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“We are gender champions who have made gender equality our cause and mission in life.” So declares Richard Kpabitey who, along with Vivian Abiwu, is a VectorWorks Ghana gender champion working to redefine the gender norms of a traditional Ghanaian society in malaria prevention. To this end, they identify gender inequities in their cultures, at their jobs, and in their lives and work to change them.
Vivian and Richard were both selected as VectorWorks Ghana’s Gender Champions two years ago. Since then, Vivian and Richard have worked hard to operationalize the project’s gender strategy and to systematically integrate gender into project activities, research, and operations. As the main gender focal points on the project, they are creating a culture of gender awareness, inclusiveness, and progress.
In a recent interview, they shared insights into their interest in gender, how it began, and why it is important to them.
For Vivian, the pervasive gender norms of traditional Ghanaian society, and the effect of those norms, sparked her interest in gender. She describes how the male dominated culture impacts all aspects of Ghanaian life—at home, school, and work. For example: the traditional role of men as decision-makers greatly influences all three of these spheres. This norm, along with other traditional gender norms, strongly impacted Vivian’s decision to focus some of her career on gender. She said that, “having grown up in a male dominated society, it has always been my wish to help create a balance in the way boys and girls, and men and women, interact and work together to build their homes, families, and communities.” Vivian has dedicated her work to promote that gender balance.
While Richard agrees with Vivian that the gender socialization of his youth impacted his interest in gender, it was his exposure to gender issues during his time working in monitoring and evaluation that sparked his interest in gender work. While addressing gender issues in monitoring and evaluation may seem limiting, Richard disagrees. He strongly believes that gender considerations go beyond collecting sex-disaggregated data, to include examination of the role of gender socialization, norms, and roles in health interventions and outcomes.
Vivian and Richard’s passion for redefining gender norms have been the driving force behind the gender work happening today on the VectorWorks Ghana project.
During the first three years of the project, VectorWorks Ghana’s gender successes centered on promoting men’s involvement in insecticide-treated net (ITN)-related behaviors. Since ITN-related behaviors in Ghana tend to be perceived as being only for women, Vivian and Richard reframed gender roles around ITN use and the project focused its efforts on encouraging equitable involvement by men and women in malaria prevention activities. Through the social and behavior change communication (SBCC) activities at primary schools, VectorWorks nominated both male and female students as champions of ITN use and care, with the goal of educating and reminding students that ITN use and care are not just women’s job. One way this was done was through equitably assigning male and female students roles in classroom dramas that highlighted hanging, mending, and caring for ITNs—traditional female responsibilities. Additionally, at Parent Teacher Association Malaria Prevention Meetings, the project advocated for equal representation of both moms and dads to promote a shared responsibility for the proper use and care of ITNs.
This project year, VectorWorks Ghana will expand on its successes from the first three years and will continue to promote equitable ownership of ITNs, as well as equitable ITN use and care by men and women by way of special Parent Teacher Association interactions, and school and community-based drama performances by school children.
Our gender champions, Vivian and Richard, continue to strive for excellence in their roles; both are optimistic about the impact VectorWorks is having on challenging and, potentially, transforming traditional Ghanaian gender roles and norms. Despite whatever challenges may lie ahead, Vivian and Richard are dedicated to raising the gender profile, not only in VectorWorks operations and activities, but also in the larger malaria control community.
Vivian Abiwu is a program officer and Richard Kpabitey is a monitoring and evaluation manager on the VectorWorks Ghana Project.