The Effect of Cash, Vouchers and Food Transfers on Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Northern Ecuador

Cash and in-kind transfers targeted to women reduce the prevalence of moderate intimate partner violence within households.


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is common and widespread, with one in every three women experiencing physical or sexual violence during their lifetime. IPV has shown negative effects not only on women’s mental and physical health outcomes, but also on the livelihoods of their families and communities. Many programs throughout the world aim to empower women through economic means, including through labor markets, asset-building, microfinance, and cash transfers. In economic theory, there is no consensus as to whether increased female empowerment increases or decreases a woman’s risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.  An increase in a woman’s income, for example, could decrease violence by improving her bargaining power within the household, however, increases in income could also increase a woman’s risk of violence, if violence is used to control the victim’s behavior or allocation of resources, or to extract rents from the victim and her family.  The evidence on the effect of women’s economic empowerment on the prevalence of domestic violence has been similarly mixed. This study uses a randomized trial to examine whether cash, vouchers, and food transfers targeted at women in poor, urban areas impact intimate partner violence.


Targeting cash, voucher, or food transfers towards female heads of household led to a significant decrease in the prevalence of IPV. Importantly, the study finds no evidence that domestic violence increases as a consequence of the program due to attempts to extract resources.

  • The intervention significantly decreased the prevalence of different types of violence, including controlling behavior, moderate physical violence, and physical or sexual violence, by 6 to 7 percentage points. However, the study found no impact on the prevalence of emotional violence and severe physical violence. 
  • While the magnitude of the impact varies slightly across the three different transfer modalities (food, vouchers, and cash), all of them led to significant reductions in the prevalence of moderate physical violence.
  • Most strikingly, reductions in the prevalence of IPV attributable to the transfer program are largest for women with low initial decision-making power in their household.  Such women are 11 percentage points less likely to experience controlling behaviors, 10 percentage points less likely to experience moderate physical violence, and 11 percentage points less likely to experience any physical/sexual violence compared to women in the control group with low decision-making power. The impact on IPV for women with high decision-making is significantly smaller in magnitude than that for women with low decision-making

In short, this study suggests that cash or in-kind transfers targeted towards women may be effective in reducing the prevalence of intimate partner violence among poor households. However, as the authors point out, it is unclear whether the observed reductions can be attributed to an increase in women’s bargaining power within the family, or is better explained by a decrease in the level of stress within the household due to lessened financial and economic strains.


This study was conducted as part of a larger food security program implemented by the World Food Program in Ecuador. The program was targeted towards poor, urban households and Colombian refugees. Eligible households in the two intervention provinces, Carchi and Sucumbíos, were randomly assigned to either the control group or to one of the three treatment arms. Over a period of six months, the treatment households received either cash transfers, vouchers for nutritious items at local supermarkets, or direct transfers of food, in addition to nutrition trainings. All transfers were specifically targeted towards female heads of household. A total of 2,357 households were part of the study at baseline, of which 1,231 women were eligible and completed the module on IPV used for the purposes of this study. Study participants were interviewed at baseline and completion stage. The survey collected detailed information on the women’s status in the household, their decision-making power, and the prevalence of different types of IPV (controlling behavior, emotional violence, moderate physical violence, physical/sexual violence, severe physical violence).

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