Mothers as Agents of Household Health

A Nigerian family, comprising a mother, a young girl, a young boy, and a father, sitting on the ground.

In many places in the world, mothers are still the main care providers in the family. They procure and prepare the food a family eats every day. When children fall sick, mothers usually take on the task of caring for them. Mothers are, by default, the keepers of a family’s health.

A mother equipped with health knowledge and a keen sense of agency can choose to prepare more nutritious meals, be equal partners when discussing birth spacing, and counsel their children on healthy behaviors.

In Nigeria, where Breakthrough ACTION is working to improve the practice of healthy behaviors, many women do not have the agency or ability to make household decisions. Even though women are the de facto custodians of a family’s health, gender expectations and financial status prevent them from exercising their full potential as agents of household health.

To unlock women’s potential to enhance their family’s health, Breakthrough ACTION helped to establish women’s empowerment groups, also called Hasken Mata (Women’s Light), in four states in northern Nigeria. Inspired by Mothers’ Savings and Loans Clubs,  women-led microfinance groups, each Hasken Mata group brings together 15—35 women of childbearing age to learn about maternal, newborn, and child health and nutrition.

A group of Nigerian women who are part of a women's empowerment group sitting on the ground, under a tree.

Members of a Hasken Mata group discuss nutrition. Photo by: Ramatu Ada Ochekliye, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria

Since the first Hasken Mata groups were established in 2019, there are now 242 Hasken Mata groups with 4,708 members across five states in Nigeria. Many members report the uptake of health-enhancing behaviors such as early and exclusive breastfeeding, adopting family planning methods, ensuring full immunization for their children, and taking extra care to prepare nutritious meals in their homes. The families of over 4,000 women are healthier because of their involvement in Hasken Mata groups.

“I am grateful that I joined this women’s empowerment group. I have learned a lot about health, I can practice these behaviors at home, and I have seen significant changes in my household.”
— Rukaiya, Member of Hasken Mata Group in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory

Generating Health and Wealth

In addition to providing a space for women to learn about healthy behaviors that benefit their families’ health, Hasken Mata groups also serve as microfinance institutions. Women can save and borrow money through their groups to support income-generating activities.

Thanks to access to finance and improved financial literacy gained through their groups, some members have started micro-business ventures to sell their crops or other food items. Others have used the funds to enhance their existing businesses. Hasken Mata members have raised over $217,445 for business expenses. Since mothers are more likely to spend their income on their families’ health, the wealth generated by Hasken Mata members is, in effect, an investment in their families’ health.

A group of women who are part of a Nigerian women's empowerment group sitting on the ground. The two women in the foreground are counting money.

Hasken Mata members collect money to finance income-generating activities. Photo by: Alheri Jatau, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria

Creating a Virtuous Cycle of Health and Well-Being

The principles of autonomy and self-reliance guide the operation of Hasken Mata groups. While a community leader facilitates each group and provides supervision, group members use operational guidelines developed by Breakthrough ACTION to determine their group’s shared vision, objectives, and activities. In operating their groups, women build a sense of camaraderie, exercise their leadership skills, and grow confidence and sense of agency.

With their improved financial status, newfound confidence, and access to a support network, Hasken Mata members feel more empowered to discuss health and social topics—including family planning and reproductive health, nutrition, malaria prevention, and social norms—with their spouses and other community members.

This way, Hasken Mata members create a virtuous cycle of good health and well-being. Mothers are the key that unlocks better health for their families and the families of others in their communities.

Written by: Meei Child, Communications Officer, Breakthrough ACTION