Women, land and Food Se­cu­rity

By: Winnie Watera

The pro­longed dry spell that rav­aged the coun­try for the past months left al­most 10.9 mil­lion Ugan­dans food in­se­cure, a joint in­ter-min­is­te­r­ial state­ment laid in Par­lia­ment on Feb­ru­ary 14th noted. This num­ber is ex­pected to rise, with 1.58 mil­lion need­ing food re­lief. The em­i­nent food scarcity is mainly at­trib­uted to the scanty rains that the coun­try has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and the over de­pen­dence of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion on rain. As luck would have it, mid-Feb­ru­ary of­fered a glint of hope for many. Un­for­tu­nately, the rains came with the force to fell down a 10 foot ba­nana plant, only ex­ac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem.

Food se­cu­rity is de­fined by FAO[1] as a sit­u­a­tion where all peo­ple, at all times, have ac­cess to suf­fi­cient, safe, nu­tri­tious food to main­tain a healthy and ac­tive life. The con­cept, built on three pil­lars; avail­abil­ity, ac­cess and the use of food, is fairly not char­ac­ter­is­tic of the cur­rent food sit­u­a­tion in Uganda as all re­gions in the coun­try have been dev­as­tated, Karamoja sub-re­gion be­ing the worst hit.

The gov­ern­ment has, in a bid to mit­i­gate the prob­lem for­mu­lated a UGX 8.4 tril­lion Strate­gic Pol­icy Ac­tion Plan on Food Se­cu­rity to span over a pe­riod of four years. Dis­course has con­tin­ued on how the sit­u­a­tion can be sus­tain­ably chal­lenged, how­ever, what can­not be un­der­stated is the ef­fect food in­se­cu­rity has had on the women of Uganda. We ought to be cog­nizant of the fact that rural women who are overly rep­re­sented in the chron­i­cally poor de­mo­graphic, are also key play­ers (90%) in the agri­cul­tural value chain, from pro­duc­tion (till­ing the land), prepa­ra­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion within the house­hold and a wider pub­lic.

Ex­tra­or­di­nar­ily, women em­pow­er­ment has proven to be an achiev­able, cost-ef­fec­tive and sus­tain­able way for many coun­tries to achieve food se­cu­rity. A cross-coun­try study of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries be­tween 1970 and 1995 found that 43% of the re­duc­tion of hunger was a re­sult of the progress in wom­en’s ed­u­ca­tion. This was al­most as much as the com­bined ef­fect on hunger re­duc­tion as a re­sult of in­creased food avail­abil­ity (26%) and im­prove­ments to the health en­vi­ron­ment (19%) dur­ing the same pe­riod. An ad­di­tional 12% of the re­duc­tion of hunger was at­trib­ut­able to in­creased life ex­pectancy of women. There­fore, 55% of the gains against hunger in these coun­tries dur­ing those 25 years were due to the im­prove­ment of wom­en’s sit­u­a­tion within so­ci­ety.[2]

De­spite the im­por­tant roles women play in en­sur­ing food se­cu­rity, gen­der in­equal­i­ties con­tinue to con­strain wom­en’s ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in mean­ing­ful and pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural prac­tices. One can­not overem­pha­size the role land plays in food pro­duc­tion and the dis­crim­i­na­tion women face in the ac­cess, dis­tri­b­u­tion and pur­chase of land for pro­duc­tion. The pre­con­ceived idea, that men are de­facto or le­git­i­mate land own­ers rooted mainly in our norms and cul­tures has only worked to re­in­force the gen­der bi­ases and con­se­quent prob­lems women con­tinue to face in that re­gard. The Daily Mon­i­tor[3] ran a story of a lady in Mbale called Gamisa whose only piece of land that also dou­bles as her gar­den and only source of in­come was be­ing grabbed by her brother-in-law. De­spite seek­ing re­dress from the po­lice, she was­n’t helped and in­stead was re­manded to Malukhu Prison. Gamisa is only a sta­tis­tic, one of the many women in Uganda who are af­fected by this kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion on a daily ba­sis.

The irony of the mat­ter is, Uganda boasts of laws that pro­tect the rights of women. The 1995 Con­sti­tu­tion is in it­self very com­pre­hen­sive in this re­gard and ac­cords both women and men the same rights[4]. In ad­di­tion, pro­vides that any­one can own prop­erty[5] and also pro­hibits cus­tom­ary laws, tra­di­tions and cus­toms that dis­crim­i­nate against women[6]. In the same spirit the Land Act of 1998 and its sub­se­quent amend­ments; mainly of 2004 and 2010 have pro­vi­sions on se­cu­rity of oc­cu­pancy on fam­ily land (on which a spouse re­sides and uses for sus­te­nance) pro­tect­ing women[7]. On the other hand the Suc­ces­sion Act (Amend­ment) De­cree 22/​72 of 1972 rec­og­nizes the right of women to in­herit their hus­band’s prop­erty, al­though with vis­i­ble lim­i­ta­tions. So with all these laws clearly stip­u­lat­ing pro­tec­tion of women, why then do such in­jus­tices like in Gamisa’s case still hap­pen?  Re­search has at­trib­uted this to the lack of po­lit­i­cal will on the part of lead­ers to fight for non-dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices and also a mis­match of the laws and cus­toms and norms that up­hold Pa­tri­archy.

As a con­se­quence of the dis­crim­i­na­tion for and against women in the ac­cess, dis­tri­b­u­tion and pur­chase of land women will con­tinue to have neg­a­tive ef­fects to food pro­duc­tion. This un­avail­abil­ity also poses a myr­iad of other chal­lenges like lim­ited ac­cess to credit as a re­sult of lim­ited or no col­lat­eral or even ac­cess to in­puts for im­proved pro­duc­tion. All these lim­i­ta­tions neg­a­tively im­pact the so­cio-eco­nomic well­be­ing of women and the cy­cle con­tin­ues push­ing many fur­ther into ab­ject poverty.

Sec­tion 4.10, ti­tled “Land Rights of Women and Chil­dren” in the 2013 land pol­icy reaf­firms the fail­ure of Ugan­da’s for­mal law to over­come dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices con­cern­ing wom­en’s land and in­her­i­tance. And as ear­lier men­tioned other fac­tors be­ing con­stant, land and the role of women is piv­otal in en­sur­ing food se­cu­rity. It is there­fore im­por­tant that if the gov­ern­ment is search­ing for pol­icy so­lu­tions to sal­vage the sit­u­a­tion, the im­por­tance of gen­der dif­fer­en­ti­ated data in the wake of food in­se­cu­rity is con­sid­ered to en­sure that Gen­der sen­si­tive reme­dies are for­mu­lated.

[1] World food Sum­mit of 1996

[2] FAO Gen­der Equal­ity and Food Se­cu­rity

[3] 1st March, 2014 Pg. 28

[4] Ar­ti­cle 21 of the Con­sti­tu­tion Uganda

[5] Ibid 26 (1)

[6] Ibid 33

[7] Sec­tion 38 (A) and 39