Sunday, June 1, 2014

Women in Rural Aquaculture - Understanding Why

In Congo, as in many other developing countries, there is an emphasis on inclusion of women in development activities for their empowerment and to put money into the hands of the most responsible family member--the mom. Recognizing this trend (though not fully grasping its importance in the Congolese context) I have also promoted the involvement of women in our aquaculture support initiatives. But there are too many men doing little, waiting for viable employment and a meaningful occupation. There are men languishing about while their homes and families are neglected, waiting for economic up-turn, so that they can get a job and provide for their family...after they've purchased a new bicycle or radio, in some cases. Why place the added burden of fish farming on the already over-worked women? Why not encourage the under-employed men to take up this enterprise for the betterment of their families?

During my tour of the FISH for HOPE project in February, I met many women at each fish farming community who have taken the tools and knowledge that we've provided, and constructed, or are constructing fish ponds. I met two particularly industrious women, Maman Dobolo and Maman Marie, who have taken up fish farming for survival of their families. Maman Dobolo has already had enough revenue from her ponds to purchase two goats and has used the tools we gave for fish farming to also improve her garden. When we stopped in on Marie, she was knee-deep in muddy water, laboriously moving soil to prepare her ponds. They recognize that this enterprise can shift the balance of health and suffering. These women needed a way to feed their families and they see fish farming as the solution.

The difficulty of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is outside the perspective for many of us living in affluence. Everything takes so much more effort and time - collecting water, gardening, preparing food, washing. And in most households these chores fall to the women and children.
But loads of men have also built ponds - in fact, more men than women. Why is it important to include women? I knew I was still missing the mark on this topic and wanted to understand the man-woman dynamic better.

Maman Corrine is the Director of Women's Ministries for the CEUM (Ubangi-Mongala church region of Equateur Province, DRC), as well as a wife and mother. Her husband died several years ago, so she knows particular hardship in providing for her family, not just the basics, but even a post-secondary education. I asked her opinion on the importance of including women in development initiatives, especially aquaculture.

She informed me of the male-dominated culture, of too much palm wine, of the man who props himself up in a chair each morning and waits for his wife to bring him his coffee and toothbrush. She told me of the gap in priorities, men valuing things that bring apparent status, over the things that bring health and well-being to their families. 

Corrine Kitwit (second from left), Dir. of Women's Ministries, alongside Pastor Dole, Coordinator of Aquaculture Devt.

However, she also told me about the shifting mindset among many men, particularly those of the Christian community. The message of gender equality is spreading through villages as a result of educational projects in the church supported by World Hope Canada. More and more men, including fish farmers, are recognizing the value of women as partners in the home, not simply laborers. The family dynamic is moving toward greater balance in the role of each member. This is good news for rural prosperity and family well-being, and it's a development theme that we can support by encouraging women to become involved in aquaculture.

Stephen Hall, Director General of Worldfish Centre says this:

"Until we achieve a transformation in values, beliefs, mindsets, attitudes, behaviors and practices, development efforts will be critically constrained. In particular, it needs to be understood that giving more opportunities to women does not mean taking away opportunities from men; empowerment benefits everyone." (full blog post, 6 March 2014).

Women don't need more to do, but they need latitude to participate in income-generating enterprises that benefit their families. Men don't just need a job, but they need to recognize the contribution that they can make to their households in partnership with their wives. Women have the best interests of their family in mind and the church is influencing men to share this value more deeply. The church is helping to transform the values, attitudes, and behaviors of Congolese men, and World Hope Canada is creating opportunities for women through aquaculture. Be a part of it.

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