Empoderando a las mujeres para la reducción del riesgo de desastres en Myanmar

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Verano de 2017 se publicaran en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

Rakhine, el segundo estado más pobre de Myanmar, está frecuentemente expuesto a peligros naturales, incluyendo ciclones, inundaciones, deslizamientos de tierra, terremotos, sequías, tsunamis e incendios en zonas boscosas y rurales. Los modelos de cambio climático predicen que Myanmar experimentará durante los próximos años y décadas un aumento de las temperaturas, periodos de sequía más frecuentes e intensos, cambios en los patrones de lluvias y un mayor riesgo de inundaciones, así como fenómenos meteorológicos extremos más intensos y frecuentes que generan tormentas e inundaciones y el aumento en el nivel del mar que afectará a casi todas las comunidades del país. Las comunidades en Rakhine ya están enfrentando una variedad de estos impactos. Rakhine también corre el riesgo de sufrir desastres complejos exacerbados por los peligros naturales: una combinación de escasez de alimentos, instituciones económicas, políticas y sociales frágiles o en crisis y conflictos internos que llevan al desplazamiento de personas. Rakhine sufre un conflicto político y militar desde hace muchos años entre el gobierno central, el Ejército de Myanmar y los nacionalistas budistas, por un lado, y el Ejército de Arakan y la comunidad musulmana Rohingya, por otro. Además, el Ejército Rakhine/Arakan tiene conflictos con otros grupos indígenas en Rakhine (el gobierno nacional reconoce 135 grupos étnicos en Myanmar): los combates han desplazado repetidamente a la gente de sus hogares y aldeas, aumentando así su vulnerabilidad. La falta de recursos y educación, junto con estas complejas relaciones sociales en un estado multi-religioso y multi-étnico, añaden a la vulnerabilidad de la gente en Rakhine.

Las mujeres de Rakhine son desproporcionadamente vulnerables a los desastres complejos, peligros naturales y efectos del cambio climático debido a las creencias culturales, prácticas tradicionales y condiciones socioeconómicas. Las mujeres son más propensas que los hombres a experimentar una mayor pérdida de medios de subsistencia y violencia de género. En algunas situaciones, han experimentado una mayor pérdida de vidas durante y después de un desastre. Mujeres para el Mundo (WFW por sus siglas en inglés), una organización no gubernamental de Myanmar con base en Yangon, se asocia con la Coalición de Mujeres Indígenas para la Paz (IWCP por su siglas en inglés) en Rakhine para reducir el riesgo y aumentar la resiliencia. Ellas creen que el género e identidad indígena son elementos críticos para abordar los impactos del cambio climático y riesgo de desastres. La integración de los conocimientos locales de las mujeres indígenas de Rakhine y sus prácticas en la mitigación de los desastres, preparación y esfuerzos de respuesta son esenciales para reducir el riesgo y aumentar la resiliencia.

WFW e IWCP trabajan con diversos grupos de ahorro de mujeres para aumentar la comprensión de los impactos del cambio climático, evaluar sus conocimientos locales y aumentar su capacidad para prepararse y responder a los eventos de desastre. La creencia principal de WFW es que, aunque las mujeres son los miembros más vulnerables de la comunidad, son también las agentes para el cambio. En Rakhine, la falta de oportunidades de empleo ha dado lugar a la migración de hombres y mujeres jóvenes para encontrar trabajo fuera de sus aldeas, dejando a las mujeres, personas ancianas, niñas y niños para lidiar con las secuelas de los peligros naturales. Las mujeres son las cuidadoras de la niñez y de las personas enfermas y ancianas; suelen ser las únicas sostenedoras de la familia, ya que los hombres, niñas y niños mayores salen a buscar oportunidades de trabajo en los centros urbanos o más allá de las fronteras; ellas son responsables de conseguir los alimentos; son proveedoras informales de atención médica; son responsables del cuido del ganado; y son responsables de encontrar y mantener el suministro de agua potable. Las mujeres son más restringidas para realizar viajes y tienen más probabilidades de ser restringidas de poseer tierras, de endeudarse o de invertir dinero, y de diversificar los medios de subsistencia a través del inicio de un nuevo negocio.

Por el contrario, las mujeres son también poseedoras de conocimientos culturales, históricos y económicos esenciales dentro de sus comunidades, lo que las convierte en participantes vitales en los esfuerzos para reducir el riesgo de desastres. Las mujeres administran los recursos ambientales para sostener a sus hogares y actúan como proveedores de salud informales. Tienen habilidades de supervivencia y de responder a desastres, tienen redes comunitarias locales y poseen conocimiento local de la comunidad, incluyendo la ubicación y necesidades de las personas más vulnerables (niñez, ancianas, con discapacidad) durante una crisis, convirtiéndolas en actores críticos en la reducción del riesgo de desastres (RRD).

WFW y IWCP reúnen a mujeres para construir juntas la paz y resiliencia a través de un modelo de grupo de ahorro para mujeres. Además de la capacitación en formación de grupos y gestión de ahorros, los miembros del grupo también reciben capacitación sobre los derechos de las mujeres, transformación de conflictos, violencia doméstica y la RRD. Se les enseña a realizar mapeos para evaluar las vulnerabilidades en sus aldeas, desde el mapeo de la infraestructura hasta la cartografía de la población de las familias y hogares. Representantes de cada grupo, que representan diferentes grupos étnicos, se reúnen para recibir capacitación intensiva sobre transformación de conflictos y manejo de desastres que, luego, reproducen en sus grupos. Los miembros de la IWCP continúan trabajando con los grupos de ahorro, apoyándolos mientras aprenden y planifican.

WFW opera desde el supuesto de que las mujeres no pueden comenzar a adaptarse al cambio climático si no creen que pueden. Para fortalecer la autonomía, WFW emplea un proceso de aprendizaje participativo. Las personas capacitadoras de WFW, primero conciencian a los grupos de mujeres en un ambiente de apertura a las historias y experiencias de las mujeres en desastres como un método de aprender y nombrar lo que las mujeres ya saben. Por ejemplo, las mujeres ya saben que el refugio para mujeres, niñas y niños es vulnerable a los peligros naturales y que el refugio resistente al ciclón más seguro no proporciona privacidad a las mujeres ni a la niñez. Saben que las lluvias están aumentando y las temperaturas también lo están, lo que lleva a una mayor incidencia de la malaria y la necesidad de más mosquiteros. Después de que el personal de WFW ha introducido el proceso de mapeo de aldea, se retiran (a su oficina en Yangon) mientras que los grupos de ahorro siguen creando mapas de aldea que, identifican las fortalezas y debilidades geográficas, los hogares (incluyendo el número de miembros de la familia en cada hogar) y las personas más vulnerables y sus lugares de residencia (ancianas, ancianos, niñas y niños pequeños, personas con discapacidad). Las mujeres también señalan la ubicación de su ganado, escuelas, barcos de pesca y otros activos de la comunidad y del hogar.

En las capacitaciones de WFW, los miembros del grupo aprenden habilidades para evaluar los riesgos y vulnerabilidad y para identificar soluciones de adaptación sostenibles para sus comunidades. Las personas miembros del grupo de ahorros informan que el apoyo que reciben a través del grupo las hace menos vulnerables. A través del grupo de ahorro, las mujeres pueden acceder a préstamos para iniciar pequeños negocios, diversificando sus bases de ingresos. Un grupo formado por WFW está construyendo una letrina segura e higiénica para disminuir el riesgo de enfermedad. Otros grupos están abogando por mejorar los sistemas de alerta temprana en las lenguas indígenas, especialmente en relación con las noticias sobre pronósticos meteorológicos, y para obtener información más detallada sobre la naturaleza de los peligros para que las comunidades estén mejor preparadas para responder. Los grupos capacitados por WFW han identificado públicamente edificios resistentes a los ciclones en todas las aldeas que pueden servir adecuadamente como refugios seguros. En el caso de un peligro natural, las mujeres están preparadas para reunir el ganado en un lugar seguro donde puedan mantenerse hasta que el riesgo haya disminuido, y para almacenar alimentos y agua en un espacio seguro. Después de las inundaciones, las mujeres reconstruyen sus casas para ser más resistentes a las inundaciones, aprovechando los préstamos a través de su grupo de ahorros. Reconociendo la necesidad de mejorar las prácticas de cultivo del arroz para disminuir la vulnerabilidad al cambio climático, los grupos han fortalecido sus relaciones con el departamento agrícola del gobierno para asegurar la asistencia técnica. Un grupo ya ha visto un aumento de los rendimientos después de usar un préstamo del grupo de ahorro para arrendar una parcela de capacitación y acceder al apoyo técnico del departamento agrícola del gobierno. Empoderadas por el apoyo social y organizativo de los grupos de ahorro, las mujeres han formado equipos de RRD en sus aldeas encargados de proporcionar información accesible sobre los riesgos potenciales y desarrollar prácticas de registro para ayudar a evaluar posibles desastres y rastrear los cambios para facilitar la adaptabilidad continuta.

El papel de las personas vulnerables en las medidas de reducción del riesgo no debe subestimarse. Cuando las mujeres se involucran en abordar sus vulnerabilidades, se anima y empoderan para seguir haciendo mejoras en sus comunidades. Si las funciones y conocimiento local de las mujeres no están incluidos en la planificación y respuesta a desastres, las intervenciones de reducción del riesgo de desastres serán ineficaces para reducir el riesgo. Las mujeres son agentes vitales y poderosos del cambio: es imprescindible que participen en la planificación, preparación y respuesta ante desastres. Cuando WFW, IWCP y diversos grupos de ahorro de mujeres en Rakhine se unen para evaluar el conocimiento local e integrar este conocimiento en la planificación y acción de la RRD, reducen los riesgos que plantean los desastres naturales y complejos, y empoderan a las mujeres para crear una sociedad más pacífica, resiliente y adaptable.

Sandra Reisinger es representante del CCM para Myanmar, con sede en Phnom Penh, Camboya. Van Lizar es directora de Women for the World (WFW), un grupo asociado del CCM en Myanmar.

