Efforts challenge gender roles
“Now my three children are learning from me about the importance of hand washing and using a latrine.”
April 2017—In western Zimbabwe’s Tsholotsho district, a dedicated and forward-thinking group of men is breaking down the traditional perceptions of gender roles. They are taking the lead on improving poor sanitation and hygiene practices to enhance the health of their communities, recognizing that these goals must be accomplished before food security challenges can be addressed. Traditional gender roles have, until now, inhibited men from promoting basic sanitation practices.
Lack of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene leaves people prone to waterborne diseases and chronic intestinal infections, robbing them of health and good nutrition. Without access to enough water, food producers cannot grow and sell their crops.
Many in rural Zimbabwe view latrines as a luxury, and few have the knowledge and resources to establish basic sanitation practices. More than 40 percent of Zimbabweans in rural areas practice open defecation, which can result in serious illnesses such as diarrhea, which kills almost 2 million people around the world each year, with a particular impact on the health and nutrition of children.
As part of its efforts to improve nutrition and health, USAID, through its Food for Peace Amalima program, establishes community health clubs that conduct training sessions on health and hygiene practices across rural Zimbabwe. The Amalima program follows in the footsteps of a 1995 in-country pilot study that spurred the creation of hundreds of community health clubs to change hygiene and sanitation practices.
At the Asisizaneni health club, 14 men ranging in age from 34 to 68 have completed multiple training sessions. Members of the club have also constructed household hygiene infrastructure, such as latrines and hand washing stations. Members have indicated a new understanding of the importance of using a latrine. Some have said that, although they had latrines before the training, they now know about proper hand washing and the need to use soap or ash in addition to water.
“I did not have the opportunity to learn about hygiene practices as a child,” says Anengoni Dumani, the chairman of the club. “Now my three children are learning from me about the importance of hand washing and using a latrine.”
Dumani and the other men in the club have also been inspired to share household roles traditionally undertaken by women, like fetching water. “If I help with chores, hygienic practices are easier to achieve,” said club member Abel Ndlovu.
Dumani and Ndlovu are spreading the word to other men in their community about the importance of sharing responsibility for health and hygiene practices. Neighbors are watching the men construct latrines and assist their wives, and they are following suit within their own families.
To ensure that these good practices continue, the project is encouraging health club members to use funds from income-generating activities, such as a poultry project, to pay for the construction and maintenance of latrines for others in the community.
The Amalima program, which runs from 2013 to 2018, is designed to improve the nutritional status of children under 5, expand and diversify agricultural production, increase household income and help communities prepare for disasters through risk reduction activities. To date, Amalima program initiatives and training have positively impacted 56,000 households. More than 39,000 individuals are participating in agricultural sector productivity or food security training, and 86,000 pregnant and lactating women and children under 5 are receiving training and support. The program is implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.