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Conditional Cash Transfers: A Source of Women’s Time Poverty

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Conditional Cash Transfer programmes have been lauded as one of the most successful social protection schemes of recent times. However, the lack of a gender perspective has resulted in its proposed conditionalities to cause time-poverty amongst its participating women. Time poverty is understood as the lack of discretionary time available and is often observed to disproportionately affect women due to the prevalent gender norms and unaccounted nature of care work. The conditionalities of the CCTs have been furthering the prevalence of this poverty by increasing the burden of responsibilities on women. The study explores the notion of time as a necessary resource and as a means of wellbeing. Following this, it scrutinises the CCT policies of Juntos in Peru and Kyrgyz- Swiss- Swedish Health Project in the Kyrgyz Republic. It uncovers the causal relation between CCT conditionalities and gendered time poverty and further delves into the properties of ‘control’ and ‘quality’ of time. Conclusively, it proposes the need to include an analysis of time poverty and the properties important to the same for gender-inclusive CCT programmes.


Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) are programmes that work on the condition that participating households make pre-specified investments in certain areas of human capital. Conditions range from vaccinations, periodic checkups, prenatal care for mothers and attendance in other health initiatives.1,2 They often have educational conditions as well that encompass school enrollment and attendance.3

These programmes have been lauded as one of the most significant and successful policies of recent times, especially in the context of Latin America that has around 18 Conditional Cash transfers policies currently operating in the region.4 The continuous aid towards these programmes is a result of its accounted success in reducing consumption poverty, increasing nutritional benefits and improving healthcare indicators.5

Most CCT programmes transfer the money to the mother of the household or the children in some cases and hence, portray women as the beneficiaries of the programme.6 This has led to narratives and conclusions that view gender empowerment as a consequence of CCTs. Moreover, the literature also claims that 80% of the programme benefits are claimed by the poorest families thereby pulling these families out of income poverty. Hence, seeming pro-poor and valuable to the vulnerable sections of society.

However, it is vital to identify that the conditionalities of these programmes build on the caretaking responsibilities that women often assume as part of their roles as mothers, wives and daughters. As a result, these programmes reinforce the existing gender division of labour within the household.7 Most evaluations of CCTs that deem it a success fail to evaluate the burden of responsibilities imposed on the participating women through the presented conditions. Hence, the lack of a gendered perspective in CCT policies has often led to what is recognised as time poverty in the case of the women engaged in these programmes.

Research Aim

This study aims to understand the causation of time poverty through operating CCT policies. It further ventures into the nature of this poverty through an analysis of its operation in Peru and Kyrgyzstan. Through this, the study presents the important variables which must be considered to make CCTs more gender-sensitive and inclusive.


The study will primarily use the principles of exploratory research to investigate the established research aim. Here, the primary purpose of the research is not to prove a particular hypothesis, but to add to the current literature on CCTs and the nature of gendered time poverty it causes.

To undertake this task, the researcher utilises the case study method and attempts to uncover the operationalisation of CCT programmes- Juntos in Peru and the Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project in the Kyrgyz Republic. This allows the researcher to account for policy behaviour and implication patterns.

Conclusively, the study and comparison of CCT policy assumptions, implementation and impact on participating women present a set of conclusive variables that prove to be of paramount importance for the implementation of gender-sensitive CCT programmes.

Literature Review

Time Poverty: Understanding Time As a Resource and as Wellbeing

References of time poverty in literature are categorised as time as a resource and as leisure and human wellbeing. Both of these conceptions are interlinked and build on time as an important aspect of an individual’s life. It allows us to look at deprivation from outside of the present ideas that focus only on evaluating the market and remunerated activities.8

Time as Resource – This relates to the understanding of time as an important resource of consumption itself as this resource could be converted into remuneration and services by work.9 Sen’s capabilities approach also builds on this perspective of time as a resource, deprivation from which can impact the individual’s health, lead to loss of human capital and consequently lead to poverty.10

Time as Wellbeing – Since being engaged in any one activity directly correlates to the loss of engagement in other activities (which could include the tasks for basic functionality and health); how we choose to allocate time is then directly understood to impact wellbeing.11

Bardasi and Wodon as well as the Gender Equality Observatory have proposed that the time invested in remunerated or non-remunerated work reduces the time for leisure or rest.12,13

It is important to understand what is meant by the idea of wellbeing. According to McGregor wellbeing is “an interplay between the resources that a person is able to command; what they are able to achieve with those resources; and the meanings that frame these and that drive their aspirations and strategies”.14 This suggests that when an individual is viewed as poor in regards to time, they are unable to command their resource of ‘time’ for their benefits and/or for their aspirations and strategies to benefit their quality of time.

