In Malawi, men often don’t participate in many community activities. It can be very hard to convince them to attend meetings and other community events. Women tend to be the ones who attend meetings and activities in large numbers, but for the Pathways model to succeed both men and women need to be engaged in change. Men’s lack of participation was limiting the effectiveness of the program: although women were learning many lessons through the Farmer Field and Business School (FFBS), because men weren’t participating they were not changing their behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions toward women. We know that it takes more than just involving women to create gender transformative change; men too must change in order to create an environment where women can be more empowered. It is only when men are engaged that women will attain improved status in society.
Men’s lack of engagement was a serious challenge for Pathways. How could they better involve men who were reluctant to attend events and meetings in their communities?
The Pathways team arrived at a creative solution to the challenge: they decided to use football and traditional dance to engage men in project activities. The first event was enormously successful, with nearly 1,500 men, women, and youth participating. Men were extremely happy to be a part of this activity and they said that the secret to getting them involved is to “do what we lit most.” During the event, male spouses of female project participants formed two football teams and everyone was entertained by the game.
After the football match, everyone who participated in the event convened in one place and was informed about the gender and nutrition lessons in the FFBS toolkit to help them understand what the program is all about. The football players were asked to share what role each player had during the match and facilitators linked these roles to gender issues: Every player has to play his role to score goals during a match, just like family members have to each play their role to achieve family goals. A team must work together to score, and families too must work together in harmony to achieve their goals. In the end, everyone is happier when the team and the family cooperates and everyone works hard.
The initiative first started in Malawi’s Dowa district and now has spilled over to Kasungu district where the Pathways program is also working. The scaling-up shows the effectiveness of the initiative in bringing in male change agents. We need creativity to bring men into women’s empowerment projects and to alleviate the burden women bear; in this case, football proved to be key to getting men excited about program engagement. Perhaps this suggests one more football metaphor for women’s empowerment programs to bear in mind: we need the full team, a lot of hard work, and a bit of flexibility to achieve our ultimate goal of transforming women’s, and men’s, lives.
Contributed by: Mabvuto Dennex Shauli