Geography & Environment Publications

Food Security in Northern Malawi: Gender, Kinship Relations and Entitlements in Historical Context

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Journal of Southern African Studies

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This article examines household food security in the Ekwendeni region of northern Malawi using the concept of entitlements, set within a broader world historical framework. The bargaining approach to household gender relations is critiqued through an examination of the data. Historical relations created a gendered experience of food security in northern Malawi. Qualitative research carried out in the Ekwendeni region indicates that women have fewer entitlements within the household, at least in part due to the modified patrilineal system of the Tumbuka-speaking people with Ngoni heritage in the region. They have a higher workload in terms of household reproduction as well as agricultural and market activities. Women are responsible for caring for sick relatives within and beyond the household, which affects household food security. Wives are less likely to receive support for kin in the form of seeds, cash, land or food, in comparison to husbands, who in turn do not always give these resources to the household. Women do not have much decision-making power over major production issues. There is evidence for high levels of spousal abuse, as well as excessive use of alcohol by husbands, which also affects household food security. Wives' unequal position is thus due to a lack of entitlements, such as land, access to employment, support from kin and the state. Some differences between this area of northern Malawi and other studies from central and southern Malawi are due to the different entitlements, particularly control over land and income, which speaks to the enduring implications of different lineage systems in the region. Food security is thus affected by women's unequal access to entitlements in northern Malawi, set within a world historical framework, which is essential for understanding the broader causes of food insecurity.


Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr is currently a faculty member at The University of Western Ontario.

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