Aprende más

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Myanmar Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (MCCSAP) 2016–2030. (July 2016). Available at http://myanmarccalliance.org/mcca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCCA-Strategy_ActionPlan_11July2016V1.pdf.

Enarson, E. Working with Women at Risk: Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk. (April 2002). Available at http://reliefweb.int/report/world/working-women-risk-practical-guidelines-assessing-local-disaster-risk.

Mitchel, T., Tanner, T., and Lussier, K. We Know What We Need: South Asian Women Speak Out on Climate Change Adaptation. Action Aid. (November 2007). Available at http://www.actionaid.org/publications/we-know-what-we-need-south-asian-women-speak-out-climate-change-adaptation.

UNISDR. Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations, 2009. Available at http://www.unisdr.org/files/9922_MakingDisasterRiskReductionGenderSe.pdf.

UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction: High Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogue. (March 2015). Available at http://www.wcdrr.org/uploads/Mobilizing-Women%E2%80%99s-Leadership-in-Disaster-Risk-Reduction.pdf.

Empowering women for disaster risk reduction in Myanmar

Featured

[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Rakhine, the second poorest state in Myanmar, is frequently exposed to natural hazards, including cyclones, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis and fires in forested and rural areas. Climate change models predict that Myanmar over the coming years and decades will experience increased temperatures, more frequent and intense drought periods, changing rainfall patterns and an increased risk of flooding, as well as more frequent and intense extreme weather events resulting in storm and flood surges and sea-level rise that will affect almost all communities across the country. Communities in Rakhine are already facing a variety of these impacts. Rakhine is also at risk of complex disasters exacerbated by natural hazards: a combination of food shortages, fragile or failing economic, political, and social institutions and internal conflict that leads to displacement of people. Rakhine suffers from a long-standing political and military conflict between the central government, the Myanmar Army and Buddhist nationalists, on the one hand, and the Arakan Army and the Rohingya Muslim community, on the other. Additionally, the Rakhine/Arakan Army has conflicts with other indigenous groups in Rakhine (the national government recognizes 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar): fighting has repeatedly displaced people from their homes and villages, thereby increasing their vulnerability. A lack of resources and education, coupled with these complex social relationships in a multi-layered, multi-religious and ethnic group state, add to the vulnerability of the people in Rakhine.

Women in Rakhine are disproportionately vulnerable to complex disasters, natural hazards and climate change impacts due to cultural beliefs, traditional practices and socio-economic conditions. Women are more likely than men to experience increased loss of livelihoods and gender-based violence. In some situations, they have experienced greater loss of life during and after a disaster. Women for the World (WFW), a Yangon-based Myanmar non-governmental organization (NGO), partners with the Indigenous Women’s Coalition for Peace (IWCP) in Rakhine to reduce risk and increase resilience. They believe that gender and indigenous identity are critical elements for addressing climate change impacts and disaster risk. The integration of Rakhine indigenous women’s local knowledge and their practices in disaster mitigation, preparation and response efforts are essential for reducing risk and increasing resilience.

WFW and IWCP work with diverse women’s savings groups to increase understanding of the impacts of climate change, assess their local knowledge and increase their capacity to prepare for and respond to disaster events. WFW’s primary belief is that while women are the most vulnerable members of the community, they are also the agents for change. In Rakhine, a lack of employment opportunities has resulted in the migration of men and young women to find work outside of their villages, leaving women, the elderly and children to deal with the aftermath of natural hazards. Women are the caregivers for children, the sick and the elderly; they are often the sole breadwinners, as men, older boys and girls leave to seek job opportunities in urban centers or across borders; they are responsible for securing food; they are informal healthcare providers; they are responsible for the safekeeping of livestock; and they are responsible for finding and maintaining fresh drinking water supplies. Women are more restricted in travel and are more likely to be restricted from owning land, from borrowing or investing money, and from diversifying livelihoods through starting a new business.

Conversely, women are also holders of essential cultural, historical and economic knowledge within their communities, making them vital participants in efforts to decrease disaster risk. Women manage environmental resources to sustain their households and act as informal healthcare providers. They have survival and coping skills to respond to disasters, have local community networks and possess local knowledge of the community, including the location and needs of the most vulnerable (the elderly, children, persons with disabilities) during a crisis, making them critical players in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

WFW and the IWCP gather women to build peace and resilience together through a women’s savings group model. In addition to training on group formation and savings management, group members also receive training about women’s rights, conflict transformation, domestic violence and DRR. They are taught to conduct village mapping to assess the vulnerabilities in their villages, from infrastructure mapping to household and community population mapping. Representatives from each group, representing different ethnicities, meet together to receive in-depth conflict transformation and disaster management trainings which they take back to their groups. Members of the IWCP continue working with the savings groups, supporting them as they learn and plan.

