Engaging men as gender-equitable fathers and caregivers to reduce malnutrition in Mozambique

Clubes de Dialogos Gente

Guest post by Bernadette Crawford, Equality Adviser at Concern Worldwide

Concern Worldwide is working to address chronic malnutrition and extreme poverty in Mozambique by engaging men in shared caregiving and gender equality, as part of its Linking Agribusiness and Nutrition (LAN) project in the country’s Manica and Zambezia provinces.

No father wants an unhealthy or unhappy family, which is what initially motivates most men to join Concern’s LAN project. Then, through gender-transformative group workshops called Clube de Diálogos, they have the opportunity to further discuss men’s shared responsibilities at home and their role, as actively involved fathers and caregivers, in promoting their families’ health and nutrition.

Concern’s work with men in Mozambique stems from an initial barrier analysis on nutrition that emphasized the need to engage men as fathers and key influencers in nutritional behavior change. Men were identified as the primary influencers for two key nutrition-related behaviors: women’s exclusive breastfeeding and children receiving a minimum acceptable diet. Based on these results, Concern partnered with Mozambican NGO HOPEM and MenCare’s global co-coordinator Equimundo to develop an approach to engage men as fathers and key nutritional influencers.

Equimundo and HOPEM first carried out formative research in the project sites, which revealed that both men and women face an immense amount of social pressure to conform to prevailing community attitudes, expectations, and practices. Women are still expected to perform the bulk of household chores, including childcare, while men often maintain the belief that family nutrition is “women’s business” in which “real men” should not be involved.

These inequitable attitudes and behaviors pose a major barrier to improved health and nutrition. The LAN project therefore seeks to transform harmful norms and inequalities related to gender, in order to strengthen strategies to improve maternal, infant, and child nutritional outcomes and to continue promoting women’s empowerment.

Concern, Equimundo, and HOPEM developed the Clube de Diálogos methodology to engage men as partners and allies alongside women and girls in challenging gender norms, promoting equality, and improving nutrition. Educational group sessions support men in understanding how inequitable gender norms and perceptions can negatively affect their lives and those of their female partners and children. Through these sessions, men are given opportunities to reflect on these prevailing notions of gender and masculinity and on how these norms may have inhibited their ability to fully engage as fathers and caregivers. Then, they are supported in exploring and developing healthier alternatives.

The Clube de Diálogos methodology works to shift the LAN project from a gender-sensitive approach (simply acknowledging the existence of harmful gender norms) to one that is gender-transformative (seeking to address, challenge, and redefine these norms), as well as to increase the project’s capacity to engage men in mother and child nutrition. To implement a gender-transformative program means to challenge the underlying gender norms and practices that perpetuate inequality between men and women, as well as inequality among men and among women. At the heart of such an approach is the active questioning of what it means to be a man or woman in society and how such expectations can cause harm.

The Clube de Diálogos methodology was used to conduct a nine-day workshop in June 2016 in Chimoio, Mozambique to build the capacity of Concern staff as trainers to engage men in gender equality. As a result of the formative research, initial training, and this recent “training of trainers,” field agents are now facilitating Clube de Diálogos group sessions at the community level and working to promote gender equality and improved nutrition in Mozambique.

For further information about Concern Worldwide’s work, 
email Bernadette Crawford, visit www.concern.net, and follow @Concern on Twitter.