Pastors and their families in West Africa are among those who have enrolled in an innovative Gender Model Family scheme because they want to be an example for change and transformation by challenging traditional notions of gender roles and responsibilities within the family. Nancy and Siapha Kamara, workers from SEND West Africa, describe the scheme in this International Anglican Family Network feature story.
By Nancy and Siapha Kamara
The Gender Model Family scheme has its earliest roots in a Livelihood Security Promotion Programme in Northern Ghana. In 2003, the West African non-governmental organisation Social Enterprise Development Foundation (SEND) established a revolving loan scheme to support women involved in small-scale trading activities. Even though all the women agreed to repay the loan, the default rate was more than 80%.The reasons they gave for this were: taking care of family needs such as paying school fees or hospital bills and husbands borrowing from them and refusing to repay. When husbands were interviewed, the majority said that they were poor and did not understand why SEND gave loans only to women.
That response inspired SEND to develop the Gender Model Family as a training programme in Ghana and Sierra Leone to enable husbands and wives to live in an equitable and just manner. This challenges some of the traditional ways husbands and wives live together. When there is equity between men and women, society can see the social and economic benefits.
Husbands and wives make a decision to become a Gender Model Family because they want positive changes in their lives. Men and women expect that adopting this model will bring ‘unity’ and ‘harmony’ to their family and community.
Couples commit to an action plan which they develop themselves. This first involves a simple re-distribution of tasks. For example, Bendu and Foday agreed that the last person up had to make the bed; they would split the job of sweeping inside and outside the compound; they would share the job of caring for the children. In Kadiatu and Suleman’s action plan, Suleman would help pound cassava leaf and rice; fetch water, and bathe the baby every night.
The Revd Abu Lavallie of the New Life Church in Sierra Leone describes his experience: ‘Living as a Gender Model Family has shown to my congregation that it is not only husbands who can bring income to the family. My wife’s business has grown since we became a Gender Model Family because I am sharing the domestic chores with her. This has allowed her to travel up and down to do her marketing. The family income has increased. This improvement in my family situation was noticed by the church leaders. They asked me to plant the church in a new community. I have preached about the virtues of the Gender Model Family in the church. I have invited members of the congregation to my house. Whenever they come, I allow them to sit, relax and chat with my wife while I do work around the house. Sometimes I even prepare food when members are visiting. Some of my church members have accepted to become Gender Model Families and it is helping them.
After a family adopts this model, household tasks are not done according to whether you are a woman or girl. Everyone helps out with all tasks. Progressively, as with the work, decisions start to be shared. As women have more say in decision-making, they begin to have more opportunities to become involved in community-management and leadership. As a result of new openness and communication, husbands and wives experience a renewed commitment and love for each other. According to participants, the concept of the Gender Model Family is ‘motivating’ because it means that ‘life has to change completely.’
Many benefits result. The burden of work for women and girls is reduced because men and boys are sharing tasks. Mothers and fathers are better parents; both girls and boys are sent to school. Men and women experience a greater capacity to be productive and prosperous because they have pooled their resources and are sharing the work. Women’s self-esteem has increased because women and their roles are valued in the family and community. Family tensions are reduced because of a new and positive start. Gender Model Families are admired and respected by community members because they have proven that families can experience peace and unity. When couples were asked about what it means to be a ‘model’, they said that they are a ‘light’ for the community and need to ‘keep shining’.
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