Written by: Keerthana Hirudayakanth, Intern, Breakthrough ACTION
In Northern Nigeria, women’s participation in conversations about their own health is not always a given. Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria is trying to change this by positioning female inclusion, health, and well-being within religious social norms that emphasize fairness and justice.
The goal of adalci is to provide a level playing field and is rooted in Islamic teachings that guide family and community life. Using the lens of adalci, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria is implementing interventions with a deliberate inclusion of women, particularly female religious leaders, to disseminate information in the community and bring the needs of women to the forefront.
Through this intervention, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria helps male and female religious leaders promote appropriate maternal and child health behaviors and encourages men to support their families to do the same.
“Islam mandates all husbands ensure adalci among their families, and this includes helping them to adopt behaviors such as attending prenatal medical appointments, spacing births, providing appropriate nutrition in pregnancy, and exclusively breastfeeding,” says Hajiya A’ishatu Salihu, a member of the Social and Behavior Change Advocacy Core Group supported by Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria in Sokoto State.
Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria works across a number of health areas, including maternal, newborn, and child health plus nutrition; malaria; family planning; and tuberculosis. Conversations with hundreds of community members and stakeholders carried out by the project during formative assessments brought forth invaluable insights that highlighted the importance of addressing gender to improve health outcomes.
Women’s empowerment groups in Kebbi, Bauchi, and Sokoto states seek to do this by building women’s skills in financial management and entrepreneurship while holding structured discussions on maternal and child health behaviors. This strengthens their ability to make decisions in their households and take action on pregnancy, childbirth, and child health care issues.
“I have always looked forward to an opportunity to be in a group where I will get to hear other women share their experiences so that I can also learn from them,” said a member of the women’s empowerment group in Bauchi State.
As part of another intervention, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria worked closely with local Ward Development Committees to build their capacity around health behaviors and use a gender lens in their activities. Recognizing the importance of female representation to amplify the voices of women in the community, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria strengthened female representation in the leadership and membership of 45 Ward Development Committees. These committees are now at least 35 percent female and two women play leadership roles.
Women in Ward Development Committees have brought forth remarkable improvements to the lives and health of women. One such example is Ladi Umaru, a member of the Ward Development Committee and health subcommittee in Yeldu, who advocates for the health needs of women and young children and mobilizes the community to increase referrals to primary health facilities for routine immunizations and prenatal care. From August 2019 to March 2020, she tracked and referred 49 children under 12 months for routine immunizations and 198 pregnant women for prenatal care. The Wife of the Governor of Kebbi State publicly recognized her as a community champion for her contributions to maternal and child health during a town hall meeting with women in Yeldu.
“I now see mobilizing pregnant women for prenatal care and tracking children under one for immunizations as a personal responsibility,” Ladi says.
Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria is now expanding maternal, newborn, and child health activities into two new states with urban and predominantly Christian communities. While in the early planning stages, the team is working to understand the needs of these communities and adapt these gender approaches to suit their context. With the foundation it has built and new activities now in development, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria is critically examining and transforming gender roles in society.