Advancing Gender Equity in MSH Nigeria Projects
Gender-related stereotypes, gender profiling, and inequalities between men and women reduce the impact of public health programs. In Nigeria, for example, many women are excluded from making decisions related to their families’ health and from accessing health services in their communities. These exclusions are due to patriarchal norms, often exacerbated by purdah, a religious and social practice that requires women to cover most parts of their bodies and avoid areas frequented by men. In many communities, such forbidden areas include health facilities and public meeting places, thereby limiting women’s access to medical care, education, professional opportunities, and community activities.
This year, MSH Nigeria’s Country Representative, Dr. Zipporah Kpamor, initiated Gender Talk Hour, a monthly program to address the gender inequalities that affect Nigerian women and may limit the impact of MSH’s projects. The Gender Talk Hour group held its first session in September and included staff participants from MSH Nigeria’s three PEPFAR-USAID funded projects: Program to Build Leadership and Accountability for Health Systems in Nigeria (PLAN-Health); Community Based Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Nigeria (CUBS) project; and Prevention Organizational Systems for AIDS Care and Treatment (ProACT) project.
During the October session, participants analyzed the cultural and religious contexts in which they work and identified various gender inequalities that exist within these contexts. The group then developed strategies that would help to remove these inequalities and improve women’s access to health services and participation in MSH country programs. Based on this discussion, the group developed an action plan and committed to implementing the following activities:
- Training male leaders and mentors to educate other men about the benefits of supporting women’s health and development;
- Recruiting and training women for leadership, management, and governance positions and roles in MSH programs and MSH’s partners’ programs;
- Inviting and encouraging men to participate in health programs with their partners to increase uptake of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV programs, reduce maternal and child mortality, and prevent gender-based violence;
- Developing or improving community meetings so more women are invited to attend and participate in discussions and decision making;
- Promoting family-friendly policies, such as paid maternity and paternity leave and office daycare services, at MSH and MSH-supported organizations;
- Developing or revising policies, strategies, and work plans to support gender equality in MSH’s programs and at MSH-supported organizations; and
- Educating MSH staff, partners, and beneficiaries about the benefits of gender equity and best practices to address cultural barriers and other impediments to gender equality.
To sustain and expand these activities, 16 Gender Talk Hour participants formed a Gender Technical Working Group. This group now meets bi-weekly to guide the implementation of action plan activities in 15 communities, with the goal of reaching 500 beneficiaries.
MSH Nigeria’s staff members now have knowledge and a strategic approach to address gender inequality at MSH and in project-supported communities.
Opeyemi Ogunleye, PLAN-Health’s Senior System Analyst, is grateful for this new initiative and eager to see how gender-focused activities can improve the impact of MSH’s projects in Nigeria:
I used to dismiss gender talks… but now I know how development impacts women and men differently. I think the [Gender Talk Hour] is a good knowledge-sharing forum and I am excited to know it will be held monthly. The knowledge will definitely help our programs work better.