The vulnerability of women to droughts in Mudzi District, Zimbabwe: the complexities of livelihood strategies and responses

Chigavazira, Tendai
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Globally, the body of literature on climate change responses is heavily centred on the description of climate change adaptation strategies and perceptions there of; yet misses the in-depth analysis of the selection and application of the different response strategies in drought scenarios. In bridging this gap, this study found that despite the recurrence of droughts, women in Mudzi district continue to rely on rain-fed agriculture and natural livelihoods; which poses challenges to their livelihoods thereby contributing to their vulnerability. The purpose of this study was to understand and explain the vulnerability of women to droughts through identifying and analysing the livelihood strategies employed by women and how they respond to droughts. Although the ultimate goal of employing different response strategies is to build resilience to droughts, there are complexities associated with the strategies which confine the women to vulnerability to droughts. The study employed the conservation of resources (COR) theory and ecological theory in understanding the issues of vulnerability, adaptation and coping. The theories were complemented by the application of the sustainable livelihoods framework in analysing the vulnerability of women to droughts focusing on the vulnerability context, livelihoods employed, coping mechanisms, and adaptation strategies which are concepts derived from the above theories. In addition, there was a reflection and inclusion of the gender and climate variability concepts on the sustainable livelihoods framework as an integrated approach with the context built on droughts and women. The study followed a qualitative approach and data was collected through the utilisation of semi-structured interviews, observation method and document review tools. The study confirmed that women in Mudzi district continue to rely on rain-fed agriculture despite its unreliability. This was due to lack of viable alternative livelihoods which is attributed to low educational attainment, inadequate financial capital, and issues pertaining to attitudes and perceptions which limit behavioural changes. Moreover, the institutions that exist continue to promote the suppression of women through confining them to their gender roles thus limiting their power and reproducing the women’s vulnerability. In addition, the political and socio-economic landscape hindered women from realising their potential as it was marred by disputed participation, unaccountability and mistrust; all which underpin poor governance. In attempting to explain the vulnerability of women to droughts, the propositions in the COR theory and ecological theory had limitations as they were based on assumptions, thereby falling short in elaborating the parameters in which the theories could be applied. Assumptions are problematic when confronting the reality as they ignore the contribution of behaviour in the selection of coping mechanisms and adaptation strategies which have a bearing on the vulnerability of women to droughts. Although the element of behavioural change is illuminated in the behavioural theories and applied in some studies such as HIV and AIDS, this element is missing in drought literature. As a result of this study, the behavioural change elements emerged from the data that was analysed and this generated a novice understanding and explanation of the vulnerability of women to droughts. Behavioural aspects are relevant in understanding the dynamics associated with drought responses and shape the drought discourse beyond the traditional arena better. This study proposes the need to redirect efforts in ensuring that issues of behavioural changes are addressed through changing attitudes and perceptions in responding to droughts at both individual and institutional level. Although the COR theory and ecological theory modelled this study, the elements of behavioural theories have a stronger interface in understanding the vulnerability of women to droughts, which underlie the contribution of this study hence are relevant in the discussions of droughts
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of Witwatersrand, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 2020