Driving change for fathers in Kenya
In Murang’a County, Kenya, motorcycle taxis are doing more than ferrying goods and transporting people. The drivers — many of whom are dads — are participating in a father-to-father support group that is challenging gender stereotypes and norms to increase male engagement in nutrition and caregiving.
Posted on September 1, 2023
Mornings in Peter Wanyingi Nyoike’s house in Murang’a County, Kenya, would be familiar to any parent with school-age children. First, he rises early to prepare for work and to get his daughter, Waithira, ready for her day. Then he drops her off at school before spending the rest of his day working as a boda boda rider (motorcycle taxi services commonly found in East Africa), while also shopping for food and spending time with his family, including his wife, Mary, and a younger daughter who is not yet in school.
It hasn’t always been that way. “In this area, most people have stuck to the old ways of doing things, where gender roles are still defined,” says Peter. “It is viewed by many as a woman’s job to take care of the family.”
He used to think that way too. “I thought that if I provided for them financially, I would not be expected to help in other ways.”
Now he feels differently.
“I learned that there is more to being a father than providing food,” he says. “A father needs to protect them and be more involved in their health and education.”
Peter is particularly proud of his role and participation in producing a budget and menu for the family. “We create a budget for dinner and breakfast for the family, and I take the time to purchase groceries that would make a nutritious diet,” he explains.
His motivation is simple: “Not all chores should be left to the wives. We as men also have the responsibility to ensure that our families have a nutritious diet.”
A crucial factor in Peter’s change of mind has been his role as “lead father” in a father-to-father support group comprised of 39 other boda boda riders. Group members gather regularly to discuss topics relating to maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition. They are guided by community health volunteers, a nutrition coordinator in Kandara Sub-County and the Njia kumi za anzilisha booklet (which means “10 steps for a right start” in Swahili). This booklet — more commonly called the Baba Anzillisha booklet (“right start fathers” in Swahili) after the larger health program it supports — was cocreated by Nutrition International, the government and a focus group of fathers. It contains a range of information on maternal nutrition and child health services, including antenatal care visits and breastfeeding.
Peter’s role is to recruit new members to the group, inspire them and help them learn how they can improve maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition by being champions of gender equality. Edith Wamaitha Gitau, a community health volunteer, nominated Peter for the role because she had noticed “that he was quite active, engaging and was respected among his peers.”
That decision is now paying dividends. “A big impact has been felt through seeing more of the members show support towards their wives and children and pay more attention to proper nutrition,” says Edith. “Men are now more supportive of their wives through the prenatal period, and more of them are receptive to taking their babies to the clinic and providing them with proper nutrition.”
The members and their families are noticing the differences at home. Mary, Peter’s wife, has seen first-hand the difference that it’s made, particularly when it comes to grocery shopping and taking on more household responsibility. “The father-to-father group has been very instrumental,” she shares. “Peter is now very keen on proper nutrition. He helps with the household chores, and we create the household budget together.” Mary also noted that thanks to what Peter had learned through the Baba Anzillisha program, he plants and maintains a kitchen garden for the family throughout the year. “Proper nutrition has helped us maintain good health as a family.”
George Muiruri, a fellow boda boda rider, joined after seeing the differences in Peter’s life. “I was fascinated by how Peter and his family lived and wanted the same for my family. Being there to watch my baby grow would strengthen our bond,” he says, adding that the experience has been everything he hoped. “The group has been impactful to my family. I have been able to bond better with my youngest child.”
Paul Njoroge, another group member, feels the same way. “I would highly recommend the father-to-father group to someone with a family or starting a new family, since I now understand how to take care of an expectant mother and how to take care of the child to ensure healthy nutrition,” he explains. “The future of this group lies in more people getting involved in this education, including both the young and the elderly, concerning maternal health and nutrition.”
The program is made possible by Nutrition International’s partnership with the government of Murang’a County. The father-to-father group was first formed through funding from Nutrition International, but since 2021, it has been supported through domestic funding from a joint partnership agreement between Murang’a County and Nutrition International. The group aims to mobilize peer support and empower groups of fathers with young children with knowledge that helps them challenge negative masculinities and play a more active role in the health and nutrition of their families. The program has continued to provide training and mentorship, including refresher training, education materials and mentorship.
“We don’t just implement activities,” explains Charles Ndiritu Mumbi, Nutrition International’s County Program Coordinator in Murang’a County. “If we are looking at doing a project, we want to ensure that a particular activity will continue, even when we are not there. That’s why Nutrition International developed a partnership model: to ensure the sustainability of the interventions and the activities supported through the program.”
That partnership means we work in tandem with the government and the programs they provide. “Nutrition International has supported the healthcare workers in capacity building by taking them for trainings on maternal health,” explains Judith Thiongo, Nutrition Coordinator in Kandara Sub-County, which is part of Murang’a County. “They have helped us to support father-to-father groups when facilitating our meetings with them and giving us all the support we need.”
For Peter and the other boda-boda riders, the benefits are clear.
“The father-to-father support group has equipped us with the knowledge to care for our families,” says Peter. “Members have realized changes in their homes. There has been so much more happiness.”