The UNDP has implemented a “cash for work” program in Vanuatu. In disaster speak, these programs are part of what are called “livelihood” initiatives aimed at restoring personal and social stability. Despite some drawbacks, the obvious benefit is cash for necessary things like food, cooking fuel and building materials. Residual benefits flow to business owners and market vendors who sell these things, and the (hopefully) local suppliers who produce them. These programs also give survivors a measure of ownership and control over the reconstruction process – an important factor in psychological healing.
When done right, these programs provide work opportunities to both women and men. They provide opportunities for the elderly, those with limited mobility, and those who live far away from established work sites. Well-designed programs focus on work projects that directly benefit these groups, and involve representatives from these groups in their selection and administration.
The Women’s Refugee Commission, The Emergency Nutrition Network, The Sphere Project, Mercy Corps, and other organizations have published guidelines on inclusive cash for work programs that include the following:
- Women should be given the same work opportunities as men, including labor intensive work like clearing debris, building roads, and digging water wells. This means advertising these projects to women, and aligning job requirements with women’s lived reality – for example, providing flexible work schedules that take account of women’s family care-taking obligations, or limiting work to daylight hours to curb exposure to sexual violence.
- Workers should be evaluated according to the contribution they make to the overall project. Women should not be compared to men, nor older workers compared to younger workers, in terms of how much debris they can physically lift in a single load, for example, but whether their work moves the project towards it’s final goal.
- Traditionally female work should be compensated. A child-care collective could pay women for providing care at community centers or in rural villages when other survivors are working in harder hit areas. Women could be paid for cooking meals at work sites or replanting community gardens.
- Older people, or those with limited mobility, could inventory damaged supplies, like books in libraries or schools. Where it is feasible, they could provide transportation to survivors who could not otherwise get to a worksite.
- Work projects should benefit all members of the community, and marginalized or disadvantaged groups should be consulted on project selection.
- Mitigate worksite hazards and deter harassment and sexual assault at places where women gather, such as water and fuel collection sites. These places (and the path to them) must be well lit and cleared of obstruction or other hazards that would increase the likelihood of assault.
- Provide security personnel and monitor worksites when appropriate to guard against harassment, abuse and exploitation.
- Hire and train female worksite supervisors and staff monitors to enhance protection.
- Establish safe payment mechanisms. Mobile phone transfers might be appropriate if vulnerable people have access to and control over mobile phones at home. Consult vulnerable groups on safe routes, distribution locations and other methods of cash transfers, and ensure that they have safe ways to store money.
- Safe and confidential reporting mechanisms should be available so workers can seek remedies for exploitation and abuse.
There are other factors to consider, and the details will vary in each disaster. But the program should offer opportunities that are consistent with local norms, in ways that do not reinforce gender hierarchies or other forms of discrimination.
As to Vanuatu, I have no idea how the program measures up. I cannot find the program online, but have requested information from the UNDPs central and Asia/Pacific office. I’ll update if I hear back. Meanwhile, if anyone has a copy of the program, I’d be happy to post or link it here.
photo credits: Top – Manila Bulletin (women clear national highway under CfW program after Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda); Bottom – Dept. of Social Welfare and Development, Philippines (women prepare food in community kitchen under CfW program after Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda)