Gender equality begins in the home

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Gender equality begins in the home

By encouraging rural families to work together in a way that benefits everyone, IFAD's household methodologies has already shown promising results in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda.  ©IFAD/Sarah Morgan

Rome, 7 March – Growing up in a coffee-growing area in central Kenya, Elizabeth Ssendiwala could see how harmful gender inequality was to her community.

"Every payment season, we would hear shouting and women being beaten in some of the households," she said. "Some men after receiving the money would disappear for a few days and return without any money. I thought it was very unfair, but I had no idea what could be done."

Ssendiwala is now working to combat gender inequality head-on as IFAD's Regional Coordinator for Gender in East and Southern Africa.

The innovative way that Ssendiwala and the gender team at IFAD approach this issue is by helping people living within the household to imagine their lives differently and then working together to make it happen.

This not only strengthens the household by making it more cohesive, but also results in other positive development outcomes such as increased agricultural productivity, better education, and improved food security and nutrition.

"When households work towards a common strategy, results include increased productivity, better use of household resources, ending gender-based violence and, therefore, having more harmonious families built on trust and transparency," Ssendiwala said.

A husband and wife take part in household mentoring in Uganda and work together to develop and achieve a common, time-bound vision for themselves. ©IFAD/Sarah Morgan

What differentiates the household methodologies from other approaches is that they shift the focus from things – assets, infrastructure, value chains – to people, directing attention to who household members want to be and what they want to do. Everyone in the household works together to develop and achieve a common, time-bound vision for themselves.

Although many development organizations have made great strides to empower women in the community, the effects have rarely reached behind the closed doors of the household.

"Women still often lack a voice in determining household priorities and spending patterns, ensuring food security and school attendance of their children and addressing their own health-care needs," Ssendiwala said.

Encouraging families to work together in a way that benefits everyone, the household methodologies have already shown promising results.

In Uganda, over 18,000 households have been mentored, and the process is being scaled up through the new IFAD-supported Project for Restoration of Livelihoods in Northern Uganda.

For Imaculata Ninsiima and her husband William Simon Kasija, the new approach has given the family the skills and knowledge needed to dramatically improve their living conditions.

"Our situation was extreme," says Kasija, a farmer from Kamwenge district in western Uganda. "We owned no plates, no chairs, no mattresses or bedding, no livestock, not even any chickens. The children were not in school because we were unable to pay the school fees."

Through the IFAD-funded District Livelihoods Support Programme, mentors were nominated by local leaders and trained by community development officers at the district level.

They made regular visits to mentee households over a period of one or two years, working with household members to convey knowledge, skills and the confidence to work together as one household and make the leap out of poverty.

"Our relationship has changed," says Ninsiima. "Now we plan together, and we know how much we each earn. We have goals for our future. We want to build a brick house, finish paying for the children's education, and then buy some cattle."

Ssendiwala has already seen significant changes within the communities.

Elizabeth Ssendiwala, IFAD's Regional Coordinator for Gender in East and Southern Africa, says that working on gender equality in rural households helps to contribute to increased agricultural productivity, better education, and improved food security and nutrition. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano

"During field visits, we hear testimonies from men who told us how they were previously using household resources for alcohol abuse and beating up their wives and have now changed after mentoring or training on household methodologies," says Ssendiwala.

"They are now able to sit and make joint decisions with their wives and domestic violence has stopped in such households. The men are also helping with domestic chores, such as cooking and cleaning thus confronting gender stereotypes," she says. "This not only helps to reduce women’s drudgery but also frees up their time so they can engage in income generating economic activities."

According to Ssendiwala, many more IFAD-supported projects are now using the methodologies and seeing results in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda.

"The point is,” she says, “within the context of the 2030 Agenda’s spirit of leaving no-one behind, the importance of using household methodologies for social inclusion cannot be over emphasized."