“If it's issues to do with nutrition…I can decide…”: gendered decision-making in joining community-based child nutrition interventions within rural coastal Kenya
Gender roles and relations play an important role in child health and nutritional status. While there is increasing recognition of the need to incorporate gender analysis in health planning and programme development, there has been relatively little attention paid to the gendered nature of child nutrition interventions.
This qualitative study undertaken in rural Coastal Kenya aimed to explore the interaction between household gender relations and a community-based child nutrition programme, with a focus on household decision-making dynamics related to joining the intervention. Fifteen households whose children were enrolled in the programme were followed up over a period of 12 months. Over a total of 60 household visits, group and individual in-depth interviews were conducted with a range of respondents, supplemented by non-participant observations. Data were analysed using a framework analysis approach.
Engagement with the intervention was highly gendered with women being the primary decision-makers and engagers. Women were responsible for managing child feeding and minor child illnesses in households. As such, involvement in community-based nutrition interventions and particularly one that targeted a condition perceived as non-serious, fell within women’s domain. Despite this, the nutrition programme of interest could be categorized as gender-blind. Gender was not explicitly considered in the design and implementation of the intervention, and the gender roles and norms in the community with regards to child nutrition were not critically examined or challenged. In fact, the intervention might have inadvertently reinforced existing gender divisions and practices in relation to child nutrition, by (unintentionally) excluding men from the nutrition discussions and activities, and thereby supporting the notion of child feeding and nutrition as “women’s business”.
To improve outcomes, community-based nutrition interventions need to understand and take into account gendered household dynamics, and incorporate strategies that promote behaviour change and attitude shifts in relation to gendered norms and child nutrition.