International Women’s Day 2013: Empowering Women to Meet Orphaned and Vulnerable Children’s Needs in Nigeria

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women around the world. As a social determinant of health, gender demands attention in any effort to ensure health equity. URC is committed to delivering gender aware services and to investing in and enhancing the unique expertise and leadership skills of women and girls. Men, women, boys, and girls should have equal opportunities to achieve their full health potential. URC undertakes activities to analyze and respond to the way each group interacts with the health system. Addressing the different needs of these groups in accessing and utilizing services contributes to equity and equality and makes care more cost-effective and patient centered. 

URC serves women and girls as effectively as men and boys by eliminating gaps between the health status of males and females and promoting the involvement of both men and women in improving health care in their communities and families. URC partners with WI-HER, LLC, a woman-owned small business, through two US Agency for International Development (USAID) projects: the Health Care Improvement project (HCI) and Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems (ASSIST). The projects seek to prevent and overcome gender disparities, ensure greater access to and utilization of care, and leverage existing roles and norms in societies as a way to strengthen health outcomes.

Empowering Women Caregivers Improves Child Nutrition and Household Economics

In Nigeria, the high toll of the AIDS epidemic has led to large numbers of parentless and vulnerable children. Nearly one in four children there, 17.5 million, is characterized as an orphaned or vulnerable child, that is, a child living in circumstances with high risks and whose prospects for continued growth and development are seriously threatened. This staggering population of children in need not only presents issues related to caring for the children, but also causes resource shortages and burdens entire communities. Women living in a village or community with orphaned children traditionally become their caregivers. They are often grandmothers or elderly women caring for many children at once. 

Under HCI, Taraba Youth Progressive Action (TYPA), a Nigerian community-based organization, piloted a food and nutrition service program to help alleviate the burden on female caregivers and improve health outcomes for the vulnerable children they care for in Taraba state.

HCI and ASSIST introduces quality improvement (QI) methods to help such organizations develop, implement, scale up, and sustain best practices in service delivery. An integral part of the QI model is the quality improvement team, a committee of stakeholders, service providers, clients, and community members who assess program activities, identify barriers, and offer their unique perspectives to develop improvement initiatives locally.

Using this approach, TYPA trained 75 caregivers, mainly women, in food production, preparation, storage, and use and organized a community food bank. The program served two service areas for vulnerable children: 1) food and nutrition and 2) household economic strengthening. In discussing local needs, the community QI team found that the need was greater than the food bank could supply and that many households were selling the foods for income.

Once the community identified this need for change, HCI introduced the Village Savings and Loan Association model, beginning with 10 women who received loans for irrigation farming. The women pooled their loans to buy some land for dry season irrigation farming. Its output provided enough to feed the vulnerable children, improving their nutritional status.

"With this business ... I am sure of three square meals a day for all of my children."

Building on this success, the loan association trained more women and provided loans for economic generation from other products and activities. One woman, having received training and a loan to buy and sell firewood, said, “With this business, I am sure of at least one of my children is being educated, and I am sure of three square meals a day for all of my children.”

Giving women skills and resources makes the improvements sustainable; women no longer depend on outside sources to deliver food to the food banks. By investing in the roles of women as caregivers, the project alleviated the burden on female caregivers while improving outcomes for children.

The women become empowered to be able to identify local and sustainable solutions that contribute to improving the health and economic well-being of orphaned and vulnerable children. “Empowered women become more active participants in identifying solutions that work for them and their families,” said Dr. Taroub Faramand, WI-HER President.

"Empowered women become more active participants in identifying solutions that work for them and their families."

Taking a Gender Integration Approach

Corresponding with USAID’s Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, ASSIST developed a gender integration strategy for improvement activities. Gender integration is an approach applied in program assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation; it accounts for social constructs associated with being male or female and prevents or addresses gender-based inequalities. The ASSIST strategy is designed to seamlessly draw gender integration into modern QI models and presents a holistic approach to gender integration in health care improvement that focuses on:

  • Building local capacity and foster local partnerships,
  • Integrating gender in improvement activities,
  • Documenting and sharing learning through knowledge management strategies and research, and
  • Scaling up and institutionalizing best practices.

For more information on ASSIST’s gender integration activities, see “Integrating Gender in Improvement.”

March 07, 2013
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