Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Women & Food Security

Women’s role in Food Security, with regards to:

  • The relationship between women and food security;
  • The constraints they face as farmers and providers of food security; and
  • Recommendations to enhance the position of women as farmers and food providers and to enhance food security

Abstract: Women play a huge role in food security, particularly in agrarian developing communities where the majority of the population is involved in rural agricultural subsistence farming and within this sector, women being the major food crop producer, whilst men are involved with cash crops. 

Women, however, are being constrained in the sense that they in comparison with men have limited or no access to agricultural resources of which the main is, land or tenure. Their lack of access to these resources affects their ability to achieve food security, not only for themselves but also increasingly for female-headed households, where they have no support from their husbands. The gist of the solution seems to be women empowerment.

20 April 2010


Women play a key role in food security due to the high percentage of their involvement in agricultural food production, especially in the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South-Asia. Women’s relationship with food security will be discussed. However, women in developing countries due to cultural and legal restrictions are being constrained in their role in the provision of food security and these constraints will be explored in detail. There are however solutions, such as empowerment, to address the constraints women face in their role as an increasing provider of food security and these solutions will be given as recommendations on how to address these gender constraints.

The Relationship between women and food security

What is food security and what is needed for it to exist? Roberts (2001: 4) explains that “Food security exists when all people, at all time, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” The Interagency Working Group on Food Security and Food Security Advisory Committee, (in, Roberts. 2001:4) argues that “Food security is fundamental to individual human dignity, growth, and survival. We all pay for widespread hunger and malnutrition through sacrificed human potential, lost economic opportunity, social tension, violence, and war. Global food security is essential to world peace and national security.”

Food Security according to Johnson-Welch (2000:325), is not just about technologies or food consumption or economic opportunities, it’s about who’s producing, who’s earning, who’s eating that food and about who is making decisions, it’s about people and gender puts a human face on food security (Johnson-Welch. 2000:325). According to Johnson-Welch (2000:328) depends food security, on multiple factors including food availability, physical and economic access, and the ability to utilize the nutrients, and should, therefore, it could best be achieved an integrated approach to planning and implementation. All but 3 of the 13 cases addressed all three components of food security, suggesting that increasing agricultural production is necessary, but not sufficient to achieve food security. Furthermore, these institutions represented in the case study realized their limitations in addressing each of the components, therefore they developed partnerships with institutions that had complimentary skills (Johnson-Welch. 2000:330-331).

The eradication of extreme poverty is the first and overarching Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and is expressed in terms of two targets halving the proportion of people in extreme poverty and halving the number of people suffering from hunger (Kabeer. 2003:107). Poverty has a gendered face, meaning that gender inequality can in the following ways make women vulnerable to poverty, namely: it distorts their access to assets, as women do not have legal rights to land and property, rendering them economically insecure; it distorts women’s access to public goods and services that improve well-being, such as education and health care; it dictates the unequal distribution of resources within the family, such as traditional beliefs that women eat last and least; it affects their access to employment, in that they earn lower wages or are more prone to work in the informal unskilled sector; it leads to the unequal distribution of care work leading to time burdens on women (UNDP. 2005:887-888).

Women have a strong relationship with food security, since their role as providers of food security is so huge, especially in agrarian developing economies. According to UNICEF: “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property” (Adaway. 2010). FAO states that “women produce between 60 and 80% of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world's food production, yet their key role as food producers and providers, and their critical contribution to household food security, is only recently becoming recognized” (Women in Development Service. online). 

In many African countries women provide: 33% of the workforce; 70% of the agricultural workers; 60-80% of the labour to produce food for household consumption and sale; 100% of the processing for basic foodstuffs; 90% of household water and fuelwood; 80% of food storage and transport from farm to village; 90% of the hoeing and weeding work; 60% of the harvesting and marketing activities (Women in Development Service. online). A large portion of the world’s food output originates from the hands of women farmers (Ramachandran. 2006:775). Ultimately, gender inequities in food and nutrition security lie at the root of the cycle of hunger and malnutrition in the region (Ramachandran. 2006:788). Women’s role and importance with regards to food security are thus undeniable.

Even in the developing world, which characterized by narrow cultural and legal gender policies, there is an emerging realization that women have an extremely important role to play in food security. In Nigeria, which faces enormous challenges to improve food security, provide employment and ensure that women are mainstreamed into economic activities, there is an increasing realization of both, the critical role women have to play in agriculture and food production, as well as the empowerment of women as the crucial ingredient to bring about sustainable development (Ukeje. 2004:863). In Nigeria, women play a major role, not only in the production of food crops but also undertake some activities such as trade, to earn cash income (Ukeje. 2004:863). Empowerment of women is starting to dawn as the solution to many developing countries’ solution to gender inequalities and consequent food insecurity and increasingly these realizations lead to change.

Another country in the developing world with huge gender inequalities that leads to food insecurity, is India. As the largest South Asian economy, it’s now largely self-sufficient in food grain and as an emerging exporter, yet endemic pockets of hunger remain, and malnutrition is widespread across the region, with women and children being the greatest sufferers (Ramachandran. 2006:773). The ‘Asian Enigma’ as it is termed, of food scarcity and malnutrition amidst plenty, has defied all attempts at a resolution so far (Ramachandran. 2006:773). “The slow-paced response to gender-based food security efforts reflects the complexity of the relationship between the two. Food security, in its broader connotation, results from the availability of adequate food at country level, household and individual access to adequate and nutritious food, effective consumption and adequate nutrition outcomes, all in a sustained manner. As such, it is intricately linked with a woman’s multiple roles expressed in her productive, reproductive and caring functions” (Ramachandran. 2006:773).

The problem of gender discrimination as being the cause of malnutrition, ill-health, and poverty has been overlooked even denied. Ramachandran (2006:775) notes that the realization that the root of the problem lies in gender discrimination, and which is prevalent in most of South Asia, is gaining credence. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen (in, Ramachandran. 2006:775), when referring to India’s malnutrition problems, wrote;”Since maternal undernourishment is causally linked with gender bias against women in general, in India, it appears that the penalty India pays by being unfair to women hits all Indians, boys as well as girls and men as well as women”, a statement that could well apply to the entire South Asian region.

The constraints women face as farmers and providers of food security

Women have limited access to critical resources and services, despite their role as the backbone of food production and provision for family consumption in developing countries. While in most developing countries, both men and women farmers do not have access to adequate resources, women's access is even more limited due to cultural, traditional and sociological factors. (Women in Development Service. online). It is often overlooked in policy formulation, that an increasing number of de facto woman heads of households are struggling to make a livelihood and ensure the food security of their families, while they have no access to credit, technology or extension services (Ramachandran. 2006:778).

A good example of gender constraints is Nigeria, where despite women being the key element in food production, with regards to staple crops such as maize, cassava, cowpeas, melons, and rice, they are faced with many factors constraining their effective participation in achieving food security (Ukeje. 2004:864). Ukeje (2004:864-865) furthermore list the following factors constraining the effective participation of women in achieving food security, namely: 1. Limited access to land and capital; 2. Limited access to credit; 3. Limited access to agricultural inputs; 4. Limited access to education, training and extension services; and 5. Limited access to Research and appropriate technology. FAO mentions an additional constraint, namely women’s access to decision-making.

Limited access to land and capital

Not even 2% of the land, worldwide, is owned by women, while the proportion of female-headed households is growing. The transfer of exclusive land rights to males as heads of households, due to land reform programmes together with the break-up of communal land holdings, has led to the fact that the existence of female-headed households and the rights of married women to a joint share are being ignored (FAO. online). Gender inequality within the agricultural sector particularly pertains to women’s lack of access to land for their productive activities. Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPA’s) have highlighted the problems women are facing in obtaining access to land (Kabeer.2003:100). Even when national legislation is put in place to protect women’s rights with regards to inheritance, customs still prevail it seems, as demonstrated by the 1993 Vietnamese land law which intended protection, but was not enforced (Kabeer.2003:101). Women, thus continue to face unfavorable access to land and other important resources such as credit, agricultural inputs, marketing outlets, etc (Kabeer.2003:105). While women in Sub-Saharan Africa, may have access to land, they usually don’t have title to it, resulting in the insecurity of tenure, which leaves widows, divorced and deserted women in a difficult position, particularly in patri-local societies (Kabeer. 2003:123).

The first constraint to women’s effective participation in achieving food security is limited access to land and capital. In most parts of Nigeria, women have restricted access to land due to cultural, traditional and sociological factors (Ukeje. 2004:864). Land ownership confers on to the owner access to credit, and access inputs such as agricultural extension service, seeds, modern irrigation systems, fertilizers, pesticides and membership of cooperative societies, and without land, the women have no security and have to depend on landowners for employment (Ukeje. 2004: 865). The transfer of exclusive land rights to males as heads of households in Eastern-Nigeria, causing female-headed households and the rights of married women to a joint share, to be ignored, means that women are dependent on the goodwill of their husbands and the availability of land to grow food, alternatively to lease land (Ukeje. 2004:865). 

In India, for example, 86% of the arable land is in private hands since land is passed on as an inheritance to male children, excluding women from this vital production resource, in turn, adversely affecting food security (Ramachandran. 2006:776-778). Agarwal (in, Ramachandran. 2006:776) notes, “In largely agrarian economies, arable land is the most valued form of property and productive resource. It is a wealth creating and livelihood-sustaining asset, and for a significant majority of rural households, it is the single most important source of security against poverty”. South Asia falls in the male farming system category and is part of the belt of classic patriarchy, characterized by extreme forms of gender discrimination and it includes the right to ownership of land (Ramachandran. 2006:776).

Limited access to credit

The second constraint to women’s effective participation in achieving food security is their lack of access to credit. When denied security of tenure, women lack the collateral required for credit or the social status to deal with extension workers on an equal basis (Ramachandran. 2006:778). An IFAD study of Bangladesh in 2000 identified lack of access to land and homesteads as the major factor in the exclusion of the poor from credit providing NGO’s (Ramachandran. 2006:779). Women in Nigeria, for example, are unable to provide the collateral required by lending institutions, should they need credit for the purchase of tools, equipment and other agricultural inputs, due to the fact that access to credit is often based on ownership of land, and since the customary law do not allow women to share land property rights along with their husbands (Ukeje. 2004: 865). Nigerian women’s lack of education and training furthermore limits their ability to gain access to credit from formal financial institutions (Ukeje. 2004: 865). Kabeer (2003:123) mentions another issue that constrains women’s access to credit, namely the fact that women often need their husbands’ permission before being granted loans, for example in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Limited access to agricultural inputs

The third constraint to women’s effective participation in achieving food security is their lack of access to agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Women do not have access to the same productive resources as men (Johnson-Welch, MacQuarrie & Bunch. 2005:354). In fact, one study found that if women had the same use of certain agricultural inputs as men, agricultural outputs would increase between 7 and 24% (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:354). 

Furthermore, they are frequently not reached by extension services and are rarely members of cooperatives, which often distribute government subsidized inputs to small farmers. In addition, women lack the cash income needed to purchase inputs even when they are subsidized (Ukeje. 2004: 865). Instead, state marketing boards and agricultural co-operatives in Sub-Saharan Africa, have tended to buy from, and distribute supplies, credit and extension services to male-headed households (Kabeer. 2003:123).

Limited access to education, training and extension services

The fourth constraint to women’s effective participation in achieving food security is their lack of access education, training and extension services. There are constraints to the education of women due to cultural or religious beliefs, and very often farm extension services and training only target men (Ukeje. 2004: 865). Based on the belief that training girls amount to waste of resources, as they are not allowed to work and they are also going to be part of another family entirely, has meant that the education of girls is not given adequate attention to by rural families (Ukeje. 2004: 865). 

Their needs tend to be ignored, even in agricultural research and technological innovations. According to the FAO, have only 5% of extension services been addressed to rural women (Ramachandran. 2006:778). No more than 15 per cent of the world’s extension agents are women (Ukeje. 2004: 865). In Nigeria, most of the extension services are focused on cash crops rather than food and subsistence crops where women are mostly concentrated (Ukeje. 2004: 865). The low level of education of small scale farmers in Nigeria, especially women, and who form the bulk of the agricultural labour force, has furthermore remained a major constraint to the adoption of modern farming techniques and the ability to access other inputs necessary for increased productivity in the sector (Ukeje. 2004: 873).

