The prolonged dry spell that ravaged the country for the past months left almost 10.9million 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 overdependence 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 worsening the problem.
Food security is defined by Food And Agricultural Organization (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. 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. 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. In addition, provides that anyone can own property and also prohibits customary laws, traditions and customs that discriminate against women. 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.