Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr Belinda Dodson


This dissertation addresses the need for a deeper understanding of how gender roles and identities shape household access to food in African cities. The case study of Blantyre, Malawi, is similar to other medium-sized cities in southern Africa where the colonial legacies of structural poverty shape contemporary food insecurity, intra-household gender relations, and urban development. Five conceptual threads run throughout the dissertation and draw together the overarching theoretical and empirical contributions of the research. The first conceptual thread is that urban food insecurity in Blantyre is characterised by a growing level of precarity and vulnerability. Informal, seasonal, and inconsistent incomes often fail to provide reliable access to food, resulting in scarcity at daily, monthly, or seasonal intervals. Secondly, this precarity has a gendered impact on household food security. Women command lower incomes than men, but many also have access to resources such as customary farmland. The geographical focus of the research highlights the effects of gendered mobilities on accessing these resources and on accessing food. The third thread focuses on theoretical problems of African urbanism, particularly regarding the interconnectedness of urban and rural households and the blurred distinction between urban and rural spaces. Access to rural resources, including physical access and hence mobility, is crucial for many low-income households to be food secure. The fourth thread draws attention to political economic issues of local governance, urban planning, and Malawi's production-oriented food security strategy. Recent policies have undermined urban food security and low-income urban households have insufficient political influence over policies that directly shape their livelihoods. The final thread traces the colonial legacies embedded in this political economy, with particular attention paid to the effects of the geographical legacies of colonialism on Blantyre's built environment. A feminist postcolonial epistemology guided the planning, execution, and analysis of the qualitative methods that empirically ground this dissertation. The result is a layered and richly contextualised demonstration of the centrality of gender and power relations at multiple scales in shaping household food security in Blantyre. The dissertation makes a vital contribution to understanding the urban context of food security, changing gender roles, and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.