Director-Nutrition, Helen Keller International, Bangladesh.
HKI’s experience over more than 35 years of implementing nutrition and food security programs in Bangladesh has been that traditional gender norms can limit women’s ability to leave the household and access to production system. These social norms constrain improved nutrition, and women’s access to secure food sources. The norms reduce interactions between women and men outside the family circle and often restrain women from being active part of the production system within the community. These experience led HKI to challenge these norms by integrating interventions specially aimed at empowering women.
Nurturing Connections is the signature curriculum by HKI for gender and nutrition in Bangladesh. The aim of the curriculum is to create a safe space and structure activities for communities, where they can directly discuss and challenge existing intra-household inequalities that underlie food insecurity and malnutrition. While the curriculum is oriented around nutrition and food security problems, it also builds skills in communication, assertiveness, and problem-solving. Drawing from HKI’s fieldwork and actual problems faced by local women, it provides family stakeholders (mothers, fathers, and family elders) with the opportunity to discuss nutrition and gender related problems among their peer groups, and then share their perspectives in a mediated, community-group setting.
Nurturing Connections draws on approaches developed through HKI’s integrated gender and nutrition interventions, which have been used over decades of programming in Bangladesh to empower women in improving the nutrition of themselves, their children and family members. The curriculum also has been successful in helping communities talk about the gender-power relations and about highly sensitive topics that are underline caused of gender discriminations. The approaches have also been shown to reduce domestic violence. The approach of the curriculum in not to targeting only women but include their husbands and family elders. At HKI we recognized the importance and fundamental necessity to include all family members to address gender-based discriminations within the household, and bring about change.
HKI first tested Nurturing Connections in Nilphamari, North-West Bangladesh, in Oxfam-Novib supported Building Equity in Agriculture and Markets project. From project baseline to end line, responses among women indicated increasing from 0 to 65%, reporting they were very confident their husband’s families would support them with a personal problem; from 33 to 97% reporting having a say in child health care; from 8 to 30% receiving husbands’ support in cooking and from 40 to 56% receiving support with child care.
Internationally, the Nurturing Connections approach has received wide interest and HKI is working to adapt it for use in local context in West Africa and in Cambodia, including a language adaptation.
Our experience has proven that homestead food production and nutrition education program, when combined with a tailored behavior change and gender intervention, can bring better impact for nutrition and wellbeing outcomes.
“During the Nurturing Connections session, I have had an opportunity to learn more about the work of my wife. Previously I was getting indirect information about the project from my wife, because there was no direct engagement of men, that made me think that the project was doing something against our cultural norms/unacceptable with regard to women. But after attending Nurturing Connections I learned about her work and that there is nothing wrong with it”
Bekas Kabiraj, Granganampur Union, Lohagara Upazila, Norail District, Bangladesh.