Male involvement key to family nutrition
Super dads - Champions of good nutrition
Men are breadwinners in most households, but few of them take an active part in household affairs, particularly decisions around nutrition and preparation of food. These are considered a woman’s duties.
But men such as Martin Nyirenda and Anderson Mbeye, from the area of Traditional Authority Kaluluma in Kasungu, are turning up their noses at such stereotypes and are actively participating in making decisions affecting food consumption in their households. They are determined to go to the ends of the earth to provide for their families and ensure they are well-fed.
Nyirenda, from Luziwa Village, is the secretary of Umodzi Fathers’ Group, which started in December 2021 with support from Afikepo Nutrition Programme, to encourage men to take an active role in promoting nutrition in their families.
“It is a man’s responsibility to take part in household chores, more especially when his wife is pregnant. Some problems can be avoided if a man takes part in domestic chores,” says Nyirenda.
Afikepo’s main goal is to end stunting in young children by targeting children from zero to five years, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and adolescent girls.
Haswell Mulenga, Nutritionist for Afikepo in Kasungu, says while the programme targeted community groups that are often dominated by women, they realised that exclusion of men would hamper promotion of good nutrition at household level.
“To end stunting, the father must also be involved. If you have the support of the head of the house, everything goes on smoothly. Women gain a lot of knowledge on nutrition from various groups they belong to, but most men don't have that knowledge. As a result, they can't understand why they need to eat six groups of food. If a man has nutritional knowledge, it is easier for him to take care of adolescents, under-fives, pregnant women and also breastfeeding women,” says Mulenga.
Since he joined the group in January, Nyirenda has become a champion of good nutrition for his family. Apart from providing for them, he sometimes cooks and performs other household chores.
“There are some foodstuffs such as cooking oil or meat which a woman alone may not afford. So, if I don't take care of nutritional needs of my family and their hygiene, then who will? That's why I find it important to take part. If my wife is sick, she doesn't have to cook for the family when I am around, it is my duty to do so,” added Nyirenda.
His wife, Alinafe Zimba, agrees.
“Before men were engaged by Afikepo, it was difficult to convince them to buy some foods. They would always say we were being difficult by demanding food beyond their means. But now that they know the importance of six food groups, it's not difficult to convince them to do so,” says Zimba.
Life has not been easy for men such as Nyirenda and Mbeye, who are constantly ribbed by their friends, but they won't let mockery stand between them and the care needed for their families.
“For all we do for our families, some men regard as behaving like women, that we are being controlled by our wives. But we try to sensitise them on the importance of male involvement in taking care of the health of their families,” says Mbeye who comes from Mkanda Village.
He says, as members of the fathers’ groups, they encourage each other to take part in activities that promote good household nutrition.
“As men, we need to help our women, especially when they are pregnant. A child needs supplementary foods to grow properly and it's my duty as a father to provide that,” says Mbeye.
With funding from the European Union (EU), FAO and UNICEF are implementing the Afikepo Nutrition Programme in 10 districts, including Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Salima, Kasungu, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje.