Mainstreaming Gender to Improve Nutrition Outcomes

Daba Ndione Beye, SPRING/Senegal Gender Adviser. Photo credit: Jennifer Pietropaoli, SPRING Project.

For International Women’s Day, SPRING interviewed Daba Ndione Beye, SPRING/Senegal Gender Adviser, who shared her perspective on the importance of mainstreaming gender in development programs to improve nutrition outcomes. Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovation in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) is USAID’s multi-sectoral nutrition project, which began operations in Senegal in October 2015.

What role do you see gender playing in global nutrition programming?  

Gender relations have always played a role in families and in societies, for reasons that are unique to the needs and cultures of each region of the world—and even of each family. As we look forward to a future where these needs and cultures are forced to evolve in response to changing natural, social, and political environments, it is critical to be intentional in thinking about how to ensure gender roles also evolve to contribute to a bright and healthy future for everyone. In nutrition, this perspective no longer needs demonstrating. Studies have not only shown that the majority of malnourished people are women and girls, but analyses of the distribution of nutrition-related tasks have also revealed the heavy workload of women and low involvement of men. This is why it is important to take gender relations into consideration in the fight against malnutrition, and what my colleagues and I are working to do on behalf of SPRING, USAID’s multi-sectoral nutrition project in Senegal.

Why do you think gender needs to be a cross-cutting activity?

SPRING’s approach to improving the nutritional status of women and children is multi-sectoral, recognizing the need for both nutrition-specific­ and nutrition-sensitive interventions. In keeping with this approach, it is also important to ensure an attention to gender in these different types of interventions so as not to worsen existing inequalities. This is not just a question of having equal numbers of men and women participate in our activities; to eradicate malnutrition, it’s important to go further to ensure that the specific needs and contributions of both men and women are taken into account.

To this end, intersectionality is important, but we must also have gender-specific activities that target vulnerable populations to improve household nutrition. In my capacity as Gender Adviser, I work in close collaboration with all of our units—agriculture, social behavior change communication, nutrition/health, and monitoring and evaluation—to ensure that gender is considered in every aspect of programming, from planning to implementation and tracking results.

Male farmers can also contribute to household gardens that grow diverse, nutritious crops. Photo credit: Jennifer Pietropaoli, SPRING Project.

One of the first steps we take with SPRING to recognize the roles of men and women in nutrition is through trainings with our local partner organizations that address the specific vulnerabilities of women and opportunities for men to play a part. This can include ways to elevate men as partners in maternal and young child nutrition, for example, recognizing that many men don’t know enough about nutrition to begin with. It could also include encouraging agriculture partners to promote equipment that can contribute to alleviating women’s workload. When partner organizations incorporate these gender-related ideas into their work, improving agricultural practices with their members or by adding hygiene events when they host community days, it helps to address and account for the demand on women and create opportunities for couples to be partners in the promoted practices and behaviors.

How have you seen the cross-cutting gender strategy change or improve an intervention?

One way the cross-cutting gender focus helps address gender equity is by accounting for men’s role in every activity. These efforts have all started to bear fruit in our intervention communities. That is to say, we’re seeing people use good gender practices that we promote, namely reducing women’s workload and involving men in nutrition. For example, our community videos feature community members as the “stars” in short films that are the basis for community dialogues around nutrition. In the complementary feeding video, the initial draft didn’t include a father. We had to make the explicit choice to add a scene in which a young father spoon feeds his young child to show that this is something Senegalese men do.

Community “stars” film a video about complementary feeding, including the role of the father. Photo credit: SPRING Project.

After the dissemination of a community video about hygiene, there were a number of requests from men to show the video again. We also found that (when we conducted follow-up) the households where the husbands had seen the video, applying the recommended practices was much easier.

Similar messaging is also incorporated in our radio spots, radio programs, and community mobilization activities. Contrary to the inclination to focus solely on women to improve women’s situations, involving men gives them a voice—not to contradict the process, but to take a distinct position as supporters of the women in their lives and to become examples and advocates among their peers. We have been able to take advantage of this at SPRING through our champion strategy. We identify male “champions” in the village—role models who are already practicing a behavior we want to promote—and train them, with their wives, to become advocates among their peers. We’ve even invited them to gender training and social mobilization activities to share with partners how they now help their wives fetch firewood and clear their garden so mothers have more time to care for their children and support their family’s nutrition.

What recommendations would you make for prioritizing gender in the context of nutrition?

As far as recommendations, I would suggest expanding and digging deeper. Our work with SPRING in Senegal has shown that it is possible to make a noticeable impact on gender equity in nutrition, even in a short period of time, and there is no reason other programs cannot replicate these lessons to include gender activities across their interventions. But to do so, it is important to

  • have an intentional gender focus from early on in the project or activity
  • include men in gender-related activities and elevate the idea of men and women as partners—not competitors or individuals acting in isolation from each other
  • provide strategies to help couples use promoted best practices
  • conduct follow-up visits to households to answer questions and reinforce lessons.

SPRING has made considerable efforts to do this, but our efforts show that there remains a great opportunity for continued growth and improvement.

This International Women’s Day, we also recognize how important it is to learn from each other! Share your successes or learning about how to integrate activities to promote gender equity across programs in the comments.

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