Changes in Chobela

Changes in Chobela

It had been an incredible day… We spent hours in the sweltering Zambian sun gathering video footage and photos in a very rural and remote village called Chobela. I had traveled there to document the ongoing implementation and progress of CARE Canada’s Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI). This particular day in Chobela was both educational and inspiring, and there was much evidence of dedicated work in several project areas — community gardens, water borehole restoration, cooking demonstrations and gender dialogue sessions.

At the end of the day, I had a chance to sit in the shade of a large mango tree with Kebby Mundia, the Gender Coordinator at CARE Zambia, to better understand the current context in Chobela regarding gender norms — what are they, why must they change, how is SANI helping, and will SANI succeed? The following is part of the conversation I had with Kebby, and the very realistic and yet hopeful perspective that he provided of the SANI project.

Q: What is a “typical day” for a husband and wife in Zambia?
A: Well, she will wake first, and ensure everything is ready so that she and her husband can leave for the field. So, she wakes up and cleans (sweeps), brings the firewood and gets the water if there is none at home. Then the breakfast has to be ready. This is when the man wakes up and benefits from the work of the woman, by having breakfast. Then they go together to the field and do the cultivation. When they come back home, that is when the husband’s holiday starts. But the woman has a continuation of her labour. She must ensure there is cooking, ensure the children are bathed, and do other home chores which are deemed to be feminine. The man would never touch those.

Q: What are the “typically feminine” activities of a woman?
A: In a typical setting, a woman is exerted with a lot of work. For instance, the issue of fetching water. It is the woman who is supposed to do that. Firewood – it is the woman. Gardening is also a woman’s role. But when husband and wife go to the field, they do this together. So you find that the woman is tired already. And then she is supposed to cook, and the child care is also exerted on her.

Q: And what about decision-making power in the home?
A: Even though men and women cultivate the fields together, when it comes to harvest time, decisions about what food will be sold and what food will be kept for family consumption, that power lies with the man. So a man yields a lot of power. That is the same power that we want to channel toward the benefit of the family. Because this is the power that affects the food and the nutrition of the whole family.

Q: What is the situation today with respect to women’s access to healthy food in Zambia?
A: Women don’t have ready access to healthy food. I mean, even if they have healthy food in the household, the dynamics of power relations and gender are creating problems. So, intra-household food distribution is where the problem lies. That is, traditionally, a man is supposed to get a “lion’s share”… and that really affects a woman’s access to food, even if it is available.

Q: So, what is required to make sustainable change in women’s nutrition in Zambia?
A: The roles of men and women, the beliefs and taboos, all these things are deeply ingrained in culture, so a normative change must be emphasized in our project. The problem, the root cause, are actually traditional beliefs and practices.

Q: Can you give an example of gender norms that must be changed in order to improve nutrition?
A: For instance, a man would not do something that is considered feminine. He risks being ostracized by the community. This means a man would not bath a baby… a man would not take a child to the clinic because these are a women’s role. Look at this scenario: in a household where there are 3 or more children under 5 years of age, who are supposed to be taken to the clinic in order for them to benefit from the (growth monitoring and nutrition education) activities that are happening there. But you will find there is a great distance from their home to the health clinic. So a woman, who is already tired, will just concentrate on the youngest – excluding the other children who are still under 5 and should also go to the clinic to be monitored. But if a man was involved, in taking those children to the clinics, it would be so much easier. He could carry them, or put them on a bike. But he does not help, so a woman can only do so much. And the health of the children may suffer, not because she doesn’t want to take them all to the clinic, simply because she is not physically able to do it alone.

Q: How is SANI delivering messages around the need for normative change?
A: One important intervention we do is the male involvement aspect. This means, mobilizing men in “male action groups” to be “gender champions” in their communities. They will reach out to other men, inspire other men, help spread the gender messaging of the project at the individual level. This is how we will break the status quo – that is, break the norms. We also have a strategy of engaging local leaders… and these are people who are custodians of tradition and cultural practices. So, if we engage them, we are making it very clear that NOT EVERY norm or practice is wrong, but there are SOME things that we can root out, which do not help the nutritional status of the family.

Q: Do you think that the success of all SANI interventions rely on the normative change?
A: Yes, definitely. Gender is the core of every intervention that we are doing as a project. Because people can be empowered with the knowledge of how to grow and cook nutritious foods, but as long as there is no fairness in intra-household food distribution, the status quo will continue – and there will still be child stunting and undernourished women.

Q: Do you feel positive that there will be change?
A: You know, these issues of normative shift, they take some time. And we are slowly seeing some change… The fact that we are seeing men at the cooking demonstrations at all, shows that we are on the right track in making sure there is a normative change in the minds of people.


[I wrote this report during a trip taken to Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia in October 2018. I was traveling on behalf of CARE Canada, where I work as Communications and Public Engagement Officer. In this role, I lead the “Feed Her Future” campaign ( – a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of giving women and girls access to nutrition by highlighting the work of the Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI). SANI is a 4-year, CARE project to address undernutrition in women and children in Southern Africa, and it is running from March 2016 to September 2020.]

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