Time Poverty and Gender

The focus on time as an aspect of poverty and its unequal allocation comes from the need to account for the invisible work undertaken by women which is often undervalued.15 There exists a dearth of time-based evaluations, however, the limited studies conducted show that in a general overview of about 45 developing nations, women predominantly (75% of the households) bear the responsibility of collecting water and other domestic tasks.16 Upon analysing who does what and when it was observed that in African households women and girls were considered responsible for the domestic chores which included looking after children as well as the general health of the household.

The issue however is not limited to developing or rural regions and extends itself in all contexts that are governed by the traditional gender roles. Conceptualisations of time poverty can be traced back to a study by Clair Vickery, who conducted household time surveys in the US to show that it was not just the variable of income but also the variable of time that plays an important role for a certain level of consumption to occur.17 Time-use surveys conducted within the UK have also shown similar trends in accounting for consistent time poverty amongst women.18 Hence, the issue of time poverty is embedded in the gender roles that assign time-consuming but non-market tasks of food management, domestic cleaning and health as the domain of the women. These widespread inequalities within the units of household have led to concepts of ‘Reproductive Tax’ and ‘Household Overhead’ which are terms used to recognise the additional labour that women engaging in paid work have to perform by also engaging in the domestic unpaid work as part of performing their gender roles.19,20

Time Poverty and Conditional Cash Transfers 

Time is understood as an ultimate resource permeating every individual life and experience. Hence, its unequal allocation on the basis of gender is an important gap that needs to be addressed by functioning social policies in different regions. However, gender inequalities in regards to time are often reinforced by CCT interventions as they operate on increasing demands on women’s unpaid labour inputs.21,22,23

However, it is important to understand not only the gendered nature of time poverty but also the related conditions of ‘who controls the time of women?’ and the ‘quality of time’ they spend on the activities of these CCTs. Through the analysis of the programmes and its impact in the cases of Peru as well as the Kyrgyz Republic, these conditions and the issue of time poverty will be explored through the lens of gender in the following parts of the essay.


Gendered Conditionalities and Time-Poverty: Juntos in Peru

The ‘Junto’ Programme of Peru draws its inspiration from cash transfer programmes of Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Honduras and was launched in the region in 2005. It targeted children under the age of 14 and aimed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by setting conditions of accessing public education and health services for the children, much like other conditional programmes.24,25 The transfer was to be given to the mothers of the household on the assumption that they are more likely to be accountable for their children’s well-being. Drawing from Mexico’s cash transfer programmes, it was also viewed as providing women with more decision making power.26 In return, women had signed an agreement with the State for four years, agreeing to the suspension of three-months payment as a penalty for the non-compliance of the conditions.

Right-away, assumptions in the policy implementations are made not only in regards to the gender roles of women but also in regards to what constitutes their empowerment. As discussed, CCTs are often given an empowerment view due to their action of transferring money to the woman member of the household. This action does show a change in expenditure behaviour of the household, as evaluations show that women often spend more on consumptions that benefit the household collectively.27 However, this does not translate into ‘empowering’ the woman herself. Due to the lack of a gender lens and hyper-focus on economic transfers, the policy assumes the fulfilment of the socially-dictated gender roles (of providing better healthcare and education for her children) as empowering; giving women empowerment a utilitarian lens.

