In southern Zimbabwe, traditional gender roles and power differences between women and men often result in women having to perform the bulk of the chores required by daily life. Even in loving relationships, it is common for women to take on most of the responsibility.
“I still remember when I first met my wife,” Naphert, 50, told us. “I wrote her a love letter with very little confidence that she would give me a favourable response.”
Married for 27 years, Naphert and his wife Eleginia (also 50) have had a long, happy relationship and have tackled life’s hurdles together. They’ve raised two sons, suffered the loss of their daughter, developed a thriving farmland, endured consecutive years of drought, recovered with a surplus of crops which they sell for income, and now their newest joy is their two-year-old granddaughter, also named Eleginia. They’ve done all these things together. But for a family in rural Zimbabwe, “together” hasn’t always meant equal.
We asked the couple about the division of labour in their relationship over the 27 years, and they didn’t have to think too hard to figure it out:
“I would wake up, make a fire,” began Eleginia, “Prepare the children’s meals, ready the school uniforms… go to the borehole to collect water… Then I would go to work in the fields. That would basically be my day.”
And your husband?
“My husband would just be here at home.”
We looked to Naphert for elaboration:
“I would be resting all day. Probably doing a bit of carving under the shade while she did 99.9 per cent of the work.”
Fortunately for Eleginia, the lifestyle they are describing is now behind them. Since meeting the couple four years ago, CARE has started Men’s Groups which teach men the value of chore-sharing and taking a more equal role in their relationships. Men and boys are educated about the extent to which women and girls are burdened by chores, and sharing that workload can impact on their partners’ happiness, as well as increasing their crop yields and improve their family’s resilience during lean season.
Though the men are often willing to share duties with their partners, traditional cultural biases exist which can make men reluctant to be seen helping their wives. For example, a helpful husband is said to have been “bewitched” or to have taken a “love potion”.
Naphert is now one of 46 male advocates in the Men’s Group program who are actively trying to challenge these gender stereotypes throughout neighbouring communities. He leads conversations around division of labour, the responsibilities of fatherhood, and the dangers of domestic violence.
“We wake up and we go to the fields together,” Naphert tells us. “We milk the cows together… I then take the cattle to the pastures while my wife works around the house. After coming back from the pastures, I take care of the chickens and make sure they have food and water.”
Since Naphert completed the training, Eleginia reports having a better relationship – more equal in every way:
“We work together, we even plan together, share our money, and I’m very thankful for that… My life has been made easier.”