One young mother named Patience Kaya is helping to make women’s lives better in the region around Loko. She is doing it by breaking through longstanding assumptions about gender roles.
Patience started out to be a teacher, and earned a secondary school diploma in 2005. Then she got married, and soon she had a little son. In late 2009 she heard about a new program called Farmers to Markets that was opening an office in Loko and hiring staff. She applied and was hired as an animatrice (in French; animateur for a man). At first her husband had reservations about Patience taking the job, but she went ahead.
The animateurs and animatrices are a key to the success of Farmers to Markets. They create and guide the local groups of farmers, meet with them regularly, and teach the members a wide range of skills and knowledge from saving money to family nutrition to gender roles. (A typical association has about 30 members, both men and women.) They bring these groups to life — they animate them. And that is in gender roles that Patience is really making her mark.
By tradition in Congo, the man of the family clears the fields and then the woman does all the rest of the work: she plants, tends, and harvests the crops. When the crops are sold, the man takes all the money and spends it as he chooses. But one of the goals of Farmers to Markets from the beginning has been to begin changing traditional gender roles. This is not just symbolic — it affects the good of the whole family. When men get the money, they spend much of it on objects they want to buy, such as radios, and sometimes on drink. When women are given money, they spend it on food and other needs of their families.
Patience understood that and caught the vision. She began teaching the women in her associations about best ways to care for their families, but soon she was talking to the men as well, urging them to work in the fields along with their wives. She did it by explaining that a wife’s “energy budget” limited the amount of work that could be done, and therefore the money that could be earned. At first just a few men “got it” and began helping their wives. When other men in the groups saw the results, they too began helping in the fields.
Today almost all the men in Patience’s associations are working alongside their wives — and the Bumba office of FTM asked her to come and teach the Bumba animateurs and animatrices about what she was doing.
Remember, this is not just symbolic. It’s a huge change in the real lives of women and their families. As men share what used to be “women’s work” and women begin to share in decisions about spending the income, the whole system of assumptions about gender roles begins to shift. Women share some of the power in the family and are held in a little bit higher respect. Children in the family grow up in this changed system and go out to live their lives this way. Patience herself now has two little boys — and a husband who is happy with what she is doing.
Patience has turned out to be a very good teacher, and more than that: she is bringing groups of women and men alive in new ways and beginning to change the culture in that process.
See the earlier article about one couple who learned Patience’s lesson: “Women’s Lives Are Changing through Farmers to Markets.”
SAJ 25 Jul 2012