Tara Cookson conducted an ethnographic study in the Andean mountains of rural Peru to record the impact of Juntos on the women of the community. During the course of the 11-month study, she accompanied the women for the Juntos activities along with their daily responsibilities of care work and ploughing of land. The qualitative data collected allowed her to criticise the programme for its inabilities to record the gendered implications of programmes. She found that cash was helpful and there were more children now going to school, however accounting for women’s care work for the same allowed her to confront the realities of the programme. She reported that they often had to travel long distances for meetings, health clinics were often closed and schools were massively understaffed. It sheds light on the rushed operationalisation of these programmes even in the midst of inadequate administration and infrastructure. The implications of all these shortcomings were borne by the women who had to spend extra time travelling or waiting. These struggles remained unaccounted for as time poverty is not an assessed variable in these programmes.

This has also bought into question other research that suggests that pulling parents from income poverty at the cost of deepening women’s existing time poverty is unlikely to improve children’s well-being in the long term.18 Moreover the progress that is assessed only on the basis of schools enrolments and quantitative data failed to note how women were forced to perform the conditionalities, making the project unsustainable in the long term.

It is also important to recall the link between time and wellbeing, which is affected by this gendered policy. For example, even though the Juntos programmes aim at adolescents below the age of 14 to access education, only 39% of girls in rural areas complete secondary school in comparison to 51.3% of boys due to factors such as domestic responsibilities, the insecurity of travel, teenage pregnancy and early marriage.28 None of these factors are addressed through the interventions of CCTs. Moreover, it increases the work in the domestic sphere and with the growing pressure of household chores, young girls are more susceptible to engaging in these roles. Hence, ultimately becoming counterintuitive to its own goals.

Considering gender implications within this development policy would bring in time analysis and accounting of care work which then would urge policymakers to ask questions like- How can the policy promote sharing of domestic responsibilities amongst men and women? How much time does travel take? How can it be minimised? What can be done to make the conditionality more accessible for both genders? All of which are important questions to make CCTs more sustainable and equitable.3

‘Control Over Time’ and ‘Quality of Time’: The Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project

The correlation between time poverty, gender and wellbeing when looking at CCTs is more intricate than the reinforcement of gender roles causing time poverty. Research conducted in this field has also suggested that in some cases women enjoyed increased self-esteem and status as a result of CCTs which can also be viewed as wellbeing. Evaluations of certain ‘Bolsa Familia’, ‘Familias en Accion’ and ‘Chile Solidario’ programmes expressed that women felt empowered due to an increase in their bargaining power in household decisions and did not mind the consequent time poverty.

This can be analysed in the case of The Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project (KSSHP) which has been operating since the 2000s and is a CCT programme prioritising the promotion of health systems in rural regions of the Kyrgyz Republic. The case of KSSHP is interesting, as even though the CCTs cause gendered time poverty (just like in the case of Peru, Bolivia and other Latin American countries); the data collected shows that this time poverty was not considered as a disadvantage.

Women traditionally (much like all other regions observed) have a less public role and are primarily dominant in the domestic domain.29,30 In fact many men during surveys justified their non-participation in KSSHP activities by suggesting that they do not have as much time as the women in the community.

However, due to the operating Village Health Committees (VHC) established through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises, the CCT policy saw grassroots mobilisation where women were given the opportunity to be part of the health committees (85% of VHC members are women) and determine the central health objectives of the community.31 Hence, though there were complaints of having lesser time for other activities, the programme helped in contributing to their wellbeing by promoting women to publicly participate. This encouraged women to determine their own goals.

The concepts of ‘control over time’ and ‘quality of time’ become important here. Control over time can be understood as providing women with the power over the utilisation of their own time, the use of which is otherwise dictated by the demands of their families and male counterparts. The Kyrgyz model, by providing women with the power to control the conditionalities of the programme, gave them the power over what they will be devoting their time to. This was lacking in the Peruvian model which had an imposed systems of conditions and penalisation that often forced the women participants to use the services (such as that of the daycare) that they either did not require or have trust in. Quality of time is an aspect of time evaluation that is often considered more important than analysing the quantity of time. It is determined by having autonomy over time allocation that aligns with certain aspired goals of the individual.32 Autonomy and aligning of desired goals with the time spent increases the utility of the time spent on the activity, hence increasing what is considered the perceived quality of time. In the case of KSSHP activities, the women not only had autonomy over time allocation but also received desired outcomes of public participation. The motivation for these activities despite the quantitative time poverty was the derived increase in societal decision making.

