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Alcohol production as an adaptive livelihood strategy for women farmers in Tanzania and its potential for unintended consequences on womens reproductive health.

  • Author(s): McCoy, Sandra
  • Ralph, Lauren
  • Wilson, Wema
  • Padian, Nancy
  • et al.
Abstract

BACKGROUND: Although women occupy a central position in agriculture in many developing countries, they face numerous constraints to achieving their full potential including unequal access to assets and limited decision-making authority. We explore the intersection of agricultural livelihoods, food and economic security, and womens sexual and reproductive health in Iringa Region, Tanzania. Our goal was to understand whether the benefits of supporting women in the agricultural sector might also extend to more distal outcomes, including sexual and reproductive health. METHODS: Using the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework to guide data collection, we conducted 13 focus group discussions (FGD) with female (n = 11) and male farmers (n = 2) and 20 in-depth interviews with agricultural extension officers (n = 10) and village agro-dealers (n = 10). RESULTS: Despite providing the majority of agricultural labor, women have limited control over land and earned income and have little bargaining power. In response to these constraints, women adopt adaptive livelihood strategies, such as alcohol production, that allow them to retain control over income and support their households. However, womens central role in alcohol production, in concert with the ubiquitous nature of alcohol consumption, places them at risk by enhancing their vulnerability to unsafe or transactional sex. This represents a dangerous confluence of risk for female farmers, in which alcohol plays an important role in income generation and also facilitates high-risk sexual behavior. CONCLUSIONS: Alcohol production and consumption has the potential to both directly and indirectly place women at risk for undesirable sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Group formation, better access to finance, and engaging with agricultural extension officers were identified as potential interventions for supporting women farmers and challenging harmful gender norms. In addition, joint, multi-sectoral approaches from health and agriculture and alternative income-generating strategies for women might better address the complexities of achieving safe and sustainable livelihoods for women in this context.

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