A new view of men's role in the home

The INSPIRE program in Manicaland is trying to find a solution to a persistent problem: Despite being an area rich in agriculture, even in years when rains are good and harvests come in well, the average rate of stunting (slower than usual growth) of children five years and younger is quite high. Stunting is one of the common indicators of chronic malnutrition in Zimbabwe.  Syndon Samukute (popularly known as “Baba Di”), hailing from the depth of Honde valley, is a nutrition champion with a difference.

“Our children had food but they did not have a balanced diet. They told us it is hidden hunger.  We eat but we lack many nutrients needed for the body to grow well,” explained Samukute.  He demonstrated how nutritious porridge is cooked – adding a raw egg, butternut squash, peanut butter, sugar and iodized salt. Porridge with a distinctive taste!

When asked what other men think of his active role in the domestic chores normally relegated to women, Samakute shrugs off the question. 

“I have no problem with cooking,” an obvious understatement given the enthusiastic porridge preparation demonstration he just delivered to a group of ENIPPA (Extended Nutrition Impact and Positive Practice Approach) circle members, NGO and government representatives.

He acknowledges he is a little different than most men in the area.

"Most men", he says, "have strong patriarchal attitudes. They consider themselves the head of the household, and they do not cook.  Most men do not even know the foods required in their households and therefore do not provide enough resources to meet the family nutritional needs.   I see men fighting new ideas, but their attitudes only lead us to underdevelopment. Men need to work with their wives.”

The fight against stunting is worth it, he says, because collaborating with his wife in diversifying their crops and their diet has improved the health of their two sons. In his home, Samakute says, “We have lost these old views, and we’re happy, our children are healthy.” 

How do we get more men to be like Samukute?

Samukute's solution is a practical one. "Get men involved in income generation activities that interest them and then link issues of household spending to health issues like nutrition, hygiene and others. Let them see how it is costing them."

He added that men are interested in seeing the value that comes out of something before they join in. He highlighted that when men and women participate in nutrition activities as couples, the difference is significant. He was prompt to thank his wife Loice Chideya for encouraging him to participate in the ENIPPA circle and nutrition sessions.

Samakute learned to make fuel efficient stoves at INSPIRE training sessions, and has actually produced 111 of them, 60 of which he has sold at $8 each. He’s an enthusiastic promoter of both the portable “tsotso” stove people can use outside their homes, as well as a “jengeta huni” clay stove built into the interior of a kitchen, and vented with a small chimney. These built-in models can keep a pot of water warm overnight, so the family can wash up in the morning. And they save a lot of time otherwise used in gathering, chopping, and hauling firewood—time now better spent on producing more and better food for the family.

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