What does strengthening marriages and families have to do with ending poverty around the world?
Everything, as Yalew and his wife Yebirguwal discovered.
For years, Yalew and Yebirguwal struggled to put food on the table for their two children. To begin with, like many Ethiopian families, they had no land of their own but were instead forced to rent farm plots, or work as hired labor. But Yalew was bedridden, physically unable to pursue many of the income-generating activities available to him in his Ethiopian community.
As his family’s hunger crisis grew, they decided to move to a nearby town in hopes that prospects for trade and daily labor would be brighter there. But no matter how hard they tried, it never seemed to be enough.
A Couple Hindered by Negative Norms
Smart and strong, Yebirguwal had all the capabilities necessary to provide an income for her family.
But unfortunately, negative norms and stereotypes around gender in her community prohibited her from work that would have improved the family’s situation. For example, rural day labor jobs like plowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, and threshing were all prohibited to women, set aside for men only. And Yalew didn’t want her working outside the home, anyway.
Similarly, expectations for the roles of men and women translated to life at home. Chores and tasks within the household, traditionally, belonged to the woman.
With Yalew unable to work outdoors to generate income and unwilling to help out around the house due to the norms of their culture, Yebirguwal found herself stretched thin. She needed to do everything but lacked the support to succeed at much of anything.
“I had no voice to decide on our resources, access to health services, and participate in public events,” Yebirguwal shares. “I was unable to go to religious ceremonies without the permission of my husband.”
Reflecting on the inequality of their marriage relationship, Yalew nods his head in agreement. “I considered indoor tasks only for women,” he adds. “We faced a serious shortage of income since there was no discussion and consensus on utilizing our resources. I was not good at managing our budget and expenses, and this led to the serious scarcity of covering costs.”
Stereotypes Shattered, A Marriage Restored
For Yalew and Yebirguwal, everything changed when Food for the Hungry (FH) entered their community and invited them to take part in a Gender Outreach Group with 20 other couples in their village.
Through this proven-effective Gender Outreach Group model, couples increase acceptance of healthier gender norms and improve equitable decision making via guided discussion and dialogue. Groups like these are one of many ways FH supports individual growth through values training, leading to stronger marriage and family relationships and improving teamwork toward common goals.
At each meeting, Yalew, Yebirguwal, and the other couples identified negative gender norms and gaps in their village. They then discussed alternatives to better fill those gaps and improve their family situations.
The difference these simple discussions have made is, in short, amazing.
Yebirguwal and her husband now make their household plans together. They divide their labor roles more equitably both inside and outside the home. What’s more, decisions about the family’s resource are made by consensus, affording Yebirguwal a voice in her own future.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Working together as a team, Yalew and Yebirguwal have accelerated their journey out of poverty by leaps and bounds.
Now, Yebirguwal is the family planner. She has diversified their means of income. She buys sheep and fattens them to gain a profit and rents farmland for plowing and sowing seeds, too. Yalew takes on many household responsibilities like cooking and even started a business selling “tela,” a local drink he brews.
The couple and their children don’t go hungry anymore. In fact, they’ve built a huge house in town and lead a sustainable life.
As a result, their marriage has become a model for others in the community. Yalew and Yebirguwal have been selected as a gender champion family and frequently host neighbors at their home to share the lessons they’ve learned.
By strengthening this one marriage, many more couples will learn to work together as a team and an entire community will be able to break free from poverty for good.