Warm winds of change

Warm winds of change

The first time I saw 27-year old Emmanuel Mwamba at the water borehole on Chipindo Primary School grounds, he was getting ready to fill the pail he had brought from home with fresh, clean water…

Now in its final year, CARE’s Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI) has been working in rural and remote communities across Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia since 2016. On this day, I had traveled to Chasosa Village in Zambia’s Shiwang’andu District, to gather video and photo documentation of progress made on the ground. I spent the day recording evidence of dedicated work in several SANI activity areas — water borehole restoration, livestock programs, backyard gardens, cooking demonstrations and gender dialogue sessions. But this candid moment, watching Emmanuel emerge from the dusty backdrop around the school grounds where SANI had constructed a new borehole, and head over to the pump, pail in hand, was pivotal.

The fact is, it is uncommon for men to fetch water in rural Zambia — this is a strict, traditionally “female task”. So, to see Emmanuel fetching water for his household, and then to learn that he decided to do this because his wife was busy grinding the maize that day, was both encouraging and inspirational. It suggested a warm, welcoming wind of change in Chasosa… the younger generation, influenced by SANI gender dialogues in the area, were actively embracing the idea that changing gender norms is both possible and positive.

At the end of the day, I sat with Kebby Mundia, the Gender Coordinator at CARE Zambia, to hear his reflections — what changes has he observed in the communities, which SANI interventions have been effective, and how likely is it that these changes will continue beyond SANI? The following is part of the conversation I had with Kebby, and the very realistic and yet hopeful perspective that he provided…

Q: Do you think it was significant that we ran into Emmanuel today?
A: Absolutely! Our key message of sharing household chores is having some great effects — such is the transformation that we are seeing in our SANI operational areas. I strongly believe that, with time, seeing men at water points will be an almost common site.

Q: What are the key interventions that SANI has used in Zambia to affect gender normative change?
A: To influence normative change in nutrition and child care, SANI implemented gender specific interventions such as Male Action Groups, drama troupe performances, and gender dialogues using CARE’s Social Analysis and Action (SAA) method for gender transformation. Gender trainings, with key messaging, were also offered to government partners.

Q: Which has been the most successful, and why?
A: In my opinion, the Male Action Groups (MAGs) strategy has been the most successful. MAGs are cooperative groups of men who have received gender-sensitive training and are taking an active role in reducing their wives’ workloads while also demonstrating to other men how and why they are doing so. Also, it is important to note that some of the Village Heads were integrated into the MAGs as “Gender Champions” — as custodians of tradition, it is important that these leaders demonstrate the desired behavioral changes. And I can tell you, it is an exciting sight to see a Village Headman deviating from the dictates of tradition and culture and taking his child for a health clinic appointment, and/or participating in household chores!

Q: What are some examples of male household-level activity that you see now in rural communities, that you did not see 2 years ago?
A: Prior to the SANI project, it was a big embarrassment for a man to be seen fetching water or taking his child to the health clinic. But now, men are slowly engaging in chores that the communities deem “feminine”.

Q: Do you feel there are new ideas around “gender work roles” among young men in Zambia, compared to older men?
A: You know, gender norms are passed down through generations, and they are ingrained in both the young and the old. Still, I can say that younger mens’ exposure to SANI activities is indeed compelling them to reflect and change the status quo.

Q: Do you think that the changes SANI helped to make in nutrition and gender can continue after the project ends?
A: Normative change takes time, but the seed of transformation has now been planted, and I believe strongly that it will go a long way.

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[I wrote this story about a trip taken to Zambia in February 2020. 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 (www.feedherfuture.ca) – a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of women’s access to nutrition by highlighting the work of the Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI).]

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