In development work, gender roles are often inextricably tied to other areas such as health, said Zaida Bastos, director of PWRDF’s development partnership program. Bastos and visiting representatives of three African partners of PWRDF – the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development arm – spoke at a gathering in Toronto on September 24.
Speaking through Ms. Bastos as an interpreter, one of these representatives, Olinda Magaia, program co-ordinator of the Association of Community Health (EHALE) in Mozambique, supplied two examples. If a child is sick in her country, Magaia said, traditionally a man cannot take the child to the hospital. Or if a woman gets ill, it’s common for her husband to leave her and find another wife-potentially spreading the disease if he himself is also infected.
“These gender structures really have had a huge impact on the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Magaia.
One of the strategies EHALE has developed to address gender roles in the 200 villages it covers, she said, has been to teach the religious leaders of these communities gender roles based on equality. This has meant gathering together not only Christian and Muslim clerics, but also animist priests, since, she said, a lot of the gender inequalities that persist in Mozambique have their root origin in animist initiation rites.
EHALE brought 60 clerics together for gender training, only to have 19 drop out of the program.
“They were being challenged in their core beliefs” such as polygamy, said Magaia. “The gender training was really touching a raw nerve for them.”
Those who have stayed “and embraced the values of the training have seen an improvement in their lives,” she added. Some began to see the economic advantages, for example, of having one as opposed to five wives.
“They were setting an example to the others to the extent that now the 19 want to come back and be educators. However, the others that remained said, ‘No, you have not been a good example-we don’t know what you will be teaching in the communities, so we won’t allow you to be gender trainers!” she said with a smile.
Magaia, a nurse by training, has also been working to develop bicycle ambulances. She was working in very rural communities, and transportation was an issue. She met a craftsman in the village, and she said, ‘Can you build something like that?'” said Bastos, pointing to a photo of one of Magaia’s inventions. “And so they did.”
Magaia has since been “upgrading,” Bastos said, having recently designed a motorcycle ambulance.
“As she goes she’s becoming more creative,” Bastos said with a smile. “But it has really been a lifesaver in the communities, because there are no good roads. Sometimes people have to walk-mostly pregnant women who are ready to deliver, almost 50 km to the next hospital. And they get there exhausted, and the outcome is that the mother dies or the child dies. By having that they really have cut maternal death.”
EHALE is one of three partners in the five-year program, launched in 2012 and jointly funded by PWRDF and Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. It focuses on preventive health-especially maternal and child health-and food security.
Among the program’s accomplishments thus far, Bastos said, are the construction of houses for expectant mothers, clinics and a maternity ward, including a house for maternity ward staff. Over the last three years, she said, almost 300,000 children have been vaccinated under the program. In parts of Mozambique, she said, the program has seen a decrease in maternal death in the order of 20 per cent.