On many evenings in West Pokot County, Kenya, under a tree or on a river bank, you might come across the ‘Kokwo’ — a gathering of elderly men discussing community issues. Traditionally, the purpose of Kokwo was to share ideas about ways to improve the community and discipline those who had broken rules, moderated by a leader selected at the start of each meeting. The area where Kokwo was held was regarded as holy, and decisions made were final.
Action Against Hunger and its local partners in Kenya saw an opportunity — could the Kokwo be a place to foster greater gender equality and create positive change?
According to our gender analysis in West Pokot, conducted in 2016, women alone carry the burden of caring for children, while men typically make the major decisions in the household and community. Significantly, adult men have control over all income, spending, and valuable assets in the household — women are left with little power to make decisions on use of family assets for generating income and caring for the family. Fathers do not participate in nutrition and health services offered at community and health facilities: these activities are believed to be the sole responsibilities of mothers and other female caretakers.
The Kokwo was identified as a place to change these norms, for the benefit of all an avenue to reach men with nutrition and health messages, conduct advocacy to enhance nutrition knowledge and resilience, and increase male support and involvement in nutrition and health activities.
Eventually, the project brought about several examples of positive impact:
- Fathers and grandfathers gained knowledge about maternal, infant, and child nutrition.
- Men opened up to discuss issues that they would shun away from at the community dialogue meetings, where both men and women are involved. Their reluctance is due to a cultural belief that nutrition belongs to women and children.
- Fathers have joined mother-to-mother support groups to support their activities, including crop farming, establishment of sanitation facilities, and more.
- Men learned to provide protection and support for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after a baby’s birth.
By going to where community elders already gather to discuss important issues, the Kokwo model has proved to be effective and efficient in delivering messages to men. The knowledge shared and actions agreed upon in Kokwo meetings related to maternal and infant nutrition are given more respect and attention than they would have received in other fora.
Today, thanks to the Kokwo, more fathers in the community are learning and listening to lessons about child-rearing, maternal and child health and nutrition, and how best to support the women in their lives.