A conversation that empowers women

By Sarah Morgan
If you want to introduce real changes, open up a dialogue where none has previously existed… tackle questions that are socially delicate and often surrounded by taboo, the community conversation and household approaches (CC and HH for short) are two ways of working that get results.
In Ethiopia community conversations were first introduced in 2002 as a means of mobilizing communities in the face of HIV/AIDS. It quickly became clear that this tool was very effective in enabling communities to identify and address cultural norms, taboos and stigma involved in speaking about HIV/AIDS related issues. This helped communities explore the underlying causes of the epidemic and reach decisions to take collective action.

“Community conversations are taking place across rural Ethiopia,” said Michel Sidibé of UNAIDS. “Once a week or fortnight in “kebeles” around the country, up to 70 people gather for a couple of hours with trained local facilitators to exchange their views on a range of health and social topics. These gatherings enable taboos to be aired and misunderstandings about sex and AIDS to be clarified. Traditional practices that may be factors in the spread of HIV are also discussed. These community dialogues have changed opinion and even translated into action.”

The household approach introduces a conversation within the home. With the guidance of a trained mentor, husbands, wives and other adult members of a household are invited to discuss and plan for the future, for more food security and higher incomes. In doing so they open a dialogue and shift their thinking about the roles and workloads of men and women and sharing benefits equally.

IFAD has successfully introduced and developed HH in Uganda, and is now disseminating this practice in other IFAD-funded projects, including in Ethiopia. As co-lead agency in Ethiopia for a new Joint Programme for women’s empowerment, IFAD will be collaborating with UN Women and the Rome-based agencies at country level to join together in pooling best practices to accelerate women’s economic empowerment. The CC approach is already used by WFP in Ethiopia as part of their Purchase for Progress (P4P). It is expected that it will be used extensively by the four agencies with women and men participating in the Joint Programme. At the same time IFAD will bring to the JP its experience with the household approach.

“In the context of supporting improved working and living conditions for women, CC and household approaches are an effective and non-confrontational way of addressing gender issues,” says Chiara Romano, Gender Specialist who is working with the IFAD country team in Ethiopia.

“They work by driving the process of change from the inside out, rather than the other way round. These approaches help open up dialogue about the role of women in the home and the community and their productive potential, that can eventually lead to improving their control over resources and generating the right conditions for women’s empowerment.”

Read more about the launch of the new Joint Programme in New York and Rome.