Female-headed households most vulnerable to food insecurity
Sunday 22 August 2004
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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Female-headed households most vulnerable to food insecurity

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Women bear the brunt of poverty

JOHANNESBURG, 28 July (PLUSNEWS) - Female-headed households continue to bear the brunt of poverty and ongoing food shortages in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, according to recent surveys.

The Consortium for Southern Africa's Food Emergency (C-SAFE) and the World Food Programme (WFP) released their latest Community and Household Surveillance (CHS) reports, based on information gathered in October 2003 and March 2004, analysing the livelihood and food security status of households and vulnerable groups in the three southern African countries.

The Zimbabwe study found that of the 854 households surveyed in 34 districts during October 2003, 34.5 percent were female-headed. Among several vulnerable groups, including households with a chronically ill, disabled or orphaned member, "female-headed households were more prone to vulnerability than their male counterparts".

Ninety percent of all female-headed households fell into two or more vulnerable categories, while only 39 percent of their male counterparts were in the same situation.

Male- and female-headed households varied most in the percentage receiving remittances, with more female- than male-headed households having this as a source of income, but male-headed households had advantages in the non-agricultural labour sector.

At the time of the survey, only 15 percent of households had any food stocks. Common coping strategies applied by Zimbabwean households included limiting portion sizes at meal times, reducing the number of meals and harvesting immature crops.

In Zambia, 23.4 percent of the 893 households surveyed were found to be female-headed, of whom nearly twice as many were hosting orphans as their male counterparts. There are an estimated 572,000 children orphaned by AIDS in Zambia.

Rural women were poorer than males: over 50 percent of female-headed households dominated the asset "very poor" category, compared to 27 percent of male-headed households.

"When looking at the same information disaggregated by gender, it seems obvious that as the level of household vulnerability rises, the more likely it is that the household will be headed by a female," the report observed.

Overall, rural households in Zambia had turned to casual agricultural labour as a primary source of income.

Compared to October 2003, when the first household surveillance was conducted, there had been more than a two-fold increase in reliance on piece-meal work by March this year. Borrowing money, mainly from relatives and friends, had also increased by six percent.

The number of households selling assets to buy food doubled between the two data collection periods: 80 percent of households in the March 2004 survey reported the sale of assets for this reason.

The study pointed out that females owned the smallest pieces of arable land by comparison with male-headed households.

Concerns were raised over the small number of Zambian households with food stocks. Of the 893 households sampled in October 2003, 24.2 percent had cereal stocks, but the March survey showed that only 7.8 percent of households reported having any cereal stocks.

C-SAFE noted that 70 percent of the households who had food stocks in March this year would run out within one month, and 22.9 percent within two months, while just 7.1 percent had stocks expected to last three or more months beyond the time of the survey.

In Malawi 94 percent of the 793 sampled households had no cereal stocks in either October or March. The study also found a significant increase in the number of households engaged in casual labour on a frequent basis: 25.2 percent of households in October last year, compared to 39.1 percent in March.

C-SAFE said the notable increase in the number of orphans in Malawi was due to rising AIDS prevalence. Results from the most recent survey showed that 43 percent of households were hosting orphans, a jump from about one-third in the May 2003 study.

As in Zambia, more female-headed Malawian households were providing for orphans than their male counterparts.


Households burdened by an increasing number of AIDS orphans,  13/Jul/04
Responding to the challenge of "feminisation" of AIDS,  7/Jul/04
Focus on sex education - an antidote to HIV/AIDS,  29/Jun/04
Morris calls for increased effort in AIDS fight,  18/Jun/04
Twenty-four HIV/AIDS projects awarded financing,  4/Jun/04
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria

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