Women who are eligible for BISP receive monthly cash payments of approximately 1600 rupees, the equivalent of around £13, to buy essentials such as food, fuel and medicine for their families. Recognising that giving women economic power is a direct path towards reducing poverty, the Government of Pakistan wanted to understand how efficiently the scheme was working, and to ensure that all eligible women were receiving the benefits. We carried out spot checks throughout the country between November 2013 and November 2016 to make sure that money was getting to those who most needed it in as efficient a way as possible.
We relied on our spot checks to produce high quality, accurate data, so recognised that respecting local customs was vitally important when recruiting the interviewers and facilitators. In most areas of Pakistan, women are more comfortable talking to other women, while in some areas male staff would not be allowed access to women at all. There we made sure the teams we hired were made up of at least 70% women. Equally, the presence of men was essential in engaging other males to support the initiative.
Our assessments showed that many women, especially those in rural areas where literacy rates are low, were not able to use cash machines to access their funds through a Benazir debit card, the main way of distributing payments. Instead they were paying a fee to middlemen to obtain their grants. To address this issue, the Government is now piloting a new biometric verification system that uses fingerprint identification to make it easier and more secure for women to access their money. We were involved in reviewing the pilot and suggested further improvements based on our understanding of BISP.
As well as helping the Government improve the way BISP is implemented, we also found that those withdrawing funds for themselves felt more empowered as they could choose how to use the cash to best support their families. Evidence shows that the cash transfers are reaching the poorest in society and are being used primarily for food and healthcare.