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A gender analysis of household food insecurity in the South Eastern Region of Malawi
Dunga, Hannah Mayamiko
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The study examined a gender-based household food insecurity in the South Eastern region of Malawi. The rationale behind the study emanated from concerns regarding food insecurity around the world, especially in developing countries like Malawi. To achieve the main objective the study set both empirical and theoretical objectives as a guide. The following theoretical objectives were set for the study: to review the background literature of food security; to review the measures of food security; to review the literature on the food security on global and regional levels; to review the nature and theoretical causes of food insecurity; to review the socioeconomic determinants of food insecurity; and to review the literature and studies on gender-based food insecurity in developing countries. Through the mentioned theoretical objectives, the study extensively reviewed the existing literature on food security both at global and region level. Some of the literature reviewed include the statistics on food security status of different countries, particularly developing countries, where the food insecurity problem is on the higher side. The study also highlighted some of the existing literature on gender disparities on food insecurity in developing countries, especially Malawi, as a reference point. The study also had empirical objectives as follows: to assess and compare the food security status in female and male-headed households; to identify the level of food insecurity between rural and urban households; to identify the coping strategies for food insecure households both in the rural and urban areas; to determine the vulnerability of households towards food insecurity; and to assess the underlying determinants of food insecurity in female and male-headed household for rural and urban areas. The empirical objectives were addressed using data that was collected from the south eastern region of Malawi. A questionnaire was employed to collect data from 550 households from both rural and urban areas. Households to which the questionnaires were administered were randomly selected from designated EAs (Enumerator Areas) assigned by National Statics Office in the 2008 census. The study adopted a quantitative analysis where different quantitative methods were used such as descriptive analysis (cross tabulation, frequencies and means) and two regressions were also employed to achieve the empirical objectives. The regressions employed in the study were a multiple regression and multinomial logistic regression. The results of the study were as follows: the demographic characteristics showed that the study area had more households headed by males as compared to females, and also that the majority of the households were from the rural areas. The economic characteristics of head of households indicated that there existed gender inequalities in terms of employment status, where a majority of female-headed households were unemployed as compared to their male counterparts. Similarly, in terms of literacy levels there were more females that had low levels of schooling, and others no schooling at all as compared to their male counterparts. In summary, the demographic characteristics indicated that there existed inequalities in most spheres of life between male and female-headed households. In measuring food insecurity, the study adopted three measures namely Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS), Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS) and Coping Strategy Index (CSI). After a correlation between the three measures, results showed that there was a statistically significant correlation between the three measures. This implies that the three chosen measurements complement each other in measuring the food insecurity status of households. After employing the three food insecurity measures interchangeably to identify the food security status of the households in the study areas, results indicated that there were more food insecure households in the area. Further, measuring food insecurity status based on gender and location of households, the cross tabulation results between gender and HFIAS and HDDS, as well as the difference mean scores between gender and CSI, indicated that there was a statistically significant difference (p< 0.001) between the household food insecurity status and gender of the household head, where more female than male-headed households were food insecure. Similar results were also obtained for location of the household with rural locations found to be more food insecure. Results from the first regression predicted the vulnerability to food insecurity. It revealed that the usage of coping strategies can be employed to predict vulnerability towards food insecurity, where gender, location, household size, income, and employment status of households were found to be significant predictors of households’ vulnerability towards food insecurity. The results also showed that female-headed households, and households in the rural areas, had a higher CSI score meaning they employed more coping strategies to mitigate food insecurity, hence were regarded as more food insecure as compared to their counterparts. Similarly, those that were unemployed had a higher CSI score, meaning they were more food insecure. Households that had a larger household size, used more coping strategies, as well as those with lower income levels. The second regression results revealed the determinants and causes of prevalence of food insecurity employing four categories of food insecurity (food secure, mildly food insecure, moderately food insecure and severely food insecure). It was found that household size, number of years of schooling of head of household, income, location, and employment status of household head were statistically significant predictors of the probability of a households falling into one of the four levels of food insecurity. It was alarming to find that female-headed households were, at all levels, found with a likelihood of falling into the worse off category in terms of food insecurity as compared to their male counterparts. The study therefore revealed that there exist gender disparities in terms of food insecurity at the household level, where female-headed households were found to be more food insecure as compared to their male counterparts. More female-headed households were found to employ more coping strategies as compared to their counterparts, thereby indicating an increased vulnerability to food insecurity. It was also shown that the three measures adopted by the study could actually predict the food insecurity status of households, with complementary results. To deal with gender disparities in food insecurity, the study recommended that policymakers should address them by improving among others, gender disparities, for example, gender inequalities in education attainment between girls and boys, which occur in other spheres of life that could contribute to the problem of food insecurity. Such disparities results in higher illiteracy levels of women than men and also leads to the inability of women to be able to fend for themselves. On the methodology part the study recommended coming up with a composite measure of food insecurity that is multidimensional incorporating the three measures employed in this study.