WFW operates from the assumption that women cannot begin adapting to climate change if they do not believe they can. To strengthen self-reliance, WFW employs a participatory learning process. WFW trainers first raise awareness among women’s groups in an atmosphere of openness to women’s stories and experiences in disasters as a method of learning and naming what the women already know. For example, women already know that shelter for women and children is vulnerable to natural hazards and that the safest cyclone resistant shelter does not provide privacy to women and children. They know that rains are increasing and temperatures are rising, leading to greater malaria incidences and the need for more mosquito nets. After WFW staff have introduced the process of village mapping, they step back (to their Yangon office) while the savings groups create village maps that identify geographic strengths and weaknesses, households (including the number of family members in each household) and the most vulnerable persons and where they live (the elderly, young children, persons with disabilities). The women also mark the location of their livestock, schools, fishing boats and other community and household assets.

In WFW trainings, group members learn skills for assessing risks and vulnerability and for identifying sustainable adaptation solutions for their communities. Savings group members report that the support they receive through the group makes them less vulnerable. Through the savings group, women can access loans to start small businesses, diversifying their bases of income. One group trained by WFW is building a safe and hygienic latrine to decrease the risk of disease. Other groups are advocating for improved early warning systems in indigenous languages, especially related to weather forecast news, and for more detailed information regarding the nature of hazards so communities can be better prepared to respond. WFW-trained groups have publicly identified cyclone resistant buildings in every village that can adequately serve as secure shelters. In the event of a natural hazard, the women are prepared to secure livestock in a safe place where they can be maintained until the risk has abated and to store food and water in a secure space. After flooding, women rebuild their homes to be more flood resistant, drawing upon loans through their savings group. Recognizing the need to improve rice growing practices to decrease vulnerability to climate change, groups have strengthened their relationships with the government’s agricultural department to secure technical assistance. One group has already seen increased yields after using a savings group loan to lease a training plot and accessing technical support from the government agricultural department. Empowered by the social and organizational support from savings groups, women have formed DRR management teams in their villages tasked with providing accessible information about potential risks and developing record-keeping practices to help assess potential disaster situations and track changes to facilitate ongoing adaptability.

The role of vulnerable people in risk reduction measures should not be underestimated. When women become involved in addressing their vulnerabilities, they are encouraged and empowered to continue making improvements in their communities. If women’s roles and local knowledge are not included in disaster planning and response, disaster risk reduction interventions will be ineffective in reducing risk. Women are vital and powerful agents of change: it is imperative that they are participants in disaster planning, preparation and response. When WFW, the IWCP and diverse women’s savings groups in Rakhine join together to assess local knowledge and integrate this knowledge into DRR planning and action, they reduce the risks posed by natural and complex disasters and empower women to create a more peaceful, resilient and adaptive society.

Sandra Reisinger is MCC representative for Myanmar, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Van Lizar is director of Women for the World (WFW), an MCC partner organization in Myanmar.

Learn more

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Myanmar Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (MCCSAP) 2016–2030. (July 2016). Available at http://myanmarccalliance.org/mcca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MCCA-Strategy_ActionPlan_11July2016V1.pdf.

Enarson, E. Working with Women at Risk: Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk. (April 2002). Available at http://reliefweb.int/report/world/working-women-risk-practical-guidelines-assessing-local-disaster-risk.

Mitchel, T., Tanner, T., and Lussier, K. We Know What We Need: South Asian Women Speak Out on Climate Change Adaptation. Action Aid. (November 2007). Available at http://www.actionaid.org/publications/we-know-what-we-need-south-asian-women-speak-out-climate-change-adaptation.

UNISDR. Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations, 2009. Available at http://www.unisdr.org/files/9922_MakingDisasterRiskReductionGenderSe.pdf.

UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction: High Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogue. (March 2015). Available at http://www.wcdrr.org/uploads/Mobilizing-Women%E2%80%99s-Leadership-in-Disaster-Risk-Reduction.pdf.

Gender- and culture-sensitive nutrition programming

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Nutrition programs often target groups most visibly linked to desired nutrition outcomes. For example, since nutrition is key to children’s development during their ‘1000 golden days’, mothers with young children or women of childbearing age tend to be targeted to promote good nutrition for infants. As other articles in this issue contend, though, a narrow participant focus may limit the impact of nutrition programs and ignore the role that other family members play. At the same time, looking only at broad, household-level indicators of nutrition may miss different household members’ unique vulnerabilities. Nutrition programs are more effective and relevant when they are sensitive to family power dynamics, local practices and culture. This article offers ideas for integrating gender and cultural context into planning, monitoring and evaluating nutrition programs. While these ideas are not exhaustive, they offer a starting point for thinking through gender and cultural issues that affect nutrition.

Look within the household

Sufficient, nutritious food available at the household level does not ensure that all members will have access to enough food to meet their dietary needs. Intra-household distribution of food, family decision-making systems and cultural practices and taboos mean that the nutritional status of family members within one household may be widely different. As Gurung and Ghimire observe in their article, women in some households in Nepal eat after other family members have had their fill, which can limit their access to preferred foods like meat or vegetables. Looking simply at whether the household unit has enough food would miss this kind of variation in access to nutritious food within the household.

