Addressing gender-based violence through economic security: Is there a role for cash transfers?

About the project

In Canada, diverse women face high rates of violence as a result of their gender, perceived gender or gender expression – a reality known as gender-based violence (GBV). The isolation, uncertainty, financial stress and service adaptations brought on by COVID-19 only escalated the GBV crisis. In 2022, the federal government released a much-anticipated National Action Plan to End GBV. This plan consists of five pillars, one of which is to strengthen the social infrastructure as a way of tackling the socioeconomic inequalities undergirding GBV. This pillar recognizes that creating opportunities for full participation, enhancing services and supports and promoting economic security are vital to ensuring better outcomes for victims and survivors, and can also help to address root causes of GBV.

Cash transfers — whereby an individual or household receives a direct payment that can be spent where, how and when they choose — are a key tool for promoting economic security and are often discussed among potential GBV-focused policy reforms. The Canada Child Benefit, Guaranteed Income Supplement and basic income proposals are examples of cash transfers. To better understand whether and how cash transfers can form part of the policy response to GBV, we examined the evidence related to four questions:

  1. What is the relationship between economic security and GBV?
  2. What is the mechanism through which cash transfers can disrupt the conditions driving GBV?
  3. What cash transfer design features are optimal for reducing GBV?
  4. What is the best option for economic security policy reform that can address GBV?

Key findings

  • There is a need for strengthened research to understand the integrated impacts of economic policies – including cash transfer type programs – on intimate partner violence (IPV) risk, prevention, exit and recovery in high-income contexts. Given the array of economic security policies in operation in Canada, there is considerable opportunity to assess how these programs influence IPV outcomes within households, prevent (or render women vulnerable to) IPV, and support exit for women fleeing abuse.
  • Despite considerable evidence regarding the particular risk of IPV faced by women and gender-diverse individuals who belong to multiple marginalized communities – including Indigenous women, women with disabilities, young women; and 2SLGBTQQIA+ women, men, and gender-diverse individuals – intersectional considerations are rarely integrated in assessments of cash transfers in the context of IPV. This means that the theories of violence which underpin models and pathways connecting cash transfers and IPV prevention are shaped by heteronormative understandings of gender roles and relationship dynamics, which may not apply in specific contexts.
  • The greatest barrier to ending IPV is a failure to reduce poverty and economic insecurity. As a result, poverty reduction and economic security strategies must be reassessed in light of NAP goals. Through this process, existing cash transfer programs must be evaluated and modified to better support IPV prevention through financial security and female empowerment channels. This will likely include higher benefit amounts, greater asset building opportunities, fewer work disincentives, the institution of individual-based benefits and calculations where appropriate, and the removal of access barriers.
  • People in Canada seeking to exit violent contexts, recover and rebuild need better access to sufficient supports, including financial assistance. At present, dedicated exit supports exist in very few provinces, and the additional resources offered through non-profit organizations cannot fill the gaps left by government inaction. The supports that do exist are, on average, insufficient to support safe exit and recovery – particularly when considering common experiences of the financial and economic consequences of abuse.
  • Cash transfers are vital, but they are not enough. Access to safe and affordable housing in particular is a major priority for people exiting abuse, and the current housing affordability crisis means that a lack of affordable housing options poses one of the greatest barriers to exiting and recovering from violence. Even if a woman is able to access immediate supports, including second-stage shelters, lack of housing in the medium- and long-term poses a considerable risk in terms of revictimization.

Policy implications

  1. Interventions to address GBV must be multi-pronged, account for heterogeneity of need and attend to both the systemic and multifaceted nature of GBV.
  2. The evidence indicates that cash transfers have a role to play in boosting economic security, which can lead to a reduction in some forms of GBV. However, the design and implementation of such payments must be carefully considered so as not to have unintended consequences. In particular, design and implementation must account for both the power imbalances and the dynamics of economic control that exist within many abusive relationships, as well as how cash transfers can moderate or exacerbate these factors.
  3. In addition, because economic abuse is closely tied to IPV, there are limits to which cash transfers can eradicate these forms of GBV. In many ways, basic services — including affordable housing, subsidized childcare and access to legal services — are better suited to reducing GBV. As a result, cash transfers should not be the only form of intervention and should not come at the cost of other supports.
  4. Addressing GBV will also require strategies that attend to economic insecurity on a broader scale, including among men.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Lindsay M. Tedds, Principal Investigator, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Calgary:

Anna Cameron, Research Associate, Department of Economics, University of Calgary:

Wenshuang Yu, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, University of Calgary:

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