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Reflections on field testing the Health Action for Women

February 28, 2013

At Hesperian, we talk a lot about our field-testing process, but we realize it must sound a little mysterious to people outside our offices.  A group of staff and advisors just reviewed the final comments generated by field-testing our new title in development: the Health Action for Women , a book of information and activities designed to open spaces for work on topics such as sexuality, family planning, HIV, and violence against women.  We received such helpful feedback that we wanted to share this as an example of our field-test process.

Chapters of the book were sent to 40 community-based partners in 23 countries. Field- testing  was done in a wide range of circumstances –  activities and draft content were tested with groups of adolescent girls, groups of younger and older women, with groups that mixed adolescent girls with young married women, and mixed gender groups all discussing difficult topics together.  A total of over 1400 people participated in discussions and group work – 1,021 girls/women and 356 boys/men!

 Our partners collected and organized their feedback and insights about the issues most important to women – and men. Importantly, many shared their own strategies and ideas about how they go about building health within their communities. For example, the Tathapi Trust in Pune, India shared this experience about using the draft Health Action for Women:

Both men and women enjoyed the activities. They were discussing gender for the first time. At the end of the day all the group members decided that they are going to raise the issue of equal pay for equal work; especially about agricultural labour. At present, Men get Rs. 150 & women get Rs. 70 per day. In fact, women put in more work than men. They decided that they will raise this issue with Tanta – Mukti Committee (a village-level dispute resolution committee) and elected representatives of Gram Panchayat (the local self-governance institution) to discuss this issue at the village meeting.

We received feedback that helped us better understand what activities were very hard to do, and how we can help make the information clearer.  We received feedback from both experienced community organizers and those who were just learning to run a group meeting which gave us valuable input to ensure that the material we are developing will be useful by people with varying levels of experience. 

We were inspired by some of the responses that we received.  Here are just a few of many examples:

In Bangladesh, a local organization Change Associates, testing the Family Planning chapter reported:  “The participants were mostly young women garment workers living in slums in Dhaka city. They were very much engaged and happy with the training. They became quite emotional as, according to them,’ nobody had ever shared anything like this with them before and that also in such an entertaining way’. They requested that we should be doing this more often! This was quite an unexpected response, as the training was held on a weekend we thought they might not be too happy about it.”

In Malawi, field testers with the Women’s Empowerment Network of the Gender chapter used the material to frame questions and work for women’s rights in the future, notably: “There are generally few sessions [like this] which involve men in Malawi except for those men who are educated and have wider knowledge on gender issues. Even if they are invited it’s always a few number of them who turn up. The men during the activity were motivated and were anxious to learn more. But the Big Question was ‘how will we come up with such huge strategy and motivate the others?’”

In Pakistan, field testers from the organization Social Transformation and Educational Prosperity brought together men and women to discuss and test activities from several chapters including Safe Abortion (content on post-abortion care), Gender, and Safe Motherhood.  They had never before attempted to conduct mixed gender discussions on these topics and found overall the experience to be effective and useful and one that they will try to replicate going forward.  For example, in reviewing the “Safe Motherhood” chapter, the group’s discussion of the story about a man from Tanzania who organized emergency transportation for birth emergencies was very engaging for the men.  The men who participated in that session have since met again to discuss organizing rapid response to birth emergencies.

In Guatemala, the Sexuality and Sexual Health chapter was field tested with a mixed gender group of adolescents by a Go Jovenes Associate, who reported that as a result “the participants learned about their sexuality, how they perceive their sexuality and to recognize that pleasure is part of sexuality and sexual health.  The group identified some of the cultural and social barriers that limit women’s opportunities to learn about their sexuality.  There were a few times during the workshop when some of the participants expressed feelings of discomfort and embarrassment, but as the activities and discussion progressed very positive feelings were expressed by the participants about what they were learning. “ 

All of us at Hesperian are deeply honored by the commitment of time, energy, and inspired by the insights and experience that these 1400 people have shared with us – and ultimately with others around the world as we work to integrate their comments and contributions into the final version of Health Action for Women.