The Rwanda Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) public works and women’s empowerment

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Pamela PozarnyPamela joined GSDRC at the University of Birmingham in 2016, on extended leave from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations where she has been working as Rural Sociologist since 2006. Previously, she worked with FAO’s Regional Office for Africa as Regional Officer for Land Tenure and Rural Institutions. She has worked and lived in Africa over 30 years, focusing on social equity and inclusion, poverty reduction, social protection, women’s economic empowerment, rural employment, food and nutrition security and resilience.

In early April I attended the fifth Transfer Project (TP) meeting in Addis Ababa. Launched in 2008, the Transfer Project Workshop is a research and learning initiative, supporting improved knowledge and practice on social transfers in Sub-Sahara Africa. The broad objective of the TP is sharing latest research findings, methodologies, experiences and lessons learned among partners. TP is led by UNICEF, partnering with FAO, Save the Children and University of North Carolina, and includes partners from national governments and research institutes in different countries, as well as a number of agencies (e.g. NGOs) and donors. The main aim of TP is to assess impacts of social transfer programmes on a broad range of sectors (food security, nutrition and health, agricultural production, gender, wellbeing, social inclusion etc.) to provide evidence of how programmes are impacting target beneficiaries and wider communities. The TP works closely with and through governments, at national and decentralised levels, sharing evidence of the diverse impacts of these programmes, and including stakeholder priorities and views. An important aspect of TP is working closely with governments, and policymakers more specifically, in order to channel findings and lessons into future programme design and implementation – so policymakers are key. The Addis meeting incorporated two innovations compared to previous meetings: one was participation from partners from developing countries in other parts of the world (e.g. Philippines, Thailand); and the second was emphasis given to “cash plus” programmes (i.e., social protection programmes linked to other services and interventions).

I have been attending TP meetings regularly as part of the FAO team – as I have been leading FAO’s qualitative research on cash transfer impact evaluations for several years. On the FAO Social Protection/ Protection to Production (PtoP), you can find most of our publications, reports, field guides and briefs for the qualitative studies, for the mixed method impact evaluations and all social protection publications. Our initial 6-country mixed methods qualitative research activity (implemented with OPM and supported mainly by DFID), examined impact areas covering household economy, local economy, social networks and resilience, and operations (synthesis paper). More recently, we have broadened our focus to new areas including cash transfer impacts on decent work and rural employment, and rural women’s economic empowerment (RWEE).

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In Addis, I presented findings from our RWEE qualitative research in Rwanda, joining the qualitative research panel comprised of two other research activities. My presentation centred on Rwanda’s national Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), focussing on one of the three VUP components, public works. The research was premised on three main hypotheses, examining VUP impacts on: women’s economic advancement; power and agency; and operations – if and how programme design and implementation promote gender equality and RWEE. The presentation covered: (i) background to VUP; (ii) our main theory of change and hypotheses; (iii) sampling and methodology – a systematic in-depth qualitative approach based on a “roadmap” which enables replication and comparability across countries; (iv) findings; and (v) overall conclusions and recommendations for government.

In brief, our research found only marginal confirmation that VUP promotes the economic advancement of women. Although women are the majority of workers at public works sites, male heads of household are registered beneficiaries and payments go into their accounts (rural finance institutions). Women are however making some earnings and mostly able to control these funds, but they are small amounts. A number of women are beginning to open their own separate accounts for the first time, but low financial literacy, information access and weak bargaining power within the household limits women’s greater access to loans. Further, VUP has increased women’s workloads, resulting in increased time allocated to work consequently offloading some of this burden to children. VUP has likewise, only marginally promoted women’s empowerment and agency, evidenced for example through increased self-confidence and self-esteem which has catalysed social capital and inclusion in social and economic networks, including at worksites. Greater engagement in networks however has not translated into increased leadership or decision-making in the public arena. Finally, our findings suggest that VUP design and operations is not promoting women’s economic empowerment or gender equality, largely due to weaknesses in implementation processes but also programme design. These features include for example: insufficient days worked compared to targets; significant payment delays; unattractive pay rates; long distances to worksites; limited skills development, and minimal sensitization and messaging.

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Our recommendations focus on strengthening and streamlining implementation processes including: improving the M&E systems for better tracking; supporting women’s financial capacities and access to financial institutions; exploring synergies to link VUP with other livelihood programmes; reinforcing sensitization; promoting women’s groups and space for their social and economic networking; and including work projects that are closer to communities and that address women’s priorities (e.g. wells, fieldwork for labour-constrained households). Our research findings and recommendations have been presented to stakeholders in Rwanda and were well received. With support from partners, government is already adopting a number of changes to VUP aligned with our recommendations, and there is ongoing discussion of further FAO support to enhance operations.

To conclude, at the TP meeting, the qualitative research panel discussant opened his remarks commending how refreshing the qualitative presentations were – as we finally put faces and people at the centre of our discussions. We finally hear the stories behind the data and the reasons for why these cash transfer findings occur, he said, qualitative findings bring the data to life and put reality on the ground. In fact, participants seemed to agree…during the lively closing session of the TP “Oscar awards”, the qualitative research panel won for the “best/most interesting panel” of the meeting!

PowerPoint presentation slides are available for download.


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