Husband and wife weeding together. Photo: ILRI/Bethelhem Alemu

Using community conversations to change perceptions of community members about gender relations in the Ethiopian highlands

Blog post

Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) working in the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock tested ‘community conversations’ as a tool to transform constraining gender relations in four communities (Hawora Arara, Ancha Sadicha, Key Afer and Sine Amba kebeles) in Doyogena and Menz districts in the  Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, and Amhara regions of Ethiopia.

Gender and capacity development experts from the two CGIAR centres worked closely with community facilitators from Doyogena and Menz districts livestock offices and Areka and Debre Birhan research centres in the community conversations in May and June 2018. Besides receiving a community conversation facilitation guide, the community facilitators received a one-day training on how to facilitate and document community conversations.

Two hundred and fourteen (78 female) community members participated in the four community conversations held in two months. The livestock program team used interactive methods such as visual aids, role plays, and storytelling to start conversations and engage community members in dialogue. Telling stories helps keep the momentum of the conversation and allows community members to go deeper into cultural values that underlie perceptions about gender division of labor in livestock production.

By asking provocative questions, the facilitators made community members question their views and perceptions. Initially, community members claimed that men and women participated equally in livestock husbandry. But in Doyogena, when a woman challenged the claim and explained women’s heavy workloads in livestock husbandry and domestic work, community members nodded in agreement. At this point, another man questioned the claim and explained that men do not clean barns or share domestic activities.

Men in the two regions are ridiculed when they get involved in domestic activities . In Doyogena, a male participant in Ancha Sadicha kebele argued that women are part of the problem calling men  ‘Korkorancho’ meaning selfish when men share domestic roles.

Another male participant  said, ‘It is only when the wife has given birth, is sick or away from home, and when there are no girls at home that men are forced to do domestic activities’. Another male participant added that ‘When a man fetches water, women pity him and ask what happened to his wife’. Fellow men also ridicule such a man saying, ‘He is womanish; he fetches water allowing his wife to sit at home.’

In Menz, while the culture is enabling men engage in livestock management and domestic activities when a need arises. Culture does not hold back the men from involvement in livestock and domestic activities but the level of involvement depends on individual attitudes. For instance, barn cleaning is primarily women’s work and men do it only when a need arises. Explaining who cleans the barns when her husband is at home, a wife of a male participant in Sine Amba community said, ‘Why should he clean the barns while I am at home? But if I am not at home, he cleans them’.

Community conversations like these have led to changes in attitudes of community members about gender roles in livestock husbandry and domestic activities. For example, in Hawora Arara, Doyogena, an elderly man said, ‘If it were not for a masculinity attitude, men can participate in any domestic activity. He appealed to his fellow men to consult one another, decide together and share domestic roles in their households’. He added, ‘It is a thing of the past to order women to do domestic activities while you sit’.

In Menz, some women have taught male household members how to cook and bake injera, Ethiopian traditional food. Men also reported that some women were willing to learn how to plow. In Menz Mama District, for example, a widow in Key Afer community approached a male participant to learn how to plow and assemble the plow.

Explaining the advantages of men having domestic skills, a woman participant in the Sine Amba community in Menz Gera District, said, ‘If I am not around, my husband can manage the house and the animals. I do not worry about my house’. A male participant in Menz Mama District, Key Afer community, shared a story of a man who abandoned the chickens in the absence of his wife, and they were attacked by wolves because he thought that they were his wife’s property. He explained that the chickens were also his property and advised the man to get involved in domestic and livestock husbandry activities.

In Doyogena, a male participant in Hawora Arara kebele shared a story of his engagement in inset (a traditional food of southern Ethiopia) processing which is traditionally a woman’s work. He used to hire women to do the processing, while he does other activities. But because of the community conversations, he began working with the women in preparing inset and helping them and learning from them how to process and prepare the food. Explaining the women’s reactions, he said, ‘They were very happy and wished other men were like me’.

Our experience shows that community conversations is a  powerful tool to empower community groups to identify and analyse constraining gender relations  and enable community members to take collective actions. The methodology used these community conversations proved that community groups can identify and analyse their own problems and generate solutions together which they commit to implementing in the future.

Download the full report