Limited access to Research and appropriate technology

Lastly, limited access to Research and appropriate technology is the final constraint limiting women’s effective participation in achieving food security. Women have little access to the benefits of research and innovation, especially in the domain of food crops, which have a low priority in crop improvement research. Women farmers’ roles and needs are often ignored when devising technology and even when the technology is appropriate for their use, the lack of financial resources, hinders their ability to purchase and use of these technologies by women (Ukeje. 2004: 865).

Access to decision-making

FAO mentions another constraint to women’s ability to achieve food security, namely their limited decision-making powers. Given the traditionally limited role of women in decision-making processes at the household, village and national levels in most cultures, their needs, interests, and constraints are often not reflected in policy-making processes and laws which are important for poverty reduction, food security and environmental sustainability (FAO. online). The causes of women's exclusion from decision-making processes are closely linked to their additional reproductive roles and their household workload, which account for an important share of their time (FAO. online). 

Women in developing countries suffer from ‘time-poverty’. Women’s time burden, furthermore constrain their role in achieving food security (FAO. online). In most rural areas, the most time-consuming activities of women are fetching water and fuelwood, and due to widespread deforestation and desertification, these tasks are becoming more burdensome and are preventing rural women from devoting more time to their productive and income-generating tasks, forcing women in some cases to pass the burden of these activities to their children, usually female children (FAO. online).

Other factors that may constrain the effective participation of women in attaining food security are: intra-household gender bias in favour of male children (Ramachandran. 2006:784); the fact that women’s income, more than men’s, is mainly used to meet the food, health, nutritional needs of the household (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:354); women’s time burden, in having to attend to both domestic responsibilities as well as earning an income and/or being involved with subsistence farming (Blackden et al.2006:78); and Intra-household power equations not only serve to keep women unempowered and subservient, but also directly impact on their individual food and nutrition security and indirectly on that of other family members, particularly children (Ramachandran. 2006:783).


Literature notes several solutions to the issue of women being constrained in their ability to provide and ensure food security. Those mentioned include women empowerment; reducing women’s constraints by improving their access to productive technologies such as seeds and extension services through a linked, gender-informed approach; reducing women’s time and labor burdens; establishing and enforcing legislation to ensure women’s access to land and agricultural resources, and education. 

These solutions offered, are in my opinion sufficient to ensure women’s ability to achieve food security, by removing the constraints that deny them access to the same resources than men. Empowerment seems to be the all-encompassing all-inclusive solution, that automatically includes the other solutions of promoting education and legal gender reform; women’s access to productive technologies; and reducing women’s time burden. The key to achieving food security for women is to empower them.

Women empowerment: The key to food and Nutrition security

Studies conducted by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in 2005 reaffirmed that empowering women is the key to ensuring food and nutrition security in the developing world (IFPRI. 2005:317). In 1995 the Beijing Platform for Action set goals for empowering women in developing nations and 5 years later, The Beijing +5, reviewed progress towards these goals (IFPRI. 2005:317). 

IFPRI’s study made findings and recommendations. IFPRI made the following findings, namely: 1. Targeting women instead of men in agricultural technology dissemination, such as through NGO provision of training and credit not only had a greater impact on poverty but empowered women by giving them greater mobility, more control over resources, political awareness and decreased the incidence of domestic violence; 2. Equalizing agricultural inputs, such as access to education, labor, and fertilizer, between men and women, results in significant gains in agricultural output; 3. Gender disparities with relation to property rights of farmland discourage women from investing time and resources in sustainable farming practices which threaten natural resource management; 4. Raising a woman’s status dramatically improves the health, longevity, and productivity of her children, especially their nutritional status; 5. Targeting development projects to women, such as the PROGRESA anti-poverty program in Mexico, benefits the whole household, empowering women to make decisions regarding their children’s medical care and education as well as food expenditures and home repairs; 6. HIV/AIDS severely threatens agricultural production and food security, which in turn heighten women’s susceptibility to HIV exposure and infection, due to their socio-economic status within developing traditional communities; 7. There is no single path to strengthening women’s property rights, due to their complex existing rights (IFPRI. 2005:317-319).

IFPRI’s findings provide empirical evidence that empowering women, leads to greater household food and nutrition security (IFPRI. 2005:319). Key recommendations in this regard, made by IFPRI, include 1. To reform and monitor legal institutions as to create a level playing field for men and women and an environment in which women can realize their full potential, such as changes in property rights laws, guaranteeing women title-ship to land, as well as laws pertaining to divorce, inheritance, and violence against women; 2. To increasing resources to women, such as food aid and access to labour-saving technologies, for example lightweight ploughs and fuel-efficient stoves, has the potential to mitigate the impact of AIDS on food security and reduce the spread of the virus, by reducing high risk behaviours, such as transactional sex, which is the main income for desperate women and orphaned children, as well as mitigating labour burdens in HIV affected households; and 3. To increase women’s ability to participate in the development process, through empowering them to make their own choices and allowing them to respond to increasing economic opportunities and it can be accomplished through education, the removal of barriers that drains the productive use of women’s time and energy, the inclusion of women in the design of agricultural and nutrition programmes, as well as special outreach and training programs for less educated and poorer women (IFPRI. 2005:319).

Empowerment is crucial to strengthen women’s ability to ensure food security.

“Empowering women, who play the most important role as producers of food, is key to achieving food security” (Roberts. 2001:3). According to her is the legal system an important tool for this empowerment, for it is the legal system that “is capable of establishing an equitable and transparent framework for the functioning of a civilized society and for protecting the rights of vulnerable groups including women” (Roberts. 2001:3). Mechanisms are structured through the law for both the short-term approach to responding to hunger in a crisis as well as the long-term approach to respond to hunger with agriculture and development policies aimed at food self-sufficiency (Roberts. 2001:3-4). “Ensuring equity in women’s rights to land, property, capital assets, wages, and livelihood opportunities would undoubtedly impact positively on the issue, but underlying the deep inequity in woman’s access to nutrition is her own unquestioning acceptance of her status as an unequal member of the family and society. 

Eventually, gender empowerment alone is likely to be the key to the resolution of the hunger challenge in the region“(Ramachandran. 2006:788). Only when women in South-Asia begin to feel empowered and equal in status to men, will the stranglehold of gender disparities across the region weaken and break. It is then that food security will become merely an economic issue with simple solutions to the problem (Ramachandran. 2006:788). According to Ukeje (2004:874), do women in Nigeria have the potential to increase agricultural production, but to achieve this they need to be empowered through education and the provision of appropriate technology that is gender sensitive.

Linked, gender-informed approach: The Agriculture-Nutrition advantage project

The second solution to combat these constraints women face, is a linked, gender-informed approach to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition The Agriculture-Nutrition Advantage project which was implemented over a three year period (2001-2004), in five countries, namely; Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda, to address the hunger problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, by cultivating a network of leaders and advocates in Sub-Saharan Africa who would promote an approach to combat hunger that is effective but rarely used in practice, namely linking agriculture and nutrition, while also taking gender into consideration (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:348). The reason for this approach was based on the “premise that agriculture and nutrition communities were missing opportunities to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition by failing to combine scarce resources, act collaboratively, and incorporate gender analysis throughout their work” (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:348).

The strength of Agriculture-Nutrition Advantage framework is that it focuses on who is responsible for the food and income pathway to good nutrition, namely women whose primary responsibility it is to provide family nutrition (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:354). Both men and women, however, are engaged in agricultural production, marketing, and post-harvest processing, and earning income, according to the framework (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:354). Although men do all three agricultural activities mentioned above, on a much larger scale, the fact remains that women provide much of the labor in subsistence and increasingly in market agriculture, as well as the fact that they outnumber male farmers in many countries (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:354). Historically, however, agricultural policies and programs have failed to address the production-oriented constraints faced by women, such as women’s lack of access to and control over assets and resources (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:354). A linked, gender-informed approach, such as the Agriculture-Nutrition Advantage framework, reduce women’s constraints by improving their access to productive technologies such as seeds and extension services (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:355).

The third solution to combat these constraints women face, is to reduce women’s time and labor burdens, which can lead to improved family nutrition, as a program, whereby portable solar dryers were introduced into rural areas to dry food, saving women’s labor time, in Tanzania proved (Johnson-Welch et al. 2005:355). Development interventions to reduce women's workload can significantly enhance their contribution to household food security, such as the provision of water supplies; the introduction of light transport facilities to carry fuelwood, farm produce and other loads; the introduction of labor-saving agricultural tools; and the introduction of grinding mills and other crop processing equipment are crucial means of freeing women's time (FAO. online). These technologies not only create possibilities for women to enter into more income-generating activities but also help to reduce their stress and to improve women’s health and nutrition (FAO. online). Relieving women from fetching water and fuelwood and food processing would allow them to have more time for productive work and would enable their children to attend school (FAO. online).

Another area of reform needed is the legal and administrative field. Blackden et al (2006:80) suggest that equity must be improved in resource access and control in agriculture, where a gender-informed growth agenda would have to address improving women’s greater land ownership and security of tenure and more equal access to modern inputs. While some of these changes can be made possible through legislation, other changes will depend on changes in intra-household relations, which are less amenable through government intervention (Blackden et al. 2006:80). A combination of public policy, legal reforms, and implementation of existing laws regarding poverty-reducing development, (especially addressed toward obstacles faced by women), will ultimately improve access to food by the poor and begin to eliminate chronic hunger and malnutrition (Roberts. 2001:29). As stated by the Deputy Secretary of the United Nations, Ismat Kittani at the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, “The challenge is how to make the existing laws take effect in the daily lives of women.” (Roberts. 2001:29).


Women play a huge role in food security, particularly in agrarian developing communities where the majority of the population is involved in rural agricultural subsistence farming and within this sector, women being the major food crop producer, whilst men are involved with cash crops. Women, however, are being constrained in the sense that they in comparison with men have limited or no access to agricultural resources of which the main is, land or tenure. Their lack of access to these resources affects their ability to achieve food security, not only for themselves but also increasingly for female-headed households, where they have no support from their husbands. 

The gist of the solution seems to be women empowerment and it can be done through education, legal reforms; reducing women’s time burden; improving women’s access to the same agricultural resources than men; and by a linked, gender-informed approach to reducing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. To ensure our food security, gender discrimination with regards to food production must be eliminated. Traditions and laws of patriarchal agrarian and developing economies where agriculture is the main source of income needs to be reformed. International pressure in the form of International law, Universal Human Rights and NGO’s must continually be applied until women in these developing countries are no longer constrained to not only ensure their food security, but also ours in the developed world.


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- Soli Deo Gloria -

HIV/AIDS & Human security

HIV/AIDS as a factor in Human Insecurity

Abstract: The HIV/AIDS pandemic is ripping away at our social, economic, political and personal security, greatly affecting not only our individual ‘human security’, but also the socio-political stability of countries, as the disease eats away our skills bases, our social networks, our national incomes, and our political stability. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the first health issue not only to pose great human security risks, but also national security risks. It adversely affects all dimensions of human security, namely economic security, food security, personal security, community security, political security, and health security.

15 April 2010


In January 2000, the United Nations’ (UN) Security Council debated the impact of AIDS on peace and security in Africa, and it was the first debate in the Council’s history that discussed a health issue as a threat to peace and security, at which debate the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told the Council: ‘The impact of AIDS in Africa was no less destructive than that of warfare itself. By overwhelming the continent’s health and social services, by creating millions of orphans, and by decimating health workers and teachers, AIDS is causing social and economic crises which in turn threaten political stability… In already unstable societies, this cocktail of disasters is a sure recipe for more conflict. And conflict, in turn, provides fertile ground for further infections’ (2000 UN press release, in Fourie & Schönteich. 2002:2). “HIV/AIDS is, cause and effect, initiator and beneficiary, of instability and conflict” (UNAIDS.2003:1). 

HIV/AIDS has become such a serious issue that the disease is specifically addressed in The Millennium Development Goals, where Goal 6 aims to Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and the Target in this regard is to have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, specifically: the reduced HIV prevalence among 15-24 year old pregnant women ; the increased Condom use rate of the contraceptive prevalence rate; and to have reduced the number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS (Millennium Development Goals).

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is posing an ever-increasing threat to human security. The relationship between health and human security and health, and development is discussed, specifically the health problems that may affect human security and the need for governments to securitize health. The impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the different dimensions of human security as categorized by the 1994 UNDP Human Development Report are discussed separately. The impact of HIV/AIDS on the agricultural sector of highly affected countries, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa is discussed, with specific mention of the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural extension service organizations. The socio-economic consequences of HIV/AIDS with regards to Aids-related orphan crime and the possible emergence of AIDS-related national crises in Africa are explored. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South-Africa and its policy and human rights framework responses are looked at. HIV/AIDS among women and the gender bias they consequently face are mentioned. HIV/AIDS as a key concern of Human Rights is discussed.

The relationship between Health, Human Security and Development

The 1994 UNDP Human Development Report introduced a new concept of human security, which equates security with people rather than territories, with development rather than weapons. (UNAIDS.2003:1) Furthermore, the basic thrust of the 2003 report of the Commission on Human Security is human- centred, and while the concept of human security is not antagonistic towards the security of nation-states, it focuses on an individual in all of his/her human dimensions, beyond political boundaries (Chen. 2004:58). Human Security, furthermore, compliments and reinforces the twin concepts of human rights and human development (Chen. 2004:58). The commission adopted the following definition of human security, namely “any threat that challenged the security of an individual or people or population (Chen. 2004:58). 

Threats include war and conflict, and poverty and impoverishment and are highly interactive (Chen. 2004:59). Good health is “intrinsic” to human security, since human survival and good health are the core of “security” and since good health enables the full range of human functioning and permits human choice, freedom, and development (Chen. 2004:59). Although Human Security and Health are linked, they are not synonymous. While human security consisting of human survival, livelihoods, and dignity, is the vital core of human security, poor health consisting of illness, injury, disability, and death, are critical threats to human security (Chen. 2004:59). Furthermore, the linkage between health and development is clear in the statement made by the Commission that the attainment of health is not possible without peace and equitable development (Chen. 2004:60).

The most relevant clusters of health problems that threaten human security are: health crises during conflict and humanitarian emergencies; infectious diseases; and health problems due to poverty and inequity (Chen. 2004:59). These cluster of health problems are the most relevant to human security, since they meet the criteria of: 1. scale, in the sense that health problems affecting large numbers of people are considered higher priority; 2. urgency, referring to health problems that create emergencies such as an epidemic or war; 3. intensity, referring to the socio-economic impact of diseases; and 4. Externalities, referring to events that generate “spillover effects” onto other problems, such transmitted infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS (Chen. 2004:59-60). The commission established these criteria for prioritizing which health problems are linked to security as to avoid confusion as many considered health as too broad or vague (Chen. 2004:60).

Another issue of great importance, which was deliberated by the Commission, was the issue of “securitization” of health, which implies a higher political and budgetary prioritization of health in the state sector, as opposed to exclusive high defense and military prioritization to ensure state security (Chen. 2004:61). Many countries, specifically poorer developing countries do not rank health as a high priority in their budget spending to ensure human security, therefore one of the political purposes for labeling health a human security issue is to encourage governments to ensure adequate public expenditures for primary health care (Chen. 2004:61).

The question remains which health problems should be prioritized and therefore “securitized” by national governments. Chen believes there are three tiers of health problems that face increasing difficulty in political acceptance, namely: 1. health processes so tightly linked to military security that they are easily accepted by the security community, such as epidemics, the health of soldiers, the induction of illness among combatants and biological warfare and bioterrorism; 2. Health processes that are increasingly accepted as security threats, such as infectious disease epidemics, like HIV/AIDS of which the scale and intensity of devastation are so vast that it not only poses national threats to different governments but a global health security threat; and 3. Health conditions deserving of human security and prioritization, but which encounters the greatest resistance of acceptance as security threats, namely the set of health problems confronting the world’s poorest people, which includes preventable lethal childhood infections, preventable childhood malnutrition, preventable hazards to childbirth that kill many women, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Chen. 2004:61-62). 

Health problems among the poor must be seen as a huge human security failure, and not just a moral/humanitarian or development failure (Chen. 2004:62-63). Interdependence among different insecurities such as health, education, war, and poverty, exists and these dimensions of deprivation are the greatest human security threat. Therefore, health and development should constitute a central goal of human security (Chen. 2004:63).

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the different dimensions of Human Security

The impact of HIV/AIDS on Human Security globally is vast. The UNDP in its 1994 Human Development Report pioneered the concept of Human Security as a people-centric account of security that revolves around the needs of the individual rather than around the protection of states (Elbe. 2006:203). The Report categorized Human Security into six dimensions, namely Economic Security, Food Security, Personal Security, Community Security, Political Security and Health Security (Elbe. 2006:207-210).

Economic security can be defined as an assured basic income from productive and remunerative work or from a publicly financed safety net. Economic security is one of the most important components of human security affected by HIV/AIDS in the sense that the illness has a negative economic impact on all three levels, namely the individual, the family as well the national income or GDP (Elbe. 2006:207). In countries with an HIV prevalence rate of more than 20 percent, GDP can shrink annually by 1-2 percent and these countries can by estimation lose 20 percent of their GDP by 2020 (UN Security Council Report (2002), in Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 4). The reasons for the decline in macro-economic output is the fact that the disease affects not only the very young and the old, but also the economically productive segments of the population including economic elites, such as doctors and lawyers (Elbe. 2006:207). 

Economists have identified several major areas of macro-economic vulnerability, which include: effects on the labor supply and productivity, remuneration cost increases, demand changes among households, higher government expenditure, as well as instances of severe risk exposure in key sectors of the economy (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 8). Direct and Indirect costs to businesses due to the incidence of HIV/AIDS among employees, include: higher contributions to employees’ pensions, as well as life, disability and medical benefits schemes; costs resulting from absenteeism and additional recruitment; and costs to train new personnel to replace sick or deceased personnel (Elbe. 2006:207). The economic impact for ordinary people at the household level outweighs the macro-economic impact by far. Households experience a twofold impact of a reduced earning capacity as well as a decrease in productivity, as persons are unable to work or are tied down to take care of affected family members (Elbe. 2006:207). Affected household furthermore carries the burden of funeral expenditures, legal costs and medical bills (Elbe. 2006:207). It’s often the absence of economic security that propels people into sex work for a living, and many end up in prison where they face a higher risk of infection (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 4).

Food security is another dimension of human security that is severely impacted by HIV/AIDS. Food security can be defined as “that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to basic food. This requires not just enough food to go round. It requires that people have ready access to food (Elbe. 2006:208). Even if food is physically available, people may still starve if they don’t have any economic right or entitlement to the food due to lacking the purchasing power (Elbe. 2006:208). Frankenberger and McCaston, (in van Liere 2002:4) furthermore state that it is difficult to discuss food security independently of wider livelihood and poverty considerations. “Household livelihood security is defined as adequate and sustainable access to income and resources to meet basic needs, including access to food, potable water, health facilities, educational opportunities, housing, time for community participation and social integration” (Frankenberger and McCaston, in van Liere. 2002: 4). All or most of these are indirectly threatened by the HIV/AIDS epidemic (van Liere.2002:4)

Another dimension of Human Security, impacted by HIV/AIDS, is Personal Security. HIV/AIDS infected people face abuse and violent attacks within society due to the stigma attached to the illness (Elbe. 2006:208). The violence can in worst case scenarios lead to the premature death of HIV infected people and in some cases, even people thought to have the disease (Elbe. 2006:208). Increased domestic violence has also been noted to increase in HIV infected households (Elbe. 2006:209).

HIV/AIDS has impacted Community Security, another dimension of Human Security in a dramatic way. The Human Development Report (in, Elbe. 2006:209) defines Community Security as “threats to the groups such as family and wider social communities-to which individuals belong and on which they rely for survival. The biggest impact of HIV/AIDS on Community Security has been the incidence of AIDS orphans (Elbe. 2006:209). Up to 14 million children have thus far (2006) been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and apart from having to fend for themselves due to lack of family support, are furthermore more vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, abuse, and sexual exploitation, including having to exchange sexual services in return for money, shelter, food and protection (Elbe. 2006:209). 

However, the large number of anticipated AIDS orphans has led the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to conclude that Africa’s age-old social safety net for such children, in the form of deep-rooted kinship systems and extended-family networks, is unable to cope with the strain of AIDS and soaring numbers of orphans in the most affected countries, and stated: “capacity and resources are stretched to breaking point, and those providing the necessary care in many cases are already impoverished, often elderly and might themselves have depended financially and physically on the support of the very son or daughter who has died” (UNICEF, in Fourie & Schönteich. 2002:13). Banning and/or displacement of PLWHA’s (People living with HIV/AIDS), from their communities, due to discrimination practices fuelled by the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, have a detrimental impact on them, since they become isolated from their social support networks and places of employment (Elbe. 2006:209).

The Political Security