Gender has been gaining recognition as an important topic in public health interventions. To date, however, little attention has been given to gender within the field of malaria prevention. Cecilia Makafu and Kanuth Dimoso of VectorWorks Tanzania explain that while the impact of gender norms on health areas such as HIV and family planning is well-known, “gender and malaria is a topic that has largely been neglected.” In their roles as gender champions, they are seeking to change that.
Cecilia and Kanuth, selected as the VectorWorks project’s first gender champions, are spearheading gender initiatives for the VectorWorks Tanzania program based in Dar es Salaam. VectorWorks is a five-year global malaria project aimed at increasing access to and use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and other proven vector control interventions, funded by the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP). Kanuth and Cecilia’s work in Tanzania is part of a larger VectorWorks initiative to strategically consider gender across program activity areas and project management.
Cecilia got her start working on gender as a medical student, when she was selected as minister of gender at her university. She has been working on malaria for six years now, and she currently serves as the head of Malaria and Child Health for PSI Tanzania. In this position, she sees the need for greater consideration of gender issues in malaria prevention. Beyond gender differences in biological vulnerability, which is often what comes to mind when discussing malaria and gender, Cecilia notes that gender norms can impact bargaining power within the household, exposure levels, and other factors that need to be considered in malaria prevention programs.
When asked why she was interested in becoming a gender champion, Cecilia said, “gender has been an interest since I was young … it touches the life of every individual. Addressing gender issues can bring measurable impact.” As a gender champion, she looks forward to making better use of the data collected across project activities to identify gaps and challenges and to bring those gaps to policy discussions.
Kanuth has been working in the malaria field for the past three years and serves as the Program Monitoring Manager for CCP on the VectorWorks Tanzania project. He notes, “In my fieldwork roles, I’ve encountered a true [passion] for issues that need a gender lens. Thinking about gender is a strategy to reach everyone in a community and society equally and without obstructions.” VectorWorks focuses on ITN policy, ITN distribution, and monitoring and evaluation. Kanuth notes that these three areas are good vehicles for identifying and addressing gender issues that could impact the effectiveness of the program. He explained that gender gaps and challenges identified through effective monitoring and research activities can be raised to the policy level, which will ultimately translate into more gender equitable program implementation.
Cecilia and Kanuth are helping to carry forward a larger gender initiative within the VectorWorks project. In 2015, VectorWorks began the journey to gender integration. This undertaking included comprehensive literature and desk reviews to understand the current gender aspects in malaria vector control. Through this analysis VectorWorks found a lack of published information on how traditional and cultural gender norms, at the household and individual levels, could influence ITN distribution, access, and use. This information, coupled with interviews with staff from NetWorks, the VectorWorks predecessor project, about gaps and opportunities for gender considerations in their work, brought to light the need for a more systematic approach to gender integration.
This finding led to the creation of a comprehensive gender strategy that aims to systematically integrate gender considerations across project management and key project activity areas. Key recommendations in the strategy include publishing and presenting on gender research and emergent gender considerations, collecting sex and age disaggregated indicators for operations research and monitoring and evaluation activities, identifying barriers to engagement for females and males at each level of intervention, promoting gender transformative social and behavior change communication, and developing and delivering a gender training for project field staff. The hope is that these initiatives will not only address, but also aid in identifying gender-related gaps and opportunities for malaria vector control.
In January 2016, as part of VectorWorks’ new gender strategy, Waziri Nyoni, the chief of party for VectorWorks Tanzania, and two Baltimore-based staff, April Monroe and Eric Filemyr, facilitated a full-day gender workshop at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) field office in Dar es Salaam. During the training, staff explored how gender norms and expectations shaped their own lives and work. The CCP team was introduced to the VectorWorks project’s gender strategy and then collaboratively developed recommendations for integrating gender into their specific project activities and into project management in Tanzania. The VectorWorks team will raise the profile of the relationship between gender and malaria through presentations at the LLIN Task Force and PMI partners’ workshop, share success stories related to gender and vector control through the VectorWorks website, blog and social media, ensure that data collected is used to identify gaps and improve decision making for more gender equitable programming, and plant the seeds for gender transformation through social and behavior change messages. By working as a team to develop these recommendations, each individual involved in the process will take ownership of recommendations and help put them into practice.
In July, VectorWorks lead another gender workshop in Ghana, the next largest VectorWorks country program after Tanzania. Following the training, two new gender champions, Vivian Abiwu and Richard Kpabitey, joined the movement. Over the next three years, VectorWorks will continue to identify opportunities to address gender issues that can impact malaria programming. Cecilia and Kanuth will remain important champions for this cause through their work in Tanzania.
April Monroe is a Program Officer II at Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs working on VectorWorks.