Nutrition is not just a women’s issue

By Julia Kummer

When women have control over the resources of a household and manage the income, it usually leads to a more balanced and healthier diet for the family. But often the decision-making power lies with the men. How can this gender inequality be addressed? The GIZ global project Food Security and Resilience provides insights into project work on gender-transformative approaches financed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

In Malawi, different foods are presented and their preparation explained under the guidance of men. © GIZ

By Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

GIZ

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is a globally active provider of international cooperation for sustainable development. It has more than 50 years of experience in a wide range of fields.  

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Women and girls are more frequently affected by all forms of malnutrition. Therefore, food security measures must be primarily geared towards reinforcing this target group. However, many interventions to empower women often fail to adequately address the underlying roots of gender inequalities. Men usually have decision-making power and control over household resources. Moreover, they often purchase consumer goods and food on the market and manage the family’s income. Consequently, they contribute decisively to a balanced – or unbalanced – diet for the other members of the household. In addition to promoting the human right to adequate food, the Global Project ‘Food Security and Enhanced Resilience’ by Deutschen Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) thus focuses on promoting gender awareness and transformation concepts. Men are directly targeted as indirect beneficiaries in project implementation.

 

Gender transformation approaches (GTA) have the potential to change political, social and structural dimensions of gender equality and achieve long-term social change.

 
The inclusion of men and other household members (e.g. grandparents, mothers-in-law, etc.) is thus an essential prerequisite for sustainable change in dietary diversity and hygiene habits in the household.

 

Several previously established interventions show that the integration of men is central to sustainably addressing gender roles and stereotypes, empowering women and thus creating a solid foundation for achieving project objectives. Gender transformation approaches must be enshrined in the structure of the programme. Furthermore, the measurability of behavioural changes must be improved and assured in order to verify the effects of these measures. The following project examples are intended to illustrate some of the implemented concepts.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
In India, street theatre is used to create awareness for gender-transformative approaches. © GIZ / Jason Mulikita

In Burkina Faso, soap operas are used to reach a large audience and raise awareness about the core messages of gender transformation approaches in a clear and simple way. This approach is highly effective because the scenes were inspired by everyday life of the communities.

 

Viewers therefore recognise themselves in the main character, who is portrayed as a ‘change maker’.

 

The film provokes laughter and stimulates reflection. It encourages men to participate in promoting good nutrition and hygiene practices. It also motivates them to empower their wives, for example, by participating in household decision-making processes and contributing to the cultivation of land for food production. The happy ending for the film’s main couple shows that the whole family benefits from the husband’s communication with his wife and his commitment to nutrition.

 

Similar efforts are also underway in India in the form of street performances. Participatory and community-based street theatres have been piloted in Khandwa district to expose and challenge gender norms and stereotypes in nutrition and childcare. Men and other household members are explicitly targeted in these street performances. After the theatre performance, these issues are also reflected with the audience in a gender dialogue. The objective is to raise awareness among the local population about the impact of gender norms on healthy and diversified nutrition and hygiene.

 

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Burkina Faso: Men accompany their partner on a visit to health centres. © GIZ

Another approach in Burkina Faso is the ‘schools for men.’ This type of peer education is also implemented in a similar form in Malawi, Togo and Zambia. Exchanges provide space for reflection and decision-making between community-designated male role models and other men in the village community to encourage them to adopt positive habits. The members of the ‘École des Maris’ (School of Husbands) meet continuously and take part in training sessions on selected topics. Together, they identify ‘small feasible actions’ that have a positive impact on the household, such as participating in feeding the family, planting a vegetable garden and other household tasks. They are also encouraged to accompany their partner to visit health centres. Future quantitative studies will show whether these practices ultimately form solid long-term habits. A comparison of indicators of knowledge (nutrition, hygiene, production) and food availability at household level between families who participate in the activity and those who do not is being developed for these studies.

 

‘Father 2 Father Groups’ in Malawi encourage other men to rethink gender-based stereotypes. Community volunteers are empowered to facilitate gender dialogues for men and women. The objective is to challenge beliefs, norms and practices related to roles, responsibilities and decision-making powers within the household.

 

The ultimate goal is to eliminate or rewire thinking patterns such as that women are inferior to men and that housework is women’s work.

 

The groups also organise cooking demonstrations, presented by men, where different foods are introduced and men learn how to prepare individual meals.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Men in Burkina Faso exchange views on the heavy tasks women have to perform in the household. © GIZ

In Togo, this type of intervention is also being piloted. Trained men sensitise their relatives and acquaintances, especially other men in the villages, about nutrition-related issues. However, it quickly became apparent that these men had little impact on changing the behaviour of other men. In the future, the project will therefore increasingly involve local male authorities (Chef de Village, Leader Communautaire, etc.). Apart from that, the nutrition education offered to men was not sufficient to stimulate behavioural change. Since then, awareness-raising events lasting several days have been organised. Although these results may initially feel negative, failures in the conceptualisation of a goal also produce important insights. Therefore, they should definitely be included in the continuous development of the measures.

 

Failures can reveal how implementations can be modified and improved.

 

In Zambia, pilot groups by men for men have also been set up to support behavioural change. Carefully selected, specially trained members from village communities, called gender champions, facilitate focus group discussions once a quarter to discuss gender inequalities and harmful cultural practices. The goal is to contribute to shared decision-making, promoting understanding of roles and responsibilities, and to healthy eating. Furthermore, the planning of nutrition education modules at household level is done with women and men to improve men’s participation. Another concept at community level was developed using football matches and other cultural events to spark interest in nutrition amongst men.

 

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