Rwanda is a country politically committed to gender equality: 64% of parliamentarians are women, and women are represented throughout all levels of government. The law also ensures men and women have equal rights to land ownership. Yet, gender disparities continue to exist in Rwandan households. The societal norms that promote equality of women in government are slower to be adapted within the households. Culturally, land remains controlled by men, and on average more land is allocated to crops traditionally grown by men.
Negotiating the household power dynamics that result from that inequity are critical to the effectiveness of our programming at GHI. These power dynamics are a barrier to the facilitators of our training in terms of translating content into behavior change in the household. We know that getting buy-in from men, specifically from fathers, is critical to the long-term success of our program.
So, last fall, we set out to innovate around our core programming to reach and engage with men. To do so, we used a community-led approach to development: we interviewed leaders from the government and our partner health centers; we conducted focus groups with male caregivers who had either been through our program, were fathers of children in our program, or were men who hadn’t been in our program before; and we interviewed our Field Educators who are most familiar with the communities in which we work. Based on this information, we identified men’s savings groups as an entry point and developed a program to conduct our health center trainings through these existing groups.
In September of 2016 we officially launched the pilot program, enrolling 53 men in 4 savings groups from two health center catchment areas. The program had some wonderful successes, and a few lessons learned. One entire savings group dropped out of the program because we were not able to provide the incentives to participate that they expected. However, 32 men in the other 3 savings groups graduated from the trainings, and their experience is very much a success story.
At the end of the program, the graduating men described the value they saw in the trainings through the connection between knowledge gains and the improved the health of their families. Men told us about using four colors when their wives are gone in order to prepare nutritious food for their children in addition to when they buy food for the family. They also described how the trainings, especially those on listening, communication and gender-based violence, improved their relationship with their partners and even equality in their homes. They talked about changing their own health behaviors, such as adopting new family planning methods at home and washing their hands more often. We saw many of these changes reflected in the results from our surveys conducted before and after the program as well.
Our first class of men graduating from our program was a significant highlight of last year for Gardens for Health. We are so excited to see men acting as agents of change to improve health outcomes in their households. As we plan for next season, we are now working to scale up this pilot and incorporate it into our regular programming.
In January Maggie, our M&E Officer and one of our Global Health Corps fellows, presented the results from this pilot program at the INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange in Lusaka. Check out this blog post to read more about her experience and how her lessons learned are influencing ongoing program iteration.