their lives, and education they want for men to help women put into practice what they learn through participation in the program.

Adato, Michelle
de la Briere, Benedicte
Mindek, Dubravka
Quisumbing, Agnes R.
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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