Refugee women in Cameroon empowered by mobile money

In refugee camps in Cameroon, food aid has been replaced by mobile money payments. The system allows refugees to choose what food they buy and allows women to rely less on their husbands in the mostly polygamous society.

Djenaba Abdoulaye, a Central African Republic refugee in eastern Cameroon, no longer has to ask her husband for rations of food aid.

Instead, she does her weekly shopping with aid money for refugees that was transferred directly to her mobile phone.

Djenaba says the program helped her a lot by giving her a lot of capabilities.  As she is in a polygamous home of three women, her husband used to take food for all of the family and shared it among the three wives.  Now, she says, each wife has her phone, benefits from the assistance for her children and herself and uses it as she wants.

Aid agencies in Cameroon introduced the cash-based transfer program in 2016 to increase the efficiency of refugee support.

Before the transfer program, only the head of a refugee household – usually the husband – received the monthly rations of oil, salt, sugar, beans, and cassava flour.

The mobile payment system is not unique to Cameroon.

But for the mostly polygamous C.A.R. refugees, it has been empowering because every wife is treated as head of a household and receives a monthly allowance.

Nana Amoah is head of the local World Food Program office.

“WFP is currently assisting just about 48,000 refugees via cash-based transfer and one of the main reasons why cash is becoming more and more important in the humanitarian context for WFP – it gives the beneficiary the choice of food selected in a food basket that (is) available,” said Amoah.

The WFP provides refugees with a mobile phone and SIM card that accesses an electronic portfolio to receive the monthly allowances.

The electronic transfer of aid has also helped male refugees, like local shopkeeper Mama Lamine.

He says the program allowed him to take care of himself and to solve the problems of his family.  Now he no longer depends on food assistance, says Lamine, and can take care of his children’s school fees and equip his house.

While limited by telecommunications, the use of mobile cash transfers is expected to grow and give more refugees choices about what they do with the aid they receive.

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