USAID and UNESCO are working to change gender normalities in Zimbabwe by normalizing men’s contributions to household activities that are traditionally perceived as feminine. Equal division of domestic duties leads to improved child health and nutrition, as well as advancements in women’s rights. These social benefits are instrumental in alleviating poverty in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe and Gender Norms: An Overview

A country of 14 million, Zimbabwe has recently faced declines in public health, education, infrastructure and standard of living. Of the population, 63% of households live in poverty. Government policies and climate issues hamper farming and impact food insecurity. In addition, the country has a high burden of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and maternal and childhood disease.

Women traditionally hold an inferior position in Zimbabwean cultures, which are often patriarchal. Women often work for no pay in the home or in subsistence agriculture; alternatively, they perform low-paid wage work. Women cannot own or claim land except through their male relatives or husbands.

Gender Norms and Food Security in Zimbabwe

USAID and UNESCO are working to transform gender normalities in Zimbabwe, and the positive effects of these efforts extend far beyond women’s rights. Empowering women and normalizing men’s participation in the domestic sphere effectively increases the household labor force and children’s access to nutritious food. In rural Zimbabwe, one-third of children are malnourished, largely because of gender norms that lead to unhealthy feeding practices for young children.

As USAID reports, there is a close connection between women’s lack of assistance in the domestic sphere and child nutritional status. USAID wrote, “In a typical day in rural Zimbabwe, a mother must collect water, search for firewood, make a fire, cook and wash dishes, repeating this cycle for every meal. She must also spend a large proportion of the day tending to the family’s crops. Mothers simply do not have the time in the day to focus on all their responsibilities, including the childcare and nutrition necessary for the healthy growth and future productivity of their children.”

USAID’s program Indoda Emadodeni (“A Man Among Men”) holds monthly dialogues in which advocates, or Male Champions, challenge social norms and discuss the benefits of expanding men’s roles with both traditional leaders and the community as a whole. Participants in the program reported great pride in their domestic skills, including cooking, feeding and dressing infants and doing their daughters’ hair. The fathers enjoyed the closer relationships that they developed with their children. 

The program has yielded excellent results in many areas. A survey found statistically significant improvement in behaviors and support like fetching water and firewood, childcare, taking their wives to medical (including prenatal) appointments and cooking. There was also a 52% increase in joint decision-making among spouses. Rather than being stigmatized, these supportive and beneficial behaviors now elicit high praise in their communities, “uyindoda emadodeni” which translates to “you are a man among men.”

UNESCO’s Impacts

The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization agency is also running a project entitled “Challenging constructions of masculinity that exacerbate marginalization of women and youth,” in which the organization focuses on women’s empowerment through male engagement with gender issues. By conducting trainings and dialogues, the program leads men to reframe masculinity and reconsider their behavior.

One participant, Tichaona Madziwa, described how he “started to see [his] wife as a partner, a shareholder in this household…[and] really started to respect [his] wife’s decisions and perspectives—something that was not considered the norm.”

As he began to cook and care for his daughter, his relationship with her grew stronger. Madziwa, like the other program participants, found that the change of perspective greatly benefited him and his family.  

Normalizing men’s performance of domestic work lightens women’s workload. This, in turn, both empowers women and improves child nutrition. These USAID and UNESCO programs are effectively addressing the issues of both food security and gender normalities in Zimbabwe.

– Isabelle Breier 
Photo: Wikimedia

Transforming Gender Norms in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe faced a devastating drought in 2016 and food security continues to be a major problem in the South African country, primarily affecting young children. Since 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been heavily involved in assuring Zimbabweans’ food security, focusing on supporting farmers, strengthening agricultural markets and managing natural resources.

USAID increased its spending in Zimbabwe by $21.5 million in 2015, expanding interventions to water sanitation and hygiene. However, gender norms in Zimbabwe also affect the lack of food security, especially for children.

Gender Norms in Zimbabwe

Most men in Zimbabwe have little to do with feeding or caring for their children, leaving mothers to do the majority of child-rearing. But for three meals a day, Zimbabwean mothers must search for firewood, make a fire, collect water, cook and clean dishes. The rest of most mothers’ days are spent tending to their families’ crops, leaving little time for mothers to focus on childcare and healthy nutrition.

Social and gender norms in Zimbabwe combine to mean that men are not heavily involved in child rearing, which is viewed as a women’s responsibility. The concept that men get involved with their children is so foreign to Zimbabwean culture that men who do involve themselves get accused of being under a love spell or potion.

USAID’s members realized that working with men is essential to transforming gender norms and thereby ensuring healthy feeding practices for children. The agency started implementing the Male Champions of Change (MCC) strategy to change gender norms in Zimbabwe, using the motto, “Indoda Emadodeni,” meaning Man Among Men.

Male Champions of Change

Australia was the first to formally implement the MCC Institute under the Australian Human Rights Commission. The MCC Institute is a collaborative initiative that strives to address entrenched gender inequalities. Now, MCC’s strategy is used by a number of organizations worldwide, such as the U.N. and USAID.

As its name suggests, MCC targets men. The MCC Institute was actually founded by a woman and women are heavily involved in the Institute, but the founder recognized that political power still rests largely in the hands of men and engaging men would help accelerate change. Changing gender norms in Zimbabwe is more than just a women’s issue, and men have a responsibility to step up beside women to advocate for equality.

MCC involves appealing to men rationally and emotionally. Its strategy defines the business, economic and social benefits of gender equality and urges male leaders to confront and understand the challenges women close to them face every day.

MCC encourages men to support:

  • Changing workplace conditions, cultures and mindsets
  • Increasing the number of women on boards and executive committees
  • Recruiting, developing and retaining diverse candidates
  • Prioritizing health and safety in workplaces and prohibiting all forms of violence, including verbal and sexual
  • Sharing experiences and strategies for advancing gender equality
  • Being spokespersons for gender equality
  • Assessing and publicly reporting on progress and results on gender equality

MCC in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, USAID’s MCC campaign focuses primarily on gender equality within households. In comparison, the MCC Institute of Australia focuses more on equality in the workplace and in society in general.

Participants of USAID’s MCC campaign, called Male Champions, recruit their peers and hold monthly meetings and group training. At the meetings, Male Champions discuss their roles and responsibilities at home and the interactive training sessions challenge the men to debate and resolve gender-related problems. The meetings also specifically address gender and social norms that present barriers to good nutrition and gender equality.

Male Champions in Zimbabwe come to recognize that their manhood will not be diminished by cooking. One Male Champion said that he learned how to make his daughter porridge and feed her. A USAID survey also found statistically significant improvements in supportive behaviors such as:

  • Collecting water
  • Fetching firewood
  • Caring for children
  • Cooking
  • Accompanying wives to health facilities

USAID also saw an increase in joint decision-making between spouses from 30 percent to 82 percent in just one year. Overall, USAID’s MCC campaign has made a significant difference in changing gender norms in Zimbabwe to ensure gender equality and nutritional security for children.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr