DBT has helped women, but can do better. Here’s how - Hindustan Times
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DBT has helped women, but can do better. Here’s how

Dec 13, 2022 07:27 PM IST

In 2022, Microsave Consulting reached out to 4,500 beneficiaries in 12 states to evaluate women's experience accessing, withdrawing and utilising DBT funds. Here's what we learnt

The Government of India has transferred $312 billion to beneficiaries (nearly 65% of the vulnerable population) under its various social security schemes since the start of the direct benefit transfer (DBT) programme in 2013. Given that women are an essential target of the programme, we wanted to understand DBT’s impact on them. In 2022, Microsave Consulting (MSC) reached out to 4,500 beneficiaries in 12 states to evaluate their experience accessing, withdrawing and utilising DBT funds. Over 80% of all female beneficiaries reported that DBTs had an overwhelmingly positive effect on them and their families. At the household level, DBT funds ensured children stayed in school, instead of dropping out to support the family, helped with household food supply and improved families’ physical health. For women, receiving DBT increased their disposable income, financial decision-making, and the family’s respect for them.

For women, receiving DBT increased their disposable income, financial decision-making, and the family’s respect for them. (Indranil Bhoumik/Mint) PREMIUM
For women, receiving DBT increased their disposable income, financial decision-making, and the family’s respect for them. (Indranil Bhoumik/Mint)

The Government of India has transferred $312 billion to beneficiaries (nearly 65% of the vulnerable population) under its various social security schemes since the start of the direct benefit transfer (DBT) programme in 2013. Given that women are an essential target of the programme, we wanted to understand DBT’s impact on them. In 2022, Microsave Consulting (MSC) reached out to 4,500 beneficiaries in 12 states to evaluate their experience accessing, withdrawing and utilising DBT funds. Over 80% of all female beneficiaries reported that DBTs had an overwhelmingly positive effect on them and their families. At the household level, DBT funds ensured children stayed in school, instead of dropping out to support the family, helped with household food supply and improved families’ physical health. For women, receiving DBT increased their disposable income, financial decision-making, and the family’s respect for them.

However, a sizable percentage (16%) of women felt DBT made no difference and had an adverse impact on them and their lives; 10% of women surveyed thought that the amount of money was too little and the opportunity cost to collect it was too high. Six per cent of the women reported a negative impact of the funds; over 20% of all female beneficiaries reported experiencing violence or knowing someone who had because they refused to hand over money to family members.

The experience of female beneficiaries receiving DBT is restricted because of social norms around access and mobility. We found a persistent gender gap in mobile and internet access. Only 37% of women owned mobile phones, compared to men’s 62%. Nearly 70% of all women required permission from family members to step out of the house to do any work. Almost 60% of women said they could visit panchayats, health centres, Anganwadi centres, and banks or ATMs, but only if accompanied by a family member.

These roadblocks have severe implications for the delivery of State schemes, which rely on women’s public participation during enrolment and withdrawal of funds. These social barriers also impact the confidence of women beneficiaries; 35% of all women beneficiaries surveyed preferred to hand over their DBT entitlements to their spouses or family members. Nearly 30% of women beneficiaries reported that male members withdrew DBT funds on their behalf. The leading reason cited was not a lack of knowledge or skill but a lack of confidence. We found only 13% use ATMs, with 75% dependent on banks to withdraw funds despite it not always being convenient, because they felt more confident about the bank.

For DBT to have a significant positive impact on women, the government should ensure that all women can access and utilise these funds. This requires revamping the policy design and implementation processes to achieve gender-transformative outcomes. A simpler enrolment process, and increased touch points with female frontline workers will help ease DBT access. For instance, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) requires as many as six application forms and nine documents to enrol, making it difficult for many young mothers to avail of benefits. Moreover, the scheme benefits need to be portable. Many young mothers enrol in PMMVY in their marital home but return to their natal home for child delivery and find it challenging to access these funds.

One way to tackle such problems is to involve Accredited Social Health Activists (Ashas). They can be tasked to help women and girls access DBT programmes beyond health and nutrition. However, there will be a need to build their capacity and align their incentives with DBT schemes for women. Another parallel option is to use self-help groups for scheme communication and grievance redressal. The last-mile access to cash-in cash-out points also needs to be made more accessible to women by accelerating the banking correspondent-Sakhi programme.

A focused gender-disaggregated analysis of the DBT programme needs to be conducted. Recording the number of men, women and transgender people at every stage of DBT will help us better understand its impact and roadblocks. This would include creating policy guidelines that can be used by various stakeholders and address the unique hurdles women face.

Aparajita Singh is manager in the government and social impact practice, MSC, and Damini Mohan is an assistant manager in the GSI domain of MSC

The views expressed are personal

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