Ethiopia faithful house

Families Grow Stronger in Ethiopia

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS

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Neima Wakayo and her husband, Kemal Umer, weren’t always on equal footing when it came to household decisions and responsibilities. Like other couples in their community, they had clearly defined roles for men and women.

“My husband was the only one making decisions about anything involving household resources,” says Neima, who lives in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. “We didn’t discuss anything.”

“Before, we didn’t support each other in doing our work. She was the only person responsible for taking care of the children,” adds Kemal.


Ethiopian couple

Neima Wakayo and her husband Kemal Umer outside their home in Kersa Gera, Ethiopia. The couple took part in family strengthening workshops made possible by USAID’s Feed the Future's Livelihoods for Resilience-Oromia program.

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS.


In April of 2019, the couple took part in a Faithful House training conducted by Catholic Relief Services and the Meki Catholic Secretariat. These three-day workshops are designed to strengthen marital relationships, promote joint decision making and foster open communication between couples. Using the visual metaphor of a house—including its foundation, pillars, walls, windows and roof—the curriculum demonstrates how a well-structured marriage can allow families to flourish. The Faithful House is part of the Livelihoods for Resilience-Oromia program in Ethiopia, which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development's Feed the Future initiative.

“After this training, now everything we do, we do jointly,” Neima says. “If we want to buy or sell something, we will have a discussion, we will plan, and we will do things together. So that is one change.”


Ethiopia faithful house session

Married couples take part in a Faithful House session at the office of Meki Catholic Secretariat in Arsi Negele, Ethiopia.

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS


For example, she says it was her idea to sell their unproductive cow. “She didn’t have any milk or any calves, so I initiated the idea to sell the cow and we replaced it with an ox,” Neima says. Their plan is to fatten the bull to sell and then reinvest the profits to buy farming supplies for the next planting season.

Kemal is also helping out around the house a lot more. “In previous times, if I went to the market I would also be expected to take care of the children, to cook, to wash the children, to feed the children, but now if I go to market and I come back tired, I can have time to rest because he has already supported me by helping in the home,” Neima says. “If I haven’t made stew, he will help prepare it. He has started supporting me by cooking food on a small scale.”

For his part, Kemal is proud of the responsibilities he has taken on. “When she goes to the market, I am the one taking care of the children now. I wash their clothes, wash their faces. I also feed the children,” explains Kemal.

While these may seem like small changes, they represent a significant shift in traditional gender roles in the rural Oromia region where Neima and Kemal live, according to Elizabeth Gebre, a gender officer with the secretariat.


Ethiopian father and child

Alemu Korma holds his child during a Faithful House session.

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS


“The women always take care of the household chores. They are expected to do everything in the house—taking care of the children, cooking, washing, everything around the house. Also, they support their husband in farming activities,” says Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the authority to make purchasing decisions is typically reserved for the husband. And because the men are typically responsible for business-related activities, the wife might not even be aware of how much money the couple earns on a given day.

“The husband doesn’t let the wife know how much [money] he has. It is a problem because the man expends money without the consent of his wife,” Elizabeth says, pointing out that this can result in household income being wasted on alcohol or khat, a chewable stimulant, instead of being reserved for necessities.

The Faithful House trainings yield positive results because of the unique methodology and their holistic nature, says Elizabeth.

Unlike other initiatives, the trainings bring both the men and women together in the same room and couples are asked to sit together. Traditionally in Ethiopian rural society, men and women sit separately. “Making them sit together in the training is important. It helps them understand the lessons,” says Elizabeth.


Ethiopia faithful house training

Married couples take part in a Faithful House session in which the husband and wife learn how to see things from different points of view.

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS


The vast majority of participants can’t read, so the use of strong visuals and interactive activities helps convey the messages and allows them to sink in better.

In particular, the metaphor of the house left a lasting impression on Kemal.

“To construct a strong house, having pillars is very important. So, it is also a requirement to have pillars in a marriage,” he says, pointing out that these include love, faithfulness, respect and communication.

Other important aspects of the metaphor are the door, windows and roof, he says. “To have a door in the marriage is to have responsibility. The other part of the home is the window. This represents forgiveness. Forgiveness is important in the marriage. The roof represents thinking.”

Fetiya Kedir, who is a Faithful House instructor as well as an officer with the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, says the trainings really alter the mindsets of participants.

“This training is special because both the husbands and wives attend the sessions. Their perspectives are different, but during the discussions we reach common ground. They see the perspective from the other side,” says Fetiya.


Ethioian woman leads training

Instructor Fetiya Kedir leads a training to counsel couples on how to share responsibilities and roles in the household.

Photo by Will Baxter/CRS


Ultimately, the outcome is greater mutual respect and understanding.  

“Before, we didn’t have any respect between each other,” says Kemal. “After the training, we understand that respect is very important. If there is ever a problem now, we discuss the problem and solve it together.”

“Family is the base for everything,” says Elizabeth. “In the family, if the husband and wife respect each other, if they make decisions together, if they discuss family problems, it will be good for them and empower them.”