Doctor of Philosophy
Food insecurity represents an enduring challenge for subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). While gender has been identified as an important determinant of food insecurity in other SSA contexts, this has not been a focus of research in Benin. This dissertation examines how gender shapes food insecurity within the agrarian household by examining the household as a place where the broader structural forces that influence food insecurity and gender play out at a micro-level. I take a mixed-methods approach, drawing on community-level focus groups (n=12), semi-structured interviews (n=40), and a quantitative survey (n=600).
The findings reveal that while food insecurity in the region is widespread, its effects are felt differently by men and women. Gendered sociocultural norms that place men as household breadwinners mean that men tend to be ‘blamed’ for food insecurity, while women feel frustrated with their husband’s perceived failure to fulfill their responsibilities. Sociocultural norms dictate what is considered men’s and women’s work, which results in a growing burden of labour for women in the form of survival-driven income generating activities. As livelihoods are reshaped, women are contesting societal norms that dictate the agreed upon division of labour, but in so doing threaten men’s masculinity and reinforce their shame with respect to food provisioning.
In order to manage the stress and hunger which accompany food insecurity, gendered drinking patterns have emerged, wherein men’s alcohol misuse has become a problem. This has further undermined food security by interfering with farm work and diverting household resources. Conjugal tensions and arguments arise as a result and are exacerbated by drunkenness, often devolving into violence. Concomitantly, this results in intimate partner violence (IPV) as a gendered consequence of food insecurity, findings that are confirmed in the quantitative analysis of the regional survey data. Taken together, this research illustrates how gender shapes men’s and women’s experiences of food insecurity within the household, playing into the division of household responsibilities and challenging existing gender norms. Food insecurity is revealed as an important site for the renegotiation of gender roles within the agrarian household, but one that has particularly devastating consequences for women.
Summary for Lay Audience
Access to food is a basic human right, however many people around the world continue to experience hunger and food scarcity, which is referred to as food insecurity. People in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), especially poorer farmers are particularly affected, despite their role as food producers. Research also shows that women in many SSA countries are more likely to experience food insecurity, yet gender has not been a focus of food security research in Benin. Women’s experiences have been underrepresented, and when gender considered, it tends to be added into analyses in a shallow manner. Therefore, while we know that women are more likely to be food insecure than men, how food insecurity affects day-to-day interactions between men and women is not fully understood, especially within the household. To understand how food insecurity plays out within the household, the aim of this study is to examine how scarcity affects husbands’ and wives’ individual experiences and their relationships to one another.
This research reveals that men and women farmers’ experiences and interactions are affected by food insecurity because of how men and women see themselves, and what they are responsible for doing within the family. Men tend to be seen as responsible for providing food to their families, and so when there is not enough food due to factors like soil infertility and drought, men are often blamed for food insecurity. While men feel ashamed, women tend to feel frustrated with their husband’s perceived failures. This shows that food insecurity is experienced differently by men and women because of gender norms and expectations. Women are also frustrated with their large workload, and the already uneven share of work between husbands and wives is exacerbated by food insecurity. This is a source of tension that leads to arguments and often violence. The findings show that violence between married couples, particularly perpetrated by men against women, is a widespread problem that is associated with food insecurity. Overall, the study findings illustrate how and why gender is an important determinant of food insecurity in subsistence farming contexts.
Ragetlie, Rosalind, "Food Insecurity in the Agrarian Household: An Analysis of Gendered Identity, Conjugal Dynamics, and Coping in Northwestern Benin" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7920.
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