“We Prefer the Friendly Approach and Not the Facility”: On the Value of Qualitative Research in Ethiopia
BACKGROUND: Quantitative research is useful for answering ‘how many’ or ‘how much’ questions, while qualitative research helps answer ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Most research about health extension workers (HEWs) has been quantitative and few studies examine the experiences of HEWs themselves. This qualitative study draws attention to the gendered dynamics of human resources for health at the community level.
METHODS: Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with 14 HEWs (two FGDs in Afar Region and two in Southern Nations Nationality and Peoples Region), and interviews with 45 HEWs from Afar Region, SNNPR and Adwa (Tigray Region) were conducted to identify how gender issues affected their well-being. Questions were designed to explore personal safety, stress, autonomy, self-esteem, family, other social relationships, as we wanted to analyze the extent to which these gendered issues affected HEWs in their day-to-day work.
RESULTS: By employing female HEWs, the Health Extension Program (HEP) has seen substantial gains in ‘practical’ gender needs by improving women’s access to, and utilization of maternal and child health services. Although the HEP has the potential to be gender transformative by providing employment for HEWs, there is limited evidence that it 'strategically' advances women's position. Many HEWs had heavy workloads, received low pay relative to other public sector jobs and lacked opportunity to transfer or upgrade their skills and advance within the health workforce hierarchy.
CONCLUSION: Qualitative research can provide complex descriptions of the social world to better understand what people such as HEWs say and the meanings they give, thus providing explanations for some health problems outside disciplinary boundaries.