International community development has changed significantly over its history, shifting from primarily responding to disaster events to improving communities using a sectoral approach to issues like health, agriculture, and water and sanitation. Then came an awareness that many of these responses heavily benefitted men and were neglecting women and girls and so an emphasis on women and girls developed to directly deliver various benefits under the banner of gender equity. This has largely been through legislation and/or gender-targeted programming that benefits women while better informing and sensitizing men.

While this evolution has contributed somewhat to improving certain metrics of gender equality in certain situations, we have heard from both men and women that this segregated approach often has negative outcomes after a development agency program ends. This should not be surprising, as anytime one segment of a population is favored over another it is likely to create resentment. How visible that resentment is depends on the power of those not benefiting or being penalized.

In late 2021, a small Zimbabwean community-based organization, Score Against Poverty (SCORE), with help from the Canadian government, decided to test out a different approach. We believed that, as social behavior is based on culture, perhaps the road to behavioral social innovation lies through leveraging culture as a positive disrupter of negative gender norms. We also saw an opportunity to test this theory in our work with Shona men and women in the staunchly patriarchal rural area of Mwenezi, Zimbabwe. We thought that, if husbands could be actively engaged in a community-designed program that (a) respected their culture and (b) recognized and reinforced their importance to the family and community in new ways, then not only would this address the weakness of previous approaches but it would assist men in redefining masculinity and associated norms in a positive and supportive way. Further, we thought that the most powerful context in which to do this would be that of household labor and family care. Within ten months, this locality and cultural approach was quickly supported by the evidence in practice.

Read the full article about gender equity in Africa by Vurayayi Pugeni, Caroline Pugeni, and Dan Maxson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.