Bridging the gap: integrating nutrition into gender programmes in Northern Nigeria

A recent workshop held in Abuja, Nigeria, brought together 34 gender activists, from Nigerian NGOs and CSOs working at the federal level and in Northern states. Participants came from a range of backgrounds including health, education, agriculture, and rural and community development, to learn more about how evidence, including findings from the Operational Research and Impact Evaluation (ORIE) work of the Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) programme, can support the advocacy efforts of NGOs and CSOs working at the community level. Specifically, the group sought to address the following questions:

  • How do we ensure that research evidence is used in programme design and policymaking?
  • How do we identify good quality and relevant information when there is so much available?
  • How do we make sure we reach the people who have the influence to change the things that matter to us?
  • How we capture policy maker’s attention and commitment to act where there are so many competing demands on them?

Participants undertook a series of small group exercises to model the crucial steps for effective evidence-based advocacy:

  1. Narrowing your focus to core critical issues for change.
  2. Identifying your targets – the individuals or groups that have the power to influence your issues.
  3. Framing key messages, based on concrete evidence, which will catch the attention of your targets.
  4. Choosing appropriate strategies and communication channels to reach your audience and convince them to act – calling meetings, mounting public awareness campaigns, or using social media platforms, for example.

Low maternal autonomy and high levels of child malnutrition in Northern Nigeria

Participants used evidence around the links between low maternal autonomy and the high levels of child malnutrition in Northern Nigeria generated by the ORIE project as case material and each group worked on a different issue. One of the groups chose to work on girls’ education. This is how their evidence-based advocacy strategy looked:

  1. Narrowing the focus: ensure that all girls are allowed to finish basic schooling.
  2. Identifying the targets: religious and community leaders who can, in turn, convince their constituents of the importance of girls’ education. Crucially, this includes fathers attending mosques, churches and community meetings, as they often make decisions about their children’s education on their own.
  3. Framing the key message: children of better educated mothers tend to be better nourished. This is important for the health and life chances of those children and for healthier and happier communities, and also contributes to lower health costs and greater productivity and wealth for the nation.
  4. Choosing appropriate strategies: the group felt that a focus on Islamic teachings, which stress that to educate a woman is to educate an entire society because of women’s role in child rearing, would resonate well with religious leaders.

The workshop was a collaboration of ORIE, the Civil Society for Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN) and the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN). CS-SUNN and FOMWAN staff played a crucial role in convening the workshop participants and they are available to support participants’ efforts to use evidence in their programmes and advocacy going forward.

By Frances Hansford, Associate Consultant at Oxford Policy Management and gender specialist on the ORIE project. She can be contacted at [email protected].