In Final Stages of Economic Empowerment Project, Promundo Trains Hundreds of Professionals on Gender-Transformative Methodologies


There is no denying the impact of cash transfer programs on reducing social and economic inequalities. In Brazil, the government’s Bolsa Família program has been responsible for lifting approximately 36 million individuals above the poverty line since 2003.

Today, the program benefits 13.9 million families, reaching nearly a quarter of the country’s population. More specifically, 93% of the beneficiaries are women, and of these women, 68% are black.

By overwhelmingly enrolling female participants, the Bolsa Família program gives women greater control of family resources, promoting their equal authority in household decision-making. It also reinforces their rights and responsibilities as full citizens, given the program’s requirements that they manage legal documentation and visit public offices.

While the program is aimed at – and has seen gains in – empowering women directly, it was both possible and necessary to go one step further to achieve the broader goal of gender equality. Bringing both women and men into discussions about the importance of sharing decisions around household finances, childcare, domestic work, and more can ensure that economic and social changes are holistic and sustainable.

To this end, Promundo created the Bolsa Família Companion Program to promote women’s economic empowerment by engaging men as allies in transforming harmful gender attitudes and behaviors that impact progress. Supported by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, the program has included three years of educational workshops and campaigns in Rio de Janeiro and Recife, in partnership with Instituto Papai.

Results from the Bolsa Família Companion Program are encouraging. At the beginning of the project …

  • 75% of male participants said that men’s responsibilities include childcare; by the end of the project, 100% said that this is the case.
  • 36% of male participants said that taking care of the home, taking care of the kids, and cooking for the family are a woman’s main responsibilities; by the end of the project, this number has dropped to 22%.
  • 13% of male participants agreed that women should have no say in family spending; by the end of the project, only 8% of men agreed with this statement.

Women’s perceptions of their roles in family relationships also changed, as shown by qualitative surveys conducted before and after the project. At the beginning of the project, women revealed a certain resignation around taking care of the household and children. By the end of the project, women had gained a deeper understanding of the importance of equally sharing the care work and of their right to greater emotional and financial independence.

Scaling Up Gender-Transformative Approaches

“We are convinced that this successful experience can be replicated at a larger scale in other states, and even in other countries, with similar cash transfer programs,” said Vanessa Fonseca, Instituto Promundo program coordinator.

And, in line with this sentiment, Promundo is now training public professionals who work directly with Bolsa Família beneficiaries to include discussions of gender and equality in their work. To date, more than 400 professionals have been trained in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro; Itararé, São Paulo; and Recife, Pernambuco.

To support these professionals, Promundo produced an educational manual, entitled Toolkit: Gender Equality Promotion in Cash Transfer Programs, which was launched in Rio de Janeiro on June 30. The toolkit provides educational activities focused on gender equality to professionals and community leaders who work with beneficiaries of these programs.

To accompany the toolkit, Promundo also produced the Sharing the Care Booklet. This document addresses relationships between men and women, the division of care work, inequalities, and violence. It is intended for use by individual Bolsa Família beneficiaries.

Based on experiences gained during this three-year project, Promundo recommends that government programs like Bolsa Família continue to incorporate activities which discuss gender norms with program professionals and beneficiaries; engage men in promoting gender equality; and address the intersection of inequalities related to gender, race, sexual orientation, and social class.

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