Working with Men to Improve Nutrition Practices in Kenya

Kenya’s Samburu North district, Baragoi Division is comprised of two communities, namely Turkana and Samburu. Here, International Medical Corps Kenya has formed Care Groups (CGs) and Mother-to-Mother support groups (MtMsg), comprised of women of reproductive age whose goals is to enhance nutrition awareness in the community. The CGs and MtMsg are formed on the basis of mothers passing knowledge, skills and experiences to other mothers through periodic meetings and discussions.

As a result, community practices have improved considerably and more mothers are sensitized on nutrition and hygiene issues. But there is still a big gap in implementing improved practices at the household level because the key decision makers are the men. Largely pastoralist, women in these communities are responsible for matters concerning food and child upbringing, but have little decision-making power otherwise. In Turkana and Samburu tradition, it is unheard of for a woman to freely mingle with men or even address them, let alone contribute ideas. Men are so respected in Samburu culture that women are hesitant to practice what they are taught unless men approve of it.

To address these problems, International Medical Corps leverages the CGs and MtMsg to encourage the participation of men. It has not always been easy to achieve great turnout, but with persistence, International Medical Corps has managed to influence a few fathers. Men in Namanga village, Turkana Community, for example, have eventually come out in numbers and embraced change.

Lucy, International Medical Corps’ nutritionist working on the project, can now freely mingle and address the men, despite the culture that prohibits women from speaking freely among men. Thanks to the efforts of strong women like Lucy, International Medical Corps has even moved a step further and can now discuss with men issues concerning health and the general wellbeing of their families. Lucy is positive that, with these changes in attitude, there will be a remarkable improvement in both medical and nutrition awareness, and she is proud to be an agent of change in these communities.

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