Rosalind Steege,Miriam Taegtmeyer, Sozinho Ndima, Celso Give, Mohsin Sidat, Clara Ferrão and Sally Theobald (2020) Redressing the gender imbalance: a qualitative analysis of recruitment and retention in Mozambique’s community health workforce, Human Resources for Health volume 18, Article number: 37 (2020

Mozambique’s community health programme has a disproportionate number of male community health workers (known as Agentes Polivalentes Elementares (APEs)). The Government of Mozambique is aiming to increase the proportion of females to constitute 60% to improve maternal and child health outcomes. To understand the imbalance, this study explored the current recruitment processes for APEs and how these are shaped by gender norms, roles and relations, as well as how they influence the experience and retention of APEs in Maputo Province, Mozambique.

We employed qualitative methods with APEs, APE supervisors, community leaders and a government official in two districts within Maputo Province. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and translated. A coding framework was developed in accordance with thematic analysis to synthesise the findings.

In-depth interviews (n = 30), key informant interviews (n = 1) and focus group discussions (n = 3) captured experiences and perceptions of employment processes. Intra-household decision-making structures mean women may experience additional barriers to join the APE programme, often requiring their husband’s consent. Training programmes outside of the community were viewed positively as an opportunity to build a cohort. However, women reported difficulty leaving family responsibilities behind, and men reported challenges in providing for their families during training as other income-generating opportunities were not available to them. These dynamics were particularly acute in the case of single mothers, serving both a provider and primary carer role. Differences in attrition by gender were reported: women are likely to leave the programme when they marry, whereas men tend to leave when offered another job with a higher salary. Age and geographic location were also important intersecting factors: younger male and female APEs seek employment opportunities in neighbouring South Africa, whereas older APEs are more content to remain.

Gender norms, roles and power dynamics intersect with other axes of inequity such as marital status, age and geographic location to impact recruitment and retention of APEs in Maputo Province, Mozambique. Responsive policies to support gender equity within APE recruitment processes are required to support and retain a gender-equitable APE cadre.


This project is funded by the European Union.
This project is funded by the European Union.