Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Exploring the Intricate Relationship between Poverty, Gender Inequality and Rural Masculinity: A Case Study from an Aquatic Agricultural System in Zambia

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Exploring the Intricate Relationship between Poverty, Gender Inequality and Rural Masculinity: A Case Study from an Aquatic Agricultural System in Zambia

Article excerpt

Many Zambians rely on wetlands, lakes, and rivers for their livelihoods. Social norms and power relations restrict access to natural resources provided by these aquatic agricultural systems for certain social groups, thus differentially impacting livelihood security (especially for women). A gender transformative lens and the concept of the "masculine rural" helps exploring poverty in the Barotse Floodplain in western Zambia. We use qualitative data to investigate whether poverty is a consequence of women's limited access to natural resources or a cause that further exacerbates gender inequalities. Sorting cause from consequence in such a context may help inform policies and research and development interventions that aim to facilitate equitable conditions for women who depend on resources provided by aquatic agricultural systems to secure their livelihoods.

Keywords: aquatic agricultural systems, gender inequality, poverty, rural masculinity, Zambia

This article aims to contribute to ongoing discussions about the links between poverty and gender inequality. It uses qualitative data collected from rural areas in a complex ecosystem called the Barotse Floodplain in Western Province, Zambia that spans about 550,000 ha with a wetland cover of around 1.2 mi ha, which is home to roughly a quarter million people (IUCN, 2003). The floodplain is part of the Zambezi River Basin and is an aquatic agricultural system: a natural freshwater ecosystem where farming, fishing, and livestock rearing contribute substantially to women's and men's livelihoods (see The floodplain acts as a learning site for the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS), where the authors of this article are currently carrying out gender transformative research.

Gender transformative research is informed by conceptual frameworks that recognize the influence social institutions have on creating and perpetuating gender inequalities (e.g., see Kabeer, 1994; Locke & Okali, 2000; Kaufman, 2003). Okali (2011) maintained that more rigid "gender planning" frameworks (e.g., the Harvard Framework) tend to guide analyses of gender differences with a typical goal of filling "gender gaps." Research for development initiatives that focus "on the separate characteristics of women and men rather than on the way that social institutions work together to create and maintain advantages and disadvantages" are highly problematic and fail to sustainably reduce gaps in poverty between women and men (Okali, 2011, p. 2).

The current research builds on the Social Relations Approach put forth by Kabeer (1994) to analyze (a) existing gender inequalities in the distribution of resources, responsibilities and power, and (b) relationships between people, their connection to resources and activities, and how they are reworked through institutions. This helps us better understand the complex social and gender relations and their relation to poverty in the Barotse Floodplain, for example, why certain social groups remain poor, why women have poorer access to natural resources or agricultural inputs, or why many girls fail to complete their schooling. Such insights can inform policies and programmatic investments to take a transformative stance to improve existing gender relations to achieve better developmental outcomes.

Engaging in gender transformative research is relevant in the Zambian context for a number of reasons. First, poverty rates in Zambia are high, particularly in rural areas. In 2010, the proportion of the rural population below the poverty line was 77.9% while for the urban population the poverty level was 29.7% (CSO, 2012a). In the Western and Luapula Provinces, overall poverty levels were the highest at 80.4% and 80.5%, respectively, while in Lusaka Province it was relatively low at 24.4%. Second, gender inequalities in Zambia are pervasive. Females make up 51% of the Zambian population, yet women comprise only 15% of those in parliament and 29. …

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