Today is International Women’s Day and a timely opportunity to reflect on gender equality and Send a Cow’s unique approach to sharing African experiences year-round with young people here in the UK. Development Education Manager, Claire Pickman explains…

‘‘Send a Cow has an extensive development education programme which has been running for 12 years and which has already engaged with an estimated 2.75 million students worldwide.  We’ve always felt that gender inequality isn’t isolated to a handful of developing countries – it’s a global issue which manifests itself in many ways. From forced marriage to pay inequality, abuse to sexual objectification, it permeates societies across the globe and it’s important we share these lessons with the younger generation if we’re to create a fairer world.

Our ‘Lessons from Africa’ programme covers a huge range of topics such as climate change, conflict resolution and sustainability for ages up to 18, but one issue that remains vital is gender equality.

Being a woman in Ethiopia

Our teaching resources on gender are currently focused on Ethiopia: a country which the World Economic Forum ranked 124 out of 145 on the Gender Gap Index in 2015. Though some progress has been made, women remain one of the most oppressed and vulnerable groups within traditional rural communities with little to no control over household matters, even family planning.

Women are expected to help farm the land whilst tending to livestock, childcare and other chores ‘reserved’ for women resulting in a huge imbalance of work. This coupled with a lack of access to food, cash and resources creates a dire situation for women where they are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and disease, suffer in pregnancy and drop out of school.  

Sticks and stones

But progress is being made with a simple Send a Cow method that uses sticks and stones to convey an important message. Transformative Household Methodology (THM) is a visual device that helps people to realise and address the imbalance of household relationships. Working in Send a Cow self-help groups, men and women are asked to demonstrate the allocation of work within the home by plotting stones onto a grid made of sticks.

As the women’s stones begin to mount up, men begin to appreciate and respect the contribution of their wives and daughters. In time, they understand how addressing the workload balance can result in a more productive family unity.  One of the men who took part in THM told Send a Cow workers: 

Before the training I didn’t prepare firewood, I didn’t wash clothes and I didn’t wash my children. I have always considered such activities as women’s work and I would have felt ashamed to engage in them.

Women too begin to realise their own worth and marriages can flourish.

Before this process (THM), I did not know what a ‘wife’ was beyond working and rearing children. After this, love grew between us and now we share and discuss everything about our lives and our children.

The reason THM is so successful is that it is a simple, visual activity which results in a change of mind-sets. By dividing household tasks more equally, women avoid getting overloaded, stay healthier and girls stay in school for longer. Another significant impact is the new attitudes and role models parents provide for their children.

Female builders? That's just wrong...

Our thought-provoking teaching resources explore issues such as THM, gender equality in the UK and women’s representation in government globally. We ask students to consider the wider global context in which both men and women experience inequalities as well as reflect on their own preconceptions. I remember one student who, during a group discussion on stereotypes, described the idea of a female builder as ‘just wrong.’

Another student asked ‘Where do we get these ideas from?’ which opened up the platform for further discussion on role modelling, language and cultural norms. Although it may be easier for our students to spot gender inequality from other cultures, the challenge is to look beyond our own cultural norms and for our young men and women to push the next frontier of internalised gender stereotyping so that we are one step closer to a more just and sustainable world.''

For more information on Send a Cow's devlopment education work visit