Can household methodologies contribute to changinglives of rural poor people?

By Clare Bishop-Sambrook, PTA
Can a husband and wife, sitting together to share their visions for household development really bring about changes that will transform their lives? Evidence from some communities in Western and North Western Uganda , would suggest yes! In these areas, IFAD has supported Oxfam Novib in partnership with civil society organizations to implement a programme which addresses the gender inequalities at household level.
A community in Arua, West Nile, shares their Vision Achievement journey using the
Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) tools
 A mid-term review of the programme was held in Arua from 30 September to 2 October 2013. Field visits took us to rural communities which have been introduced to the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) through village level savings associations and functional adult literacy groups. Participatory and visioning tools have given household members a common sense of purpose. Individuals map out their visions, which are then shared with other household members and consolidated at household level. Opportunities – such as new markets or linkages with NGOs or government schemes - and potential threats which may hinder progress are identified.
Gender inequalities are high on the list of threats. Households candidly share cultural norms that dictate that men are the head of the household and women have no role in decision making – citing the fact that men pay a bride price for their wives. Women are often illiterate, and land and livestock are owned by men. Women see themselves as powerless and live in fear to speak up in a context where alcoholism and domestic violence are rife.

Significant behavioural change is being achieved, from sharing household tasks and childcare, to working together in the field, permitting women to buy and sell livestock or to travel to market by vehicle to sell their produce. Joint decision making determine show to save and spend the household income. Women have a much wider range of items they can buy independently from their husbands, including land and mobile phones. Couples report there is more balance between workloads and sharing the benefits. Households achieve greater food security and more boys and girls attend school. And the final proof: the number of cases of wife beating reported to the police has dropped from about 10 per month to almost nil, and this is attributed to men changing their behaviour, particularly regarding drinking.
And how does the message spread? Many people who have adopted GALS are keen to share their experiences with others and become peer trainers. Through informal networking, they share information about GALS with their relatives, friends and others through the church, savings group meetings, local government, hospital, and even in bars. They display their visions at home which stimulates interest among their visitors – especially those who are interested in finding out how they have achieved good relations in the home.
The story of Natal and Magret in Panyani Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA)
The lives of Natal and Magret have been transformed by GALS. Natal inherited about 20 acres from his elderly parents but, for many years, failed to use the land productively. He was an alcoholic who spent most of his time at a local drinking place, leaving his wife to bring up their six children. Working on her own, Margret was able to cultivate about 1 acre of land. The family had one or two meals a day. There was no cooperation or agreement in the family and this led to misunderstanding.
GALS has enabled us to realise the potential of the assets we inherited from my parents. We joined the village savings group and followed the GALS lessons together. Now we work together, following our individual and family visions. Loans from the savings group have also helped us grow.
Working together, Natal and Margaret cultivate about 15 acres, hiring  a tractor and casual labourers for land preparation. Natal has moved from owning  one to having 16 modern beehives. He exports honey to Juba. They have also increased their livestock from three to seven goats and one cow. After 25 years of living together, they were recently married in church. They have six children and have started using family planning. The family enjoys three meals a day and Natal can now help with the cooking. They have a new brick-built house, with an iron sheet roof, and have bought a motorbike.
Uganda workshop/writeshop on household methodologies
It is experiences like this that has motivated the IFAD PTA gender team to organize the ongoing workshop/ writeshop in Entebbe, Uganda (3-10 October 2013). This event will enable practitioners, drawn from across sub-Saharan Africa, to share and reflect critically upon the different household methodologies used in IFAD-supported projects and by others, with the aim of developing a household methodologies sourcebook/manual to further their use in the context of IFAD-supported projects. This activity has received financial support from the Government of Japan.