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Success Story: Improving Gender Communication among Households in Rwanda

Published 09/01/2016 by Global Communities

Alexander and Sarah in the banana field that they cultivate together. Alexander’s second try at banana growing was successful because he included his wife in the planning and decision making.

Success Story: Improving Gender Communication among Households in Rwanda
Alexander Nsengimana once prided himself on being the head of the household and making all the financial decisions on behalf of his family. Today though he views his role a bit differently. He realizes decisions need to be made in consultation with all of the family members and that he and his wife need to work together as joint heads of the household. What prompted Alexander to change his way of thinking was his participation in the USAID Ejo Heza program’s Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training.

USAID Ejo Heza conducted a gender analysis in April 2015 that found that the two biggest gender-related problems for beneficiaries were lack of communication and planning between spouses and an imbalance of burden of work in the home. GALS is a methodology that uses a series of pictorial tools and activities to facilitate conversations between men and women about marital relations and conflict, task sharing, goal-setting, and economic planning. Under the GALS training, groups met for a series of 7 weekly lessons and then completed monthly reviews to assess their progress towards the goals set during each activity, discuss challenges they were facing, and try to find solutions.

Alexander had heard about the importance of gender equality before. The government of Rwanda has made a great progress in promoting gender equality enacting a wide array of laws that protect women’s rights and regularly sponsoring awareness campaigns that aim to mobilize men and boys to pledge their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Despite the government’s strong commitment to gender equality, traditional patriarchal attitudes remain entrenched, especially in rural areas. According to Alexander, what made GALS stand out from these previous government campaigns, is its practical approach and focus on decision-making at the household level. “I have heard about gender equality before, but I did not know how to apply it,” he explains. The training caused him to reexamine how he values the contributions his wife makes to their household and realize he was excluding her from important decisions.

Alexander illustrates a perfect example of how the training has influenced his behavior. About a year ago, he decided he want to start a banana growing project. So he took out a loan and purchased a field which he began cultivating. His yields were poor and he was struggling to figure out what to do. After completing GALS training, he approached his wife Sarah and asked her for her advice. She suggested that he try using improved banana seedlings rather than the traditional ones. While the improved seedlings are more expensive, they produce larger yields. They can also be sold for higher prices at market because people prefer their sweeter taste. Because his wife was involved in the decision, she started helping out in the banana field as well. Now when Alexander is busy in meetings or trainings, she chips in because she feels an investment and commitment to the project. The new banana trees are doing so well, that they were able to pay back the initial loan and have jointly decided to apply for a second loan and expand into a second field.

Felicien holds his two-month old daughter. Traditional patriarchal attitudes prevail in rural areas and fathers often do not take active role in parenting.

Sarah says she appreciates the changes in her husband as a result of the GALS training. In addition to consulting her on major decisions that impact the family, Alexander’s behavior has changed in other ways as well. He helps her with household tasks. For example, she used to fetch water for the household on her own, now she and Alexander do it together. He also helps take care of their children, especially their youngest son who was born after Alexander completed the training. She says they now have a peaceful life and “live in harmony at home.”

As a Be the Change Volunteer (BCV) under the USAID Ejo Heza program, Alexander did not only receive GALS training, he was taught how to train others in his community as well. Felicien, the husband of BCV Patricie Ntabyizana, received the GALS training from Alexander. Patricie describes how shocked she was the first time came home from one of her nutrition training sessions and found Felicien cleaning. Initially she would try to stop him whenever he started helping her with some household task. She said she felt “ashamed.” When asked how others reacted to his new behavior, Felicien laughed and explained that some of neighbors said Patricie has given him a “potion” to make him obey. Initially, the neighbors scoffed at him, but now no one thinks anything of it. Patricie affirms that there has been a change in the household relationship, and that “His mindset has been changed for the positive.” They are both responsible for household chores. “He even helps me with the cooking and the washing,” Patricie exclaims proudly. He has also taken a more active role in parenting, caring for and playing with their two-month old daughter.

Alexander thinks that GALS could help other families who are experiencing the types of conflict that he and Sarah used to have and wishes the training should be extended to the whole community. He now understands the value of the work that his wife does and they must be “equal partners in the household.”