Can Equity be Built in Traditional Families?

Nimgbor Wuninyun (center) and his wives Adjoa (left) and N-Munankpor (right), of Tikarni Community in Kpandai District, each understand and appreciate the benefits of participating in the Gender Model Family activity. Photo Credit: Clarissa Heger, Gender and Social Protection Advisor, Global Communities RING

As in many parts of the world, traditional gender norms strongly dictate men’s and women’s roles in northern Ghana. By default, men are traditional household heads and much of the decision-making responsibilities rests on their shoulders, while women are the primary caretakers for the family, particularly the children. In rural communities, these norms are more rigid, sometimes resulting in an uneven and burdensome workload distribution for women. If women are unable to fulfill their daily tasks, such as gathering firewood and water, providing key ingredients for meals, or addressing any health and educational needs of their children, the family often suffers. Another consequence of their busy schedules is that there is little to no time for women to rest or engage in other productive activities, such as starting an income generating activity or taking on local leadership roles.

Such was the case for the Wuninyun family of Tikarni in Kpandai District. Nimgbor, the family patriarch, spent most of his time farming and working outside the home, leaving the bulk of the work for the household and its eleven children to his two wives, Adjoa and N-Munankpor. Before engaging in the Gender Model Family (GMF), a voluntary approach developed by the SEND Foundation and adapted for the USAID and Feed the Future-funded Resiliency in Northern Ghana (RING) Project, the family reported that they quarreled frequently, largely because the wives felt their husband was not as involved with the family as he should be. Conversely, Nimgbor believed that he bore the brunt of the financial responsibilities for the family. Adjoa explained that, “We didn’t discuss family matters together; there was no love and no help for each other. [T]here were always misunderstandings.”

Recognizing the critical role family dynamics play in the overall success of RING’s poverty and malnutrition reduction focus, Kpandai District Assembly introduced the GMF activity to Tikarni to augment other efforts in livelihoods, agriculture, nutrition and sanitation. The GMF approach suggests families to re-consider traditional and cultural norms to work together and create a more equitable home environment. After introducing the approach to the community, the Wuninyun family volunteered to join and the Assembly then guided families through various gender analysis tools to trigger a realization about workload distribution patterns and the need for more open communication. Through this process, Nimgbor recognized that there was an unfair level of effort expected from Adjoa and N- Munankpor which built resentment within their relationship.

After several months of addressing specific areas that they had committed to improving, the Wuninyun family began to see positive changes.

“Before GMF there was no peace. We didn’t discuss family matters or talk about family members. Now, we eat together and sit together to talk about the children, and we also learn from one another.” Mrs. Nimgbor NMunankpor, Tikami Community Kpandai District

Nimgbor used to ride his motorized tricycle to the farm, while Adjoa and N-Munankpor would walk the great distance; he now takes both of them with him to complete the day’s tasks. Nimgbor has also begun watching and bathing the children, setting the fire, and preparing food for evening meals. He also hired laborers to assist on his wives’ groundnut farms. N-Munankpor explained that her husband previously didn’t provide any money to her or Adjoa to buy fish or other proteins to fortify their meals. After discussing openly with his wives about the need to have a more nutritious diet for their young family, Nimgbor now understands the importance of making such an investment and has begun slaughtering some of his guinea fowls so the family will not go without meat. And if he is facing a challenge with something that the family desperately needs, he will discuss the issue with his wives to see how they could support one another. N-Munankpor described the changes in such a way: “Before GMF, there was no peace. We didn’t discuss family matters or talk about family members. Now, we eat together and sit together to talk about the children, and we also learn from one another.”

The children were also included as the GMF concept looks at the entire family. As such, the boys began to support their sisters with the daily cooking and cleaning tasks. Solomon, the eldest son, mentioned that he appreciated GMF because he didn’t understand how to do most of the household work, but now he has learned a lot, especially when it comes to cooking. He added that he is proud to be a member of a gender model family and plans to take many things he has learned to his own family one day because he has seen the positive impact in his home.

With everyone in the household now helping one another, the Wuninyun family reports a drastic improvement in family dynamics. They discuss challenges and major decisions together, making each member of the family feel supported. This impact has spread beyond the family as neighbors now seek out the Wuninyuns for counsel on family issues. Because of their positive experiences with GMF, they are eager to share, ensuring that all families in Tikarni can reach their fullest potential.

This is the first part of a four-part series. Visit our website in a few days to read the next installment - a story of a single mother with disabilities who managed to become a successful businesswoman.