Evaluations have not attempted to disentangle which components are more important for the women that are part of the programme. This has created a huge hole in the effectiveness of CCTs that otherwise as shown through analysis of its implementation in different regions, have much room to improve and grow. 

The Trade-offs: The Cost of Empowerment Within Social Policies

The concept of trade-offs has been consistent throughout the presented literature of time poverty and its gendered impact on women. In the initial Peruvian case, there was a trade-off between time and women’s wellbeing for tackling income poverty. Whereas in the KSSHP case, foregoing women’s leisure time for increased agency and participation was seen as an acceptable trade-off.

Bardasi and Wodon question whether the wilful and consensual action of exchanging time for empowerment or remuneration can still be considered as poverty? They argue that it is. They justify this by arguing that the existence of time poverty does not necessarily conclude worse conditions in other aspects of wellbeing. However, it is still the lack and loss of a resource that is an important dimension.

The trade-off between time as a resource is viewed as sacrificing some needs so as to be able to achieve other needs. The benefits of empowerment are never achieved by women in the case of CCT’s without the presence of a ‘sacrifice’ or ‘trade-off’. The trade-off may be time for receiving income (in the case of Juntos in Peru) or time for receiving empowerment (in the case of KHSSP). However, for policies to truly and efficiently encompass gender in development, efforts should be made to minimise these trade-offs. Wherein the CCT’s should empower them not as a consequence of sacrificing a resource but as a streamlined aim of the policy itself.

This can be achieved through addressing the gender dynamics questioning the existing gender norms through the work of interventions. The CCT’s should revise their language and induce discussions within households over the responsibilities of children’s health and education and designs should encourage the inclusion of men in programme activities. Apart from this, the methods of evaluations need to be more gender-sensitive to include time poverty and must include room to record the programme’s impact on autonomy and empowerment of women.


The analysis is based on the researchers’ inferences of acquired secondary data. The lack of a primary study may lead to some unaddressed gaps and misperceptions of the same. Moreover, there exists a massive dearth of time surveys and evaluations which would have allowed for more precise quantitative arguments. However, the researcher has aimed to bridge this gap by using in-depth ethnographies of women’s experience of the programmes, bringing to fore the need for more time surveys and analysis for efficient evaluations of CCTs.


The policies of Conditional Cash Transfers are extensively used in several parts of the world to provide social protection to the vulnerable and poor sections of society. However, these CCTs fail to look at the impact of these conditionalities on the women and girl children participating in these programmes.

The conditionalities of the CCTs often deepen the dimension of time poverty amongst the participating women by enabling stereotypes that associate the role of caregiving, domestic chores and responsibilities of children’s health and education with women. By not acknowledging this inherent inequality and unaccounted care work, policymakers engage women in ‘voluntary work’ for their children in exchange for remuneration that goes towards the household. Women who participate in these programmes hence partake in unpaid care work, depriving them of scarce leisure time which has been linked to general human wellbeing.32

As witnessed in the Peruvian case, the evaluations of the Juntos programme, which aims to increase education access, do not take into account deprivation of time. Moreover, the increasing pressures of domestic chores have been observed as one of the reasons many girls choose to drop out of schools making the programme implementation counterintuitive. It highlights the importance of gender considerations and time evaluations which would allow policymakers to make the CCT programme truly equitable and sustainable.

However, only taking considerations of time poverty by accounting for care work will not be sufficient, as was observed in the case of KSSHP. To truly deal with the issues of time poverty, the programmes need to consider dimensions of ‘control’ and ‘quality’ that allows women to control increases the allocation and utility of their time. The case shows that CCT approaches need to be based on women’s daily experiences and their own perceptions of time and well-being. This will allow policies to encompass their priorities on how they desire to invest their own time.

Without incorporating the lens of gender, CCTs fail to acknowledge that social policies impact different groups differently leading to inequitable development. Gender analysis allows policymakers to look at a holistic picture of wellbeing that extends beyond income. The literature on how to minimise the trade-offs women often make for their own development suggests various small technological impetuses dealing with transport and mobility that makes a difference in the time women can have for themselves, along with interventions that ensure equal participation from both genders and push for structural change in the established gender roles.33


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