Household Methodologies: from thousands of smiling couples to empowerment for millions

Linda Mayoux, International Consultant

Let me share some personal reflections on the Forum on Empowerment through Household Methodologies,  jointly organized by IFAD, Oxfam and Hivos (Rome, 27-29 June 2016). This  was a wonderful opportunity to meet both old and new friends working with Household Methodologies (HHM). The enthusiasm and commitment of participants was high – inspired by our common vision of greater happiness and understanding between women, men and youth, and the greater wealth and wellbeing that can be experienced in households across the world. More than 80 participants from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Australasia shared their experience and considerable achievements in inspiring and supporting men as well as women to change gender inequalities that are constraining their lives.

The underlying message is that changing gender inequalities is not only essential for poverty reduction and democracy. Challenging gender inequality can open up a new and more fun world for all, young and old,  as they discover new ways to be themselves and to relate to each other, at all levels.

As many of the poster sessions of the different HHM processes demonstrated men and women of all ages coming together around a new and constructive vision for themselves and their families. This includes recognition of women’s right to achieve their full economic, social and political potential – including special attention to girls. Men of all ages can also change, enjoying more love and respect. The presentations countered some of the concerns within IFAD and elsewhere – demonstrating that support for people at household level is not ‘risky busybody interference’ in private lives, but a way of helping men and women to address personal and relational blockages to achieving what they want from life.

Participants presented the many ways in which they have used and adapted the basic Gender Action Learning for Sustainability (GALS) tools – Visioning, Vision Journeys, Gender Balance Trees, Gender Diamonds, Gender Challenge Action Trees and Change Leadership Maps. Experience shows that within a relatively short time, household analysis of gender inequalities can lead to fundamental change in tangibles like division of work, land ownership, business management, co-operative leadership and policy changes.

The Forum enabled a more complete assessment of the number of people involved in different types of HHM – estimated at over 130,000. This figure does not includethe very many more people reached indirectly through peer sharing and informal organizational ‘osmosis’.

Participants discussed not only how women, men and their families and communities benefit, but also private sector companies, financial service providers and local economies. Local and national governments are also increasingly seeing the possibilities and benefits for change, and the way GALS tools can help their work and the democratic process.

In order to make a really significant impact on global gender inequalities household methodologies need to reach not thousands of people but millions. This means new ways of inspiring large numbers of women and men for change, new concepts of leadership, and different organizational models. Building a movement at this scale cannot be achieved through conventional top down Training of Trainers dissemination unless budgets are extremely large and organizations are already strong, participatory and have sufficient staff time. This is extremely rare and even then unlikely to be the most cost-effective or sustainable approach.

The model I proposed at the Forum was a more dynamic ‘headless’ model, drawing in part on new business and mobilization models - capable of constant self-replication, self-regeneration, innovation and growth in response to changing energies and needs at different levels. But this dynamic model also requires an even deeper ‘reversal’ of power between implementing agencies and women and men at community level. It also implies a somewhat different role for service providers and ‘experts’ within the process.

First the amoebas who are sparking self-generating change at community level: The main promoters and ‘beneficiaries’ for HHM like GALS are the many champion ’amoeba’ – women and men implementing their own personal gender changes within their existing and new support networks in their own communities and organizations.

Second the hydras: Everyone is a leader. Scale is best achieved through inspiration and example and encouraging as many people as possible at all levels to become leaders of change in whatever effective ways they discover, and exchange their ideas and experiences. Existing leaders come and go, and are often very busy. So I proposed a much more ‘headless hydra model’ where organization springs up where energies appear, where everyone is free to get up and move without consulting ‘authorities’.

Finally the busy spiders  –  ‘brokers’ in leadership terminology: Individuals and/or organizations who make their webs to provide linkages between different processes and levels. Spiders include not only champions and HHM practitioners, but also people who provide openings and linkages between HHM and other established networks. 

It was intended that this Forum would provide a basis for starting networking at various levels.  We all left with happy memories of 80+ Forum friends  and hope to meet again soon – at least in cyberspace!!!

Key links GALS (Gender Action Learning for Sustainability) resources and processes I am involved with: for GALS toolkits and resources (blog with links to my GALS partners and processes and people involved in other like-minded gender mainstreaming initiatives) (for high resolution photos)