Collecting gender- and age-disaggregated data on diets for each member of the household using tools such as the Household Dietary Diversity Score provides insight into the unique nutrition status of different family members. Alternatively, Lee and Hembroom in their article describe a project in Nepal that has started to collect data on the number of times women in participant households skip meals. Since women eat last in this cultural context, the number of meals skipped by this population will be a more sensitive indicator than the number of times the entire household skips meals.

Disaggregated data may also reveal needs among populations who are not always targeted in nutrition interventions. While pregnant and lactating women and young children are generally known to be vulnerable to malnutrition, other household members, like elderly members or adolescent girls, might also be receiving insufficient food or nutrients for their needs. For example, after the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, MCC worked with partner organization Shanti Nepal to distribute rations of ready-to-eat food that included nutritious and locally-sourced chiura (beaten rice flakes) and roasted lentils. However, while distributing these rations to highly-affected rural households in Dhading district, Shanti Nepal staff realized that young children and elderly people may lack the teeth necessary to eat such hard and crunchy food. They adapted the ration to include easier to eat instant noodles. For subsequent disaster responses, MCC and partners in Nepal have included a nutritious porridge flour mix in the emergency rations intended for young children and elderly people.

Identify decision-makers and agents of change

When planning projects, analyzing family systems and power dynamics within a household can help identify gatekeepers and potential agents of change. Nutrition programs often focus on health and agriculture activities, but addressing household power dynamics within family relationships and organizing anti-domestic violence activities can also lead to better nutrition outcomes. In Nepal, newly married women traditionally move into their husband’s family home and often take on a large portion of household duties. Mothers-in-law make decisions about their daughters-in-law’s work and also often have strong ideas about food taboos in pregnancy or for young children.

An MCC-supported project run through partner organization Sansthagat Bikas Sanjal and implemented by Interdependent Society in Surkhet district facilitates discussions between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law and between husbands and wives. These discussions encourage shared understandings about good nutrition practices and provide opportunities to discuss family relationships. By encouraging shared knowledge about nutrition and by improving communication, the family members who make household decisions about money, household duties and food can work together toward improving nutrition for all family members. This project has reported that after these discussions mothers-in-law and husbands have started providing support to pregnant and lactating women by recognizing their specific nutrition needs, encouraging health check-ups and reducing their household workload. As noted in the article by Gurung and Ghimire, other projects in Nepal have also successfully engaged male family members to encourage better household nutrition practices.

Some family members may be better able to promote changed household practices than others. As Rahaman and Rahman point out in their article, identifying agents of change within a household, like students in Bangladesh, smoothes the process of change. In this case, project implementers found that parents who were reluctant to try new agricultural techniques themselves were willing to support and learn from their children, which led to diversified livelihoods and diets for participant households. Similarly, Climenhage notes that in Labrador, Canada, the Community Food Hub’s children’s garden is one of its most successful programs, working through students to promote healthy eating at home. Meanwhile Sarker and Rahman examine in their article how women’s heavy investment in the long-term good of the household led the monga mitigation project to select women as primary participants in asset transfers and project trainings.

Decide what to accept

Identifying cultural practices that affect nutrition also requires analysis of when to encourage different practices and when to simply offer alternatives that achieve the same nutrition outcomes. It may be a slow process to change the cultural perception in Nepal that pregnant women should not eat Vitamin A-rich papaya because of fears that it will cause miscarriage. Ultimately it may be more effective to promote carrots or eggs as alternate sources of Vitamin A that do not come with cultural taboos attached. Perhaps a comparable example is the idea that North Americans could consume less red meat if they started eating insects as a healthier and more sustainable protein option. In many cultures, insects are commonly eaten as snack foods. However, because of many North Americans’ revulsion at the thought of eating insects, a nutrition project that promotes beans and legumes as a substitute for red meat is likely to be more successful. Similarly, Wade and Yameogo observe in their article that the success of integrating moringa into diets in rural Burkina Faso links with the traditional practice of consuming moringa as a healthful medicinal plant and with the project’s demonstrations of how it can be adapted into traditional foods.

Gender- and culture-sensitive nutrition programing requires intensive analysis of family systems, intra-household power dynamics and awareness of taboos and cultural practices related to food consumption. Food insecurity affects communities, households and family members in diverse ways, requiring project approaches that recognize and build on the local context in order to address malnutrition successfully. Deep knowledge of the local community’s culture, traditions, eating habits and practices is essential and requires careful attention at all stages of a project. Such knowledge is often most accessible to those with close community ties. A community-driven approach that builds on the existing knowledge of local organizations and their relationships with community members can help navigate societal and cultural complexities and ultimately lead to better nutrition outcomes for all people in a community.

Martha Kimmel is MCC Nepal food security advisor. Leah Reesor-Keller is MCC Nepal co-representative.

Learn more

Madjdian, Dónya S. and Hilde A.J. Bras. “Family, Gender, and Women’s Nutritional Status: A Comparison between Two Himalayan Communities in Nepal.” Economic History of Developing Regions 31/1 (2016): 198-223.

