Category Archives: Gender

SOCIAL AND BEHAVIOR CHANGE COMMUNICATION:

Factors Influencing Rural Women’s Decisions about Sanitation in Lao PDR

Another Option’s social and behavior change communication (SBCC) is designed to reflect target audiences’ personal motivations and beliefs and the cultural and environmental factors that influence them. SBCC strategies range from mass media and digital communication to social impact gaming. It also includes interpersonal communication (IPC) and peer education, and advocacy and public relations to affect policy change and cultural and social norms.

Creating an enabling environment that supports individual and societal change requires a strategic approach. Societal and cultural norms as well as policy and regulations are the barriers that prevent change. Advocacy activities range from strategic public relations, thought-leader meetings, and engagement or participation in problem solving.

Program design begins with data and Another Option has extensive experience in designing qualitative and quantitative research to offer insights and information about key populations and segment audiences and to design effective programs.

Under a World Bank-funded program, Another Option developed a social and behavior change communication program on rural sanitation in Lao PDR. Other donors include UNICEF, Plan International, and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. Dr. Cecile Lantican led the Lao activity and following a field visit meeting with women in the communities and rural areas she captured her observations in the following blog.


What motivates women?

By Cecile Lantican, Ph.D.

From June 7-13, 2015 I joined the team of Another Option LLC, commissioned by World Bank under the Water and Sanitation Program in Lao PDR to observe people’s motivation to change and improve their sanitation practices. This is a new assignment for me after six years working in this country on changing people’s mindset and behaviors that put them to risk when they interact with their domestic animals and wildlife that carry zoonotic diseases.

I attended a ceremony hosted by the Pinh District government in Savannakhet to recognize villages that have made progress in addressing poverty and achieved improved sanitation status (declared Open Defecation free). I talked with Lao women and listened to their stories about their aspirations, needs and motivations that may have influenced their decision to seek for better status in life. I was amazed and fascinated interacting with Lao women from the south who I saw to be very hardworking, loyal to their families, hospitable and warm to visitors.

Young Lao Loum girls in their traditional Lao dresses.

Outlining the situation of rural women in Lao

I have worked with rural and urban women in this country, but I noticed that there is limited scientific information about how Lao women make decisions that affect their lives. Ethnic, geographic, and ecological differences create variations in the Lao women’s way of life. Ethnicity persists through language and dress patterns.

Illiteracy among rural women is high, especially in certain ethnic groups where cultural attitudes hinder girls from going to school. Parents force them to drop out to assist with the farm or domestic chores. Their capacity to obtain employment and participate in decision-making is severely hampered by their low level of education.

Early marriage is common among rural women. Most of them marry at the age of 16 or 17 years. A UN report in 2012 revealed that almost twice as many women marry and bear children before the age of 18 in rural areas (43%) than urban areas (23%). The total number of children of women with no education is nearly three times greater than that of women with higher education1.

The majority of women, especially those in ethnic communities, suffer from poverty, food insecurity, and unavailability of health services. The Lao women carry a great responsibility in the family. Apart from housework, and child rearing, they are also engaged in generating income for the family through labor-intensive work like collecting non-timber forest products including wild animals, weeding in the rice paddy, harvesting, planting cash crops and selling these products in the local markets, tending their animals, weaving, and managing family food stores.

More women are engaged in earning income for the family.

Rural women face complex decision-making when it comes to meeting their basic needs. Most often, they follow their elders’ advice. They feel restrained from expressing what they actually have wanted to happen in their lives.

The critical role of education for women

In Ban Sa-phang village, Mounlapamok district in Champasack province, a young mother of a three-year old boy married when she was nineteen. She did not finish primary school because she had to stop and help her parents on the farm. She married the first man who came into her life who promised her a better future since he was working in Thailand.

She was emotional when she sad, “I dreamt of living in a big house and wanted to earn money to buy food for my family, but that did not realize. My husband’s income from being a construction worker at the border, and most of the times seasonal, is not even enough for us.”

“If I was given the chance to have full control of my life, I would finish schooling. I think my life today would be different,” – Mother in Ban Sa-phang

She recognized that lack of education hampered her from finding work outside the farm. Unlike other women in her village who had entered their first year of secondary school and worked as migrant workers, she could not find work off the farm.

Women supporting their families

Anecdotal evidence showed that an increasing number of undocumented Lao women migrate to Thailand as workers in service and domestic sectors, vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and human trafficking.

Madame Bunkhong, 55 years old, was one among the attendees of the ceremony in Pinh district. She married at twenty-two and had four children.

After college, she worked in a private bank. But after two years, she had to stop working to take care of her sick father and to help her mother manage a small food stall at home. “I gave up my desire of being an employed and earn money for myself because I needed to follow my family’s decision.”

“ I wish good life for my family – to have a home and always have food on the table.” – Mdm. Bunkhong

“If I had complete control of my life before, I wouldn’t give up my dreams.” She affirmed that she is happy with her own family now, but it could have been more self-fulfilling if she had decided for herself.

