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Addressing the Gender Gap

Gender inequities occur around the world. In Bangladesh, Helen Keller International conducts community-based training in gender awareness with the beneficiaries in our Homestead Food Production program to address and correct these gender differences. In the char region in the southern part of the country, where the land merges with the ocean, the bay and countless rivers and canals, husbands and wives gather together to discuss the division of labor in their household.

Two activities are particularly illuminating. In the first, the men and women separately make lists of all the household resources and who owns each one. For the men, the list is long, and includes the house and all other buildings, the land, the  animals (cows, goats, chickens, etc.) the tools, the furniture, their clothes and so on. For the women, it’s usually cooking utensils, their clothes and some jewelry. The men and women share their lists and then discuss who is in charge of the upkeep of each resource. It rapidly becomes clear that the women have primary responsibility for virtually every item – even though they “own” very few of them. This exercise tactfully stimulates discussions about parity and helps the men see the contributions the women make.

The Clock Exercise asks members of the session to list their activities during every hour of the day. It is often said that women don’t work since they don’t earn an income. The men’s work generally occurs during set hours, allowing time for tea-drinking, fairly leisurely meals, socializing with friends, and relaxing while at home. The women’s list of tasks begin first thing in the morning and end right before bed-time and include household upkeep, taking care of the children, managing the animals, preparing meals, cleaning, and taking care of the husbands when they return from work. This simple exercise also shifts perceptions and demonstrates how women’s work is long, tiring and essential for a successful family.

Helen Keller International’s Homestead Food Production allows women to grow their own nutritious food in gardens in an arena – their own household — where they already work all daylong. In addition, the women can sell vegetables, chickens and eggs that are not consumed by the family and start bringing in their own income.  Another reason HKI chooses to situate this program in the household is that women in these areas are not allowed to travel outside their homes. Women’s mobility is a topic, however, for another blog.

Is work defined as an activity that brings in money? Participate in the Clock Exercise with your partner and see how each one of your hours are spend every day.

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Categories: Asia-Pacific, Reducing Malnutrition

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