Intra-household vulnerability in eastern Congo

The household is the standard social unit used in planning humanitarian interventions, including cash transfers and the distribution of food and non-food items. Humanitarian assistance is often distributed to households based on the assumption that household members have uniform needs and preferences. However, households cannot simply be
characterized as places where individuals share the same priorities or even necessarily pool their resources. Households are more commonly places where competing claims, unequal power, diverse interests and access to resources are frequently negotiated and shaped by differences in age, gender and position within the household, among other factors. In this article we explore the concept of intra-household vulnerability in eastern Congo by exploring gender dynamics at play within the context of food assistance programming along with power dynamics between internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host families.

MCC has been working with partners in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 2008 to implement humanitarian programming in response to internal displacement. During pre-planning for food assistance projects, MCC’s program partner, the Ministry of the Church of Christ in Congo for Refugees and Emergencies (MERU)-North Kivu, conducts thorough assessments of target communities, including displaced families and their host communities. MERU’s analysis has brought to light the differing gender roles within households, particularly surrounding control over resources and the division of household labour, with women largely in charge of food storage and preparation as well as agricultural work.

Observation and monitoring by MERU staff showed that households where women were primarily responsible for managing food stocks were more often able to make food last longer and refrained from selling assets for the purchase of items considered to be non-essential. Households with male-controlled food stocks were more likely to sell food to buy items that they considered personally important, but were non-essential for the household. In response to this finding, MERU staff sought to raise awareness of social spending within the community and to encourage male participation in agricultural work as a way to share the burden and increase crop productivity. This critical understanding of intra-household dynamics allowed MERU staff to explain how placing women in key decision-making roles would be beneficial for the well-being of the entire family.

MERU staff worked with the community to define responsibilities for both
men and women in the implementation of the food assistance project. Men accepted responsibility for specific work in agricultural production, namely, clearing and preparing the soil for planting and ongoing field maintenance, including applying insecticide, transporting fertilizer and pruning. Knowing that these agricultural activities were taken care of, women were able to turn their energy to other activities, including planting, weeding and harvesting. Because of MERU’s ability to work closely with participants, understand the differing needs of different groups and make project adjustments accordingly, MERU successfully implemented its food assistance project and received strong affirmation from the communities participating in the project.

MERU’s food assistance programming also seeks to account for intra-household vulnerability due to the high number of IDPs in eastern Congo who do not take refuge in official IDP camps but rather live with host families. In combined host-IDP households, it becomes more difficult to assess the food security of IDPs, as the use of household targeting may prevent a clear understanding of additional vulnerability experienced by IDPs. Not only should more widely understood household dynamics related to gender or age differences be accounted for when designing food
assistance programing: the additional power dynamics within mixed host- IDP households must also be considered.

MERU has found that in the case of the host-IDP household, food assistance programs should determine and account for who has control over the household’s food resources and what that means for daily consumption among household members. Additionally, host families are more likely to have control over resources such as a plot of land for cultivation. In cases of combined host-IDP households, what is the impact of the IDP family on these resources? In some cases documented by MERU, host-IDP households harvested before crops matured, intensifying food insecurity. Seed stock was consumed in the immediate term, leaving families without adequate seeds for planting.

MERU’s analysis conducted at the end of each six month project phase
showed that while the average number of meals eaten per day increased
significantly for all participants over the course of the project, host family
food consumption saw a greater level of improvement than that of IDP families. Based on the intra-household dynamics observed by MERU staff, sensitization of the particular vulnerabilities of IDP families was prioritized and resulted over time in narrowing the gap of food consumption between IDPs and host families. By the fourth phase of the project, the average number of meals eaten per day was identical for both host and IDP families. A critical learning from the project is the need to assess the specific vulnerabilities experienced by the host-IDP households in order to reduce the burden on IDP and host families in negotiating how to share food, agricultural inputs and labour responsibilities.

Abandoning the household unit as a means of grouping and interacting with project participants is not likely to happen anytime soon. Thus, we at MCC must equip ourselves and our partners with tools and critical lenses through which to pay attention and respond to the complex dynamics within and between households.

Vanessa Hershberger is MCC program coordinator for the eastern provinces of the DRC, based in Bukavu, South Kivu. Annie Loewen is a humanitarian assistance coordinator for MCC, based in Winnipeg, MB.

Learn more:

Bolt, Vincent J. and Kate Bird. “The Intra-Household Disadvantages Framework: A Framework for the Analysis of Intra-Household Difference and Inequality.” Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper no. 32 (2003).

Chant, Sylvia. “Dangerous Equations? How Female headed Households Became the Poorest of the Poor: Causes, Consequences and Cautions.” IDS Bulletin 35/4 (2004): 19-26.

Understanding stories of trauma

In many cultures, including Congolese culture, storytelling functions as a means of preserving and transmitting historical memory while building community solidarity. Narrative also plays a therapeutic role in reducing the psychosocial impact of trauma by allowing individuals or groups to tell their stories and listen to the stories of others within safe spaces (Kiser, 51). However, in some cases traumatic events are so horrific that survivors choose to suffer in silence. Fear of retribution and rejection prevent those who have experienced the trauma of rape from acknowledging the event and seeking assistance. My research with Congolese women who have been raped has underscored the key role that narrative can play in assisting rape survivors and others in understanding the trauma of rape and in helping rape survivors heal from that trauma.

Sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) is rampant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A 2009 study found that 462,293 Congolese women, aged 15 to 49 years, reported having been raped within the past year (Peterman, Palermo and Bredenkamp, 2011). This stunning figure excluded girls under the age of 15 and women over the age of 49 who had also experienced this horror. Furthermore, for a number of reasons, many women choose not to report their attacks. Reporting rape too rarely ends in any form of justice for the victim and can often have negative effects, with raped women facing stigma, discrimination and retribution.

In February 2014, I collected stories from 14 women who had survived rape in the eastern DRC as part of dissertation research into trauma healing for SGBV survivors. I assessed interview data using narrative analysis techniques to identify themes that surfaced across all of the interviews, using that data to then compile one biographic narrative using the data and themes from all of the narratives. While I had planned for only ten interviews, many more women requested the opportunity to share their stories of rape and its aftermath. Nearly all of the women I interviewed expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share their stories and asked that I share their stories so that other women might find healing.

One of the primary goals of the narrative approach to trauma healing is to increase awareness of the dominant stories that shape the lives of storytellers (Bennet, 12-13). Becoming aware of these dominant narratives can assist rape survivors in identifying and developing responses that can bring healing and build resilience for individuals and communities. The narrative approach I employed in my research consisted of very loosely structured interviews. In responding to a limited set of interview questions, my informants focused on the key aspects of their own stories of rape as they experienced and remembered it. Rather than adopting a structured interview style focused on eliciting information about particular topics, I sought through more free-flowing interviews to allow my informants to identify the crucial dimensions of their experiences and memories.

The findings of my study resonated with a theory of social justice developed by Madison Powers and Ruth Faden, whose work in philosophy and bioethics has articulated how indicators of human well-being can serve as a measure of social justice. Powers and Faden have described six essential dimensions of human well-being: health (physical and mental); respect (self-respect and respect from one’s family and community); reasoning (ability to engage in coherent, rational thought); attachment (presence of intimate relationships); self-determination (ability to exercise agency); and personal security. While Faden and Powers grant that one can have a decent life without having a high threshold in all six of these dimensions, they do contend that human well-being can be negatively affected by a serious deficiency in one or more of these dimensions.

My research with Congolese rape survivors found that the traumatic experiences these women had undergone significantly affected their wellbeing in all six dimensions of human well-being identified by Powers and Faden. That said, the dimensions of well-being most adversely affected, I discovered, were attachment and respect. Though many of the women had suffered significant physical trauma, most only mentioned their physical injuries after I questioned them specifically about physical complications resulting from the attack. The majority of my interviewees, however, did highlight in their narratives the pain of rejection by their husbands and/or stigma they faced from other community members because they had been raped.

Stigma toward rape victims, particularly stigma from other women, often results from a need on the part of stigmatizers to distinguish themselves from persons who have been raped. This distinction acts as a pseudoprotective measure, cultivating the illusion that one is definitively safe from suffering the same fate as the victim (Grubb and Turner, 2012).

Trauma healing, awareness and resilience efforts aimed at addressing the particular needs of rape survivors must therefore pay particular attention to deficits in attachment and respect. My research found that narrative opportunities for rape survivors to share their stories can contribute to a reduction in the stigmatization and discrimination of rape survivors in at least two ways. First, by affirming and supporting rape survivors in exercising self-determination as they share their stories, thus building their resilience as individuals and in turn strengthening their confidence in fostering intimate attachments and building relationships. And second, by expanding and deepening family and community understandings of rape and the experiences of women who have faced it, in turn reducing the stigmatization of rape survivors. Storytelling by rape survivors thus becomes a key way of expressing and building individual and communal resilience.

Beth Good is MCC’s Health Coordinator and holds a Ph.D. in Nursing.

The participation of men in gender equality work

At the center of Kim Thuoung Commune in northwest Vietnam, villagers stand in three lines, blinking, squinting and making other interesting facial expressions toward one other. Bursts of laughter fill the room as each group tries to communicate a specific number down through their line, without speaking or using hand motions. The exercise is supposed to highlight the challenges of communicating when lacking helpful tools. One encouraging aspect of this exercise is the number of men among the group of about 30 villagers contorting their faces in the spirit of a friendly competition. The workshop which the men are attending is animated by the conviction that the active participation of men is vital to address domestic violence at the community level.

When MCC conducted domestic violence trainings in partnership with women’s unions in Vietnam from 2010 to 2014, participation from men was almost nonexistent. In a culture in which men are typically the heads of households, garnering significant male support or  attendance for an event arranged and run by women proved challenging. A review of that
initial project stressed the importance of men’s participation in these trainings if attitudes and behaviors regarding domestic violence were to change. Training women’s union members, who then trained other women’s union members at the village level, was not successfully engaging those who hold disproportionate power in patriarchal family structures, namely men.

So in 2014, as MCC began new projects with villages of displaced ethnic minority Muong and Dao peoples in northwest Vietnam, project organizers approached the farmers’ and youth unions—which have mostly male membership—to take part alongside women’s union members in conflict resolution training. Instead of domestic violence being the primary focus of the training, it became one subject interlaced into broader conversations about understanding conflict, managing anger and fostering good communication.

Vuong Chien, a project manager with MCC Vietnam, is hopeful that imparting general conflict resolution skills will help to change attitudes about domestic violence and give couples the tools to navigate conflict in a positive way. “Many participants entered the training believing that conflict is always a negative thing, that it cannot be positive,” observed Chien. “So we shared some examples of how conflict can be positive, and also how to deal with anger in the initial moments of a conflict.”

Through lively role plays, group discussions and other interactive activities, both men and women are learning to understand conflict better, how to communicate effectively in resolving conflict and what to do with initial feelings of anger when a conflict arises. Workshop facilitators urged participants to try taking a break in the moment of their anger—to exercise, practice deep breathing, journal or talk with a friend—instead of jumping straight to violent reactions. “Do these alternate things first,” said Chien, “then go back and address the conflict after you’ve been able to calm down.” Participants were surprised to attend such a lively workshop, but also seemed to enjoy all the interaction, Chien reported. “We asked a lot of questions that made them have to think reflectively and respond.” After the initial trainings with representatives from the women’s, farmers’ and youth unions, participants returned home to share their newly acquired learnings with their corresponding union groups in the villages. By this method, both men and women have received the same information together, with women then passing along the information to women, and men passing the information to men. After the union representatives hold their own trainings at the village level, all of the villagers will be invited to a drama performed by the three unions, who will compete with one another in presenting what they have learned and how they are implementing that knowledge in their village groups. Such cultural performances will involve all members of the community: men, women, the elderly, children and influential village leaders.

The interactive workshops, corresponding local trainings and drama performances are also a way to get the conversation started about conflict and domestic violence. As in many other contexts globally, domestic violence is not often discussed in community settings in Vietnam, as it is still largely considered a private family issue. Typically, only serious cases are reported, such as those resulting in death. In 2010, the General Statistics Office of Vietnam conducted a national survey to determine the prevalence of domestic violence. Results indicated that 32 percent of women who had ever been married had experienced physical violence within their marriages, while 54 percent of women had suffered emotional abuse. Programs and communication campaigns that have sought to raise awareness have focused on women rather than men, thus arguably not addressing the causes of domestic violence.

In the Xuan Dai and Kim Thuoung communes, where MCC currently supports community development initiatives, issues of domestic violence are linked to the stresses of poverty and food shortages and exacerbated by alcohol consumption. In Xuan Dai Commune, roughly 30 percent of households live below the poverty line, and an additional 30 percent hover just above it, earning less than US$25 per person per month. Most of these villagers used to be forest dwellers, until much of their land was declared a protected national park in 2002, and they had to relocate outside the forest perimeter. Lacking knowledge of effective cultivation techniques, they struggle to farm the little arable land available. Men are traditionally responsible for the “heavy” labor of loading and transporting their limited crops, which is intensive only at certain times of the year. Women are tasked with more continuous responsibilities, such as weeding, fertilizing and similar tasks of tending the fields. This leaves many men with bouts of inactivity in a culture in which drinking alcohol is a social way to pass the time.

Alcohol has also been cited as a coping mechanism for men who are stressed about food shortages and being unable to provide for their families. Villagers report that idle time, combined with these life stresses and lubricated by alcohol consumption, results in some men becoming physically or psychologically aggressive with their families. As MCC seeks to involve both men and women in conflict transformation trainings in Xuan Dai and Kim Thuong communes, concurrent MCC projects strive to address the intertwined issues of food security and education. Each project was designed from the villagers’ own assessments of their communities’ needs.

Present cultural norms regarding gender equity and domestic violence are not likely to be reshaped with just one workshop, or even through a multi-year series of workshops. But there are glimpses of hope for reducing domestic violence. As workshop participants gathered to eat together after the first training in December 2014, people quickly noticed the absence of alcohol typically present at such meals. “This is the first time in my life I have eaten a [celebratory] meal like this without alcohol,” noted a surprised Phung Van Thuon from Kim Thuong Commune. “But if not drinking alcohol might mean less violence,” he reflected, “I can do without it.”

This project is still in its early stages. But men’s growing participation in the conflict transformation workshops, trainings and community awareness performances are encouraging steps forward in villagers being able to address family issues without violence.

Karen Treadway is MCC Co-Representative in Vietnam.

Learn more by reading the Spring edition of Intersections – Participation.

Gender-based violence

“We have seen the healing that comes through involving the women in taking responsibility for their own lives… When each woman recognizes that she has something to contribute, she begins to feel like a person of worth.”

This third issue of Intersections discusses the impacts of gender-based violence and provides interesting case-studies from MCC’s work around the world.

Please click below to download Volume 1, Issue 3 of Intersections.

Gender-based violence Volume 1, Issue 3