Participatory Action Learning on Gender Mainstreaming in Kenya – Reflections from the Field

By Patricia Njoroge

A little while ago, Robert Chambers blogged about a conference ‘Engaging with Crisis-affected People in Humanitarian Action’ that he attended. Robert reflected on the change from top-down measurement towards accountability to the people he has witnesses over. Patricia Njoroge, who met Robert at the conference got in touch afterwards to share about a Participatory Action Learning project which illustrates the difference a participatory approach can make to people affected by crisis.

In 2013 the World Food Programme (WFP) and IDS launched a Participatory Action Learning (PAL) project ‘Innovations from the Field: Gender Mainstreaming from the Ground Up’. The project is funded by USAID and is being piloted in five countries: Kenya, Malawi, Lesotho, Senegal and Guatemala. The project’s objectives are to learn and sharewhat already works to mainstream gender equality in WFP field programmes. And to apply the lessons to strengthen gender-sensitive practice within WFP.

In Kenya WFP staff identified four themes they wanted to research through the PAL process. In December 2013 the ‘Deepening Understanding of Gender Relations’ and the ‘Communicating with the Field’ PAL Teams undertook a field study at the coastal region, using participatory tools to engage with communities involved in WFP Kenya’s Cash for Assets (CFA) programme. As well as talking about a range of benefits associated with the programme, several programmatic issues were raised by the affected communities. The best we could do was to record these on small hand held video recorders – this had a great impact! On returning from the field these issues were shared with management and steps were initiated to resolve them.participatory action learning 1

Providing feedback to the communities
In March 2014, two members of the PAL teams returned to the study communities and provided feedback on actions taken. Community members very much appreciated that action had been taken on the issues they had raised and also that the fact that the Team was able to visit them again and provide them with feedback. Often researchers collect community members’ views but not all are able to return and give feedback on actions taken with the information provided. The team showed those interviewed a video developed with their recording/contributions. The joy of having a team listening to them, and taking their concern to management, action taken and then going back to give feedback was immense. They said they appreciated that the organisation was now listening to them. They were happy to see themselves on film, with one person commenting about one of the women shown in the videos ‘she is now known across Kenya!’

As part of the analysis of findings, the PAL teams reflected on the use of different participatory tools during the study.

Time Line (12 hour clock)
This tool helped to highlight how men and women spend their time in a day. Where there was a member in the Focus Group able to write, the team guided the discussion and the members would discuss freely and write on the manila papers provided. This was an ice breaker, often causing laughter as participants reflected on how men and women spent their time differently, as well as creating space for discussion on how WFP can engage more men in project activities to reduce the burden on women.

At the end of the session, the list of what men do and women do was distinctive with men having a shorter list while the women’s list was far longer. The men all acknowledged that women do a lot more than men in a normal day and are the first to wake up and last to go to sleep.

When I used this method I found it is very engaging, there’s a relaxed atmosphere and participants don’t focus on themselves but rather discuss and agree on a common general activity to write down. Also, as a start I tell them I want to learn from them (they have the power to teach me about their lives) – all in all a very rewarding and satisfying experience.

Gender Participation in Productive Activities
With the help of this tool participants mapped five main daily activities and through proportional piling they showed how many men and how many women participate in each activity. This was a very participatory exercise as it involved drawing signs of men and women on a manila paper to represent proportions of engagement in various productive activities. It elicited some interesting, and sometimes conflicting, results. For example, in one community a group of women concluded that for four out of the listed five activities (CFA, farming on own land, paid labour, charcoal burning for sale) women represented eight out of ten people doing the activity, while for the remaining activity – drinking boko,(the local brew) – men rated ten out of ten. This resulted in a hilarious moment as one woman tried to point out that there are a few men who look for paid work. Yet in a discussion with young and older men, while they agreed that men’s participation in CFA activities was low at a mere 1 out 10 men, they said they participated more than women in casual labour and equally in charcoal burning. However, they did acknowledge that women’s contribution to income generation on top of their participation in CFA activities meant that in general women were doing more than men.Community members participating in workshop

Problem Census in Communication Tool
The tool helped to clarify how affected communities usually communicate between each other, how they receive information about the CFA project and how information is relayed through different sources and means. The tool also helps identify the preferred/ideal information-flow, including what channels to use in order to ensure communities receive information about projects effectively. This information is not always easy to capture through just verbal focus group discussions, neither is it easy to make people understand what information you are trying to obtain from them. Hence, using this tool to engage people helps both the participants to understand the information they should try to give as well as it assists the facilitator in her/his task to guide the conversation and map out the issues in an easier way.

Benefits of using participatory tools in the project
To sum up, these participatory tools helped in engaging with community members, creating an open friendly learning atmosphere with them educating the team and clearly bringing out issues for discussion. The participatory tools bring the participants closer to the subject and elicit rich discussions on the subject matter. It also holds the participants’ attention and the moderator has less fear of losing their audience.

In the course of the discussion, interrelated problems are discussed and causality factors identified. This provides a good opportunity for those involved to identify measures which can redress the weak points. By using the tools the beneficiaries felt they were in control of the process, telling their story in their own words.

Patricia Njoroge is a Gender and Protection Advocate with the World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya

Read Robert Chambers’ blog post:

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