Empowering Fathers as Agents of Change

Father’s Day is a chance to celebrate and appreciate all of the dads around the world. This year, Partners is taking a closer look at the fathers involved in our Haiti Nutrition Security Program (NSP).

NSP uses the care group model to spread knowledge among Haitian communities in order to improve the health and nutrition of pregnant and lactating women and children under the age of five. The program’s overall goal is to promote behavior change in nutrition in four geographic focus areas of Haiti in coordination with the Ministry of Health. The majority of the care groups are comprised of Mother Leaders, women who attend training sessions and then pass their knowledge onto other families in their neighborhoods.

Men play a relevant role in the majority of development programs, especially at the domestic level. However, health programs and training opportunities typically are not designed to build men’s capacity to be responsible, competent husbands and fathers.

To be successful, behavior change initiatives need to target different groups in different ways. NSP is working with more than 1,200 men through our Fathers groups and 500 adolescent boys in our Youth care groups. Male promoters are also trained to engage men and male youth by building the capacity of fathers to talk about their roles in supporting nutrition and health in their own households and communities.

However, awareness-raising campaigns are not enough to integrate men in behavior change activities around nutrition. Recognizing the difference in priorities, interest, roles and responsibilities for men and women, NSP developed a curriculum to respond to the needs to incorporate men into the program. Traditionally, men are not involved in cooking or feeding activities in the household. However, men are usually very important during decision making and often referred to for gender issues. Therefore, NSP trains male promoters on techniques to engage men and raise their awareness on increasing and diversifying their participation in the household.

Has this technique worked? According to NSP staff, fathers that participate in NSP are more supportive of pregnant and lactating women and are influencing other men to contribute to better hygiene, nutrition and health. They are also supporting the work of the Mother Leaders by taking more responsibilities and playing new roles in the households: both in caring and improving livelihoods while producing more nutritious foods in the kitchen gardens. Men’s participation with family gardens, such as building fences, soil preparation, planting and monitoring of the garden, have allowed the Mother Leaders to find time to support their neighbors and other families in needs. Men and fathers also often plan joint opening sessions with mother leaders to talk about issues of common interest.

Now, more men want to become father leaders; they have asked for training materials to train other men. They participate with women during the community activities and use also theater and songs to convey the nutrition messages, as the Mother Leaders do in their classes. They spend time together with the male promoters to discuss their experiences and the benefits of being supportive of their mothers, wives, and sisters, as well as in spending time with their kids and other groups in the communities. Men are very supportive of these behavior changes in nutrition when engaged and trained early in the process. The transformation of the traditional male roles in Haiti through these fathers and teenage boys is starting the process of making long lasting change for all in the community.