When women participate in our food security programs, what’s the most significant impact in their lives? You might expect them to talk about the money they saved or the health and nutrition of their children, but they don’t.
For women like Memory Mushanga in Zimbabwe, this program saved her marriage. See how!
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. When asked what was the most significant thing that she had gained from participating in the World Vision ENSURE food security program in Zimbabwe, Memory Mushango (name changed to protect privacy) did not cite the hundreds of dollars that she was able to save as part of a village savings and lending group, which she used to build a new home. She did not mention the fact that her young child is healthier and better nourished than he was prior to being in the nutrition program.
What she said was that as a result of the gender training that she and her husband received in ENSURE, they have been able to save their marriage. Memory went on to talk very candidly about the domestic violence that she had suffered in the past. But she was very clear in stating that the violence has ended and her household is now at peace.
At the time, I confess that I was not expecting that answer from Memory. But I have now come to realize that responses like this regularly roll off the tongues of countless ENSURE program participants during focus group discussions that we periodically conduct. And it has finally caused me to have a full paradigm shift.
To further explain this shift, I need to go back in time. When I first started working in international development in Chad in 1984 (that dates me!), there was very little discussion about gender equity or mainstreaming. When we would conduct a village meeting to discuss ways to improve farming or increase potable water in the community, only men would show up. Being westerners, we respectfully requested that women also attend. The men said that it would not be culturally appropriate for women to come to such meetings. Still being westerners, we insisted that the women come. To our chagrin, a few did show up, but they seemed very embarrassed and did not utter a peep. There is something about forced change that doesn't seem to elicit the desired result!
Fast forward a decade later to the 1995 UN Conference on Women held in Beijing. Although that was actually the fourth such conference held by the United Nations, it was widely seen as a landmark gathering that significantly and substantially advanced the cause of gender equity, especially in the developing world. Since that time, the goal of increased gender equity in relief and development programming has grown steadily and is now commonplace in most programs. But I must confess that my true “aha!” moment in this area did not come until I saw firsthand the incredible impact of gender mainstreaming in our food security program in Zimbabwe.
One of the most interesting findings in our gender equity training and sensitization activities is the importance of getting men to buy into and be involved in women's empowerment in their homes and communities. In 2014, we conducted a gender analysis study that pointed to the need to increase the engagement of men in activities that had a direct impact on maternal and child health and nutrition. We followed this study with the implementation of a Social Analysis and Action (SAA) approach using gender dialogues within communities, which allows men and women to discuss gender issues in a non-confrontational manner. In the process, they are able to consider adopting social norms that promote gender equity at the individual, household, and community levels.
Going beyond SAA, we also instituted Men's Groups as a means to further drive behavior change among men. By the end of 2015, 3,115 men were participating in 270 men's group events in which they focused on open dialogue to encourage change in their views about the practice of gender-based violence, women's participation in household decision-making, and women's access to household and community assets. We then measured the impact of these trainings via a beneficiary-level outcome monitoring study that revealed significant positive changes in the number of women who reported receiving assistance from a male family member with household chores that are traditionally reserved for women. There has also been a marked positive change in the number of women who report that their husbands/partners actively seek their input on key household decisions that have normally been the sole domain of men.
All of this is resulting in some pretty exciting conversations taking place every time we engage in community dialogues about gender. And we believe that it will translate into substantial and significant long-term, sustainable impact in food security in the ENSURE program area.
It took me a long time to realize the power of gender mainstreaming. But I know that this confirmed knowledge will be a solid anchor for me in my remaining years of relief and development work. And I expect to see thousands more women like Memory Mushango telling their stories of changed lives and communities.
David Evans is the Chief of Party for the ENSURE Program at World Vision Zimbabwe.
ENSURE is a USAID-funded project in Zimbabwe. The author’s views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.