Drought and women : Who is responsible to keep the food on the table?

Women in rural Uganda are often more vulnerable to events relating to climate change, especially drought. They tend to suffer from the negative impacts of drought more than men.

In April 2017, a fieldwork has been conducted to look at the impacts of drought to the food availability in Nyambido Village, Masindi District, Uganda. Several focus group interviews with the members of Nyambido Women’s Community have been carried out to observe how the drought which lead to the food shortage influenced household conflict. This circumstances causes women in rural Uganda, especially in Masindi District, being more vulnerable to the drought than men. They work as farmers to support their husbands’ income, and meanwhile they have to take care of the children and husband too. Before and after work on the farm they have to prepare food for the family. When the severe drought comes and there is a food shortage due to the crop failure, they will still have to find a way to prepare food for the family. Playing a double role in the family, which is often called double burden, is a great challenge, especially when there is gender inequality in distributing household responsibilities. For instance, according to the interview with the Nyambido Women’s Community members, in Masindi District women are bonded to be fully responsible for the domestic works as well as working on the farm. Keeping food on the table is a mandatory responsibility for them regardless of the circumstances. When the drought comes they still have to find a way to provide food for the family otherwise there will be conflict in the household, such as domestic abuse by their husbands either physically, sexually or mentally.

Women in Masindi District struggle more when the drought comes. Severe drought causes crop failure and it affects the availability of food. In the last three years the drought was more severe than the one which happened over the past ten years that caused the food shortage in several villages, including in Nyambido (#1 Women’s Focus Group Interview, Masindi, 4 April 2017). Men, as the head of family, would normally be responsible for managing the income and distributing it to their partner, so the woman can obtain the food for the family. But, when drought comes and men receive less income or even zero income, they tend to force their partner to still keep providing food for the family. As Goode (1971) argues, when there is lack of socioeconomic resources, men tend to force or use violence toward their women partner to show their dominance in the relationship. It is an attempt to project their masculinity or authority in the household and sometimes they use it to gain control over their women.

The gendered social norms in Nyambido community position women in this difficult situation and that makes them more powerless. Women seem to have very limited opportunities to do other things apart from farm work and their household responsibilities. When drought comes and affects the crop productivity, which leads to crop failures and results in food shortage, women are still the key figure in the family who is responsible for providing food. Regarding the social norms, men are responsible for working on the farm or migrating for paid labor in another place in order to provide income, while women stay at home and find a way to keep the food on the table (Carvajal-Escobar, Quintero-Angel, & Garcia-Vargas, 2008). During the interview with the Nyambido Women Community, the community members, who are all women and mostly housewives and work as farmers, mentioned that taking care of the family is their responsibility. Apart from helping supplement the husband’s income by working as a farmer, it is also their responsibility to look after the children and husband, provide food and do the household work.

“… we wake up in the morning, cooking breakfast, preparing children for school and then going to the farm to work. We normally finish working in the farm at about 1pm, then we will go home to prepare lunch and do other household work. When our husband comes home in the evening we will look after them and also cook dinner, after that we prepare the children to go to bed. After all the house work is finished we will go to bed and be ready for tomorrow. It happens everyday” (#2  Women’s Focus Group Interview, Masindi, 4 April 2017).

Household conflict very often happens when there is food shortage due to the drought. Food shortage is one example of a lack of resources that triggers men to use force toward their women to reinforce their masculinity and to prove their authority in the household. They as husbands are very likely to commit domestic abuse verbally and physically, such as shouting to their partners and hitting them, due to these circumstances (Kishor and Johnson,2004).

“… we have no other choice. We have to find a way to keep food on the table no matter what, otherwise our husbands will hit us.” (#3  Women’s Focus Group Interview, Masindi, 4 April 2017).

This situation is problematic for the Nyambido women. They are aware that this situation is difficult for them but they think they don’t have any options but to stay at home and obey their husband.  Domestic abuse is becoming normal practice in that community and they accept it as the punishment if they dont obey their men. It is because the women have lack of  resources to make them more empowered that they often depend on their partners in term of economic support, which makes them more vulnerable to domestic abuse (Jewkes et al. 2002; Yount 2005; Yount and Carrera 2006).

It is estimated that the rate married women experiencing domestic abuse in Uganda was about 54% in 2006, and the number is continuously increasing (Karamagi, Tumwine, Tylleskar, and Heggenhougen, 2006). Domestic abuse due to the drought in Nyambido Village contributes to that increasing number.  To address this situation, women in Nyambido Village are aware that they need to unite to help each other while going through these difficult circumstances. Some women suggested forming a women’s group which aims to facilitate the women in that community  sharing their problems to help solve them. They manage to collect a monthly membership fee from each member as their main income, and will use the money to help the members by giving out soft loans to buy food or to pay school fees for their children. Nyambido Women’s Community also manages to empower its members by providing some training, such as making crafts from banana leaves, to be sold in market for additional income when drought comes so they will still be able to provide food and avoid domestic abuse (#4  Women’s Focus Group Interview, Masindi, 4 April 2017). Reflecting to the fact above, Nyambido women forming a solidarity group as a form of collective actions means they are aware that they are not the helpless victims. The idea of empowering women inspired them to be stronger and more independent to cope with the difficult circumstances. It allows them to be more capable to avoid the domestic violence.

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#1, (2017). Women’s Focus Group Interview.

#2, (2017). Women’s Focus Group Interview.

#3, (2017). Women’s Focus Group Interview.

#4, (2017). Women’s Focus Group Interview.

Carvajal-Escobar, Y., Quintero-Angel, M. and García-Vargas, M. (2008). Women’s role in adapting to climate change and variability. Advances in Geosciences, 14, pp.277-280.

Goh, A. (2002). A literature review of the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change on women’s and men’s assets and well-being in developing countries :: IFPRI Publications. [online] Ebrary.ifpri.org. Available at: http://ebrary.ifpri.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15738coll2/id/127247 [Accessed 14 Apr. 2017].

Goode, W. (1971). Force and Violence in the Family. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 33(4), p.624.

Jewkes, R., Levin, J. and Penn-Kekana, L. (2002). Risk factors for domestic violence: findings from a South African cross-sectional study. Social Science & Medicine, 55(9), pp.1603-1617.

Kakota, T., Nyariki, D., Mkwambisi, D. and Kogi-Makau, W. (2011). Gender vulnerability to climate variability and household food insecurity. Climate and Development, 3(4), pp.298-309.

Karamagi, C., Tumwine, J., Tylleskar, T. and Heggenhougen, K. (2006). Intimate partner violence against women in eastern Uganda: implications for HIV prevention. BMC Public Health, 6(1).

Kishor, S. and Johnson, K. (2004). Profiling domestic violence: A multicountry study. 1st ed. Calverton, Maryland: ORC Macro.

Nelson, V. and Stathers, T. (2009). Resilience, power, culture, and climate: a case study from semi-arid Tanzania, and new research directions. Gender & Development, 17(1), pp.81-94.

Yount, K. (2005). Resources, Family Organization, and Domestic Violence Against Married Women in Minya, Egypt. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(3), pp.579-596.

Yount, K. and Carrera, J. (2006). Domestic Violence Against Married Women in Cambodia. Social Forces, 85(1), pp.355-387.



2 thoughts on “Drought and women : Who is responsible to keep the food on the table?

  1. Everyone suffers when devastating droughts occur but it is even more saddening to see these women fear the ineluctable consequences which are beyond their control. It is great to see community initiatives step in to empower these women to encourage a side income. I hope groups such as these will provide them with the confidence to challenge these gender based violence!

    Liked by 1 person

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