Making decisions to improve sanitation

Looking closely at rural women who chose to access improved sanitation, I approached a woman who attended the PSI and district Nam Saat-led sales event for latrines. Her name is Madame Tongkham, 30 years old.  She has three children.  She married at eighteen.  Six months ago, her husband left them. She was aware that he may never comeback having heard that he has another woman.

“I should decide now for me and my children’s life.” – Mdm. Tongkham, Ban Pinh, Muang Pinh, Champasack.

It was her third time attending the latrine sales event in the village. The village council members encouraged her to attend. Earlier, she could not decide for herself because she needed to consult her husband. During this event, she ordered from the sales agent the delivery of one latrine package worth LAK 500,000. She made a deposit of LAK 50,000. “I felt devastated when my husband left. I worry about my three boys, and my old and sickly mother living with us. I have no regular income. My family now only relies on my niece who works in Thailand,” she said. “I did not finish school. I can only do farming and sometimes go with neighbors to the nearby village to harvest coffee beans. From these activities, I earn some amount to buy food for the boys,” she added.

I asked if someone had discussed the health risk of defecating in the open with her.  She replied, “ No one gave us briefing on the health risk. But I do remember that sales agent told us that having a toilet would give us convenience, safety and privacy.”

What made you decide to have the toilet this time?, I asked. “I have waited for my husband to decide.” She continued in her low voice. “ I need this toilet. I have fears when my boys defecate in the river along with other young boys. Many young boys have died of drowning in the river. My old mother needs it too,” she said.

Laotian women as community leaders

Laotian women’s confidence and self-esteem increase when they have greater knowledge, economic assets and income-earning capacity. Their low participation in decision-making is often due to stereotypes in their culture, which assign men the role of decision maker in the family and domestic affairs.

I met two Lao Women Union (LWU) community leaders at the ceremony. The district government recognized their unwavering support to uplift the living conditions and promote the role of rural women through training and participation in community affairs where their knowledge, skills and decision-making are essential.

Mdm. Phavoun (left) and Mdm. Khamphet (right) display their certificates of recognition.

The two women received training on various women-related issues from the national chapter of LWU that would empower rural women. Under the rural poverty reduction program of their district, they include provision of information on importance of education, sanitation and hygiene.

This travel provided me anecdotal evidences that rural women in Lao PDR can decide for themselves and their families. Under difficult circumstances, they can cope with their situation and can find solutions to their problems. They can improve their social status if given the opportunity of social support, correct information and networking.


1 Country Analysis Report: Lao PDR. Analysis to inform the selection of priorities for the next UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2012-2015, UN in Lao PDR , Vientiane.

This past week, Washington DC was alive with the buzz the first US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC. It has been so gratifying to see all the attention paid to heads of state from African countries by President Obama and his cabinet, investors, and corporate leader. For those of us in the development community it is a long time coming.

One of the key themes of the summit is partnerships. Power Africa, a high-profile partnership of USAID and private sector partners, seeks to bring electricity to sub Saharan Africa where 70% of the population lives without electricity. Just imagine Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda will full power!

There is also great interest in Africa as the next big tech hub and market for technology products. South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria all boast about technology users, innovators and investors. The market for mobile phones continues to grow exponentially throughout the continent.

American, European and Asian businesses are all angling for a piece of the market.

As a development person who has worked in Africa for 20 year, it is thrilling to see such enthusiasm for Africa. Finally people are talking about countries, not just a continent. But more importantly investors are seeing the rich resources both human and material that most countries in Africa have to offer.

Partnerships (which has been a mantra of our work for decades), have been forged this week that entail commitments of millions of dollars. The next five years will be exciting times for the continent.

When a dress is more than a dress….

Jill Biden’s comments on the stunning dress she wore for the state dinner captured another important side of the Africa I know.

Dr. Biden visited the Democratic Republic of Congo last month promoting a platform of economic empowerment and education for women. She visited a woman- owned business, Vlisco that employs women that are victims of gender violence. She asked that they make a dress for her to wear at the White House dinner honoring the heads of state participating in the US-Africa Leaders Summit. Using a brilliant blue wax print fabric locally-designed, the seamstresses worked over night to prepare the dress for her to take with her back to Washington the next morning.

Dr. Biden told the Washington Post: “For me, the fabric and style of this dress embodies the beauty and strength of the women I met throughout my visit to Africa last month”.

Couldn’t agree more….

 

 J Biden dress

Photo: Washington Post

A quick update on the on-going field work in Nepal

Attached are pictures by the research and Another Option team taken in the far west of Nepal.

Include the landscape, interviews with influentials including a female religious or spiritual leader, and interior of a shop.

The team will be going to the terai next week….look forward to sharing those images and also the data

 

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Nepal interview - field research

Nepal interview – field research

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One of the wonderful initiatives arising from this year’s International Women’s Day was the #heforshe campaign, a video campaign talking about why equality, education and safety for women are critical to global prosperity as well as to women’s own rights.

It features notable international figures and actors like Matt Damon, saying things like, ““If you want to solve some of these huge kinds of bigger problems of extreme poverty, you have to engage women. They’re the ones who’ll get it done.”

Forbes.com published a post from an Ashoka representative, Let’s Hear It For The Men, highlighting great efforts other men have put forth towards a more equable world for the other half of the sky.  Examples:  Khalid Alkhudair started Glowork, a job-finding service in Saudi Arabia, to connect women with companies seeking to hire.  Anshu Gupta started a program that recycles old clothing into sanitary napkins, meeting an often overlooked need.

On other fronts, some men felt compelled to show solidarity with women in other out-of-the-box ways.  The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes movement is local marches to raise awareness of violence against women.  These fellows in Toronto joined, but only one fellow correctly realized that one should never wear socks with a peep-toe: 

Photo: Globe and Mail

Photo: Globe and Mail

While Lebanese men who sashayed about in heels at Le Mall Dbayeh in Beirut were stylishly spot-on.

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Gentlemen, we applaud your efforts. But as women who rush around quite a bit every day running our own business in international development — working hard for organizations like Girl Rising to change attitudes and behavior on girls’ education – mingling with family and friends, minding our health and personal growth – we would never be seen in heels as high as these!

It’s like watching a train wreck: you can’t quite look away, but it’s painful to watch.

Richie_Incognito_Jonathan_Martin

Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, of the Miami Dolphins; Credit: AP

All we want to do (and it is all about us, isn’t it?) is watch a football game. We don’t want to be distracted knowing that our favorite “bad guys” may be damaged goods or that this aggression comes from somewhere other than winning the game.

But with the past week’s news on the alleged harassment within the Miami NFL team, we are forced to go into the locker room and recognize the culture that allows, encourages, systematizes—pick a word—this negative behavior.

I had lunch yesterday with a good friend and professional colleague and this story came up. Since we work on gender-issues in international development, it was rather obvious to us that the only way to change negative behavior towards gender is a massive change in the environment that tolerates such behavior. The best way to make this change  is through policy and the strict enforcement of that policy.

Are you listening, NFL?

Think about this: If we spend the majority of our time at work in comparison to the time we spend at home or play—whatever “play” is—it is logical that our behaviors at work would dominate or influence our life.

I remember seeing an article once that asked people, Would you want your children to see how you behave or act at work? Many said no.

Understood.

So I find the NFL now struggling with a situation of alleged harassment or bullying. In interviews with other professional football players about this incident, their response are: “ This is how things are in the locker room. What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.” These responses sound eerily like those we hear in so many countries where rape and abuse are considered allowable offenses that are culturally condoned.

Just because it is what has been done doesn’t mean it is right or should be tolerated. Whether it is the NFL’s, or any professional sport’s, aggressive and hazing practices or rape as a political tool for control.

Behaviors—negative or positive—are not easily turned on and off. And a quick survey of behavioral literature will tell you that the negative behaviors in the locker room or work place spill over into domestic and civilian life.

I’d like to think the NFL case is the opportunity to make necessary changes and in so doing influence other work environments, proving that good behaviors also win games.

I came across this infographic the other day and found it tells a powerful story on the importance of girls education in its simple design and messaging. Education for women is the key to so many pressing development issues!

One of our partners, Girl Rising, a global action campaign for women’s education, are doing amazing work to advance the availability of education to women around the world. Check their website to see when the ground-breaking documentary, Girl Rising, will be shown near you.

USAID Women's Education Infographic

This infographic was produced by USAID as part of their 50th anniversary celebration. It represents USAID's commitment to education and provides some great statistics about the importance of educating women in developing nations.

Kudos to our friends and colleagues at Games for Change

Earlier this week they launched their innovative new project, Half the Sky http://www.gamesforchange.org/press-room/

And to their partners USAID, The Ford Foundation and Show of Force.

Its formal name – Half the Sky Movement Media and Technology Engagement Initiative – is a lot to remember and quite official-sounding….it doesn’t really tell you how exciting and groundbreaking this program is.

It is a mix of games and social media (Facebook game came on board early) and traditional media such as short videos to help change behavior and attitudes toward women and girls’.

What does it do?

Evidence shows that a combination of communication tools – games, videos, social media, news stories can contribute to a shift in attitudes and behaviors toward women and girls (gender). Half the Sky has corralled these new and traditional media tools to create multiple sources of information that reach populations at all levels – national and community.

Half the Sky has focused on pregnancy care – getting men involved in pregnancy care, elevating and equalizing girls’ status in their family, and deworming treatment and prevention.

The games that are part of Half the Sky – developed by Games for Change – will be launched in Kenya and India and are being translated to Swahili and Hindi.
Community interventions include three mobile phone games.

So…who made it happen?

USAID…The Ford Foundation…Facebook game developed by Frima Studio…Games for Change…Show of Force…

Congrats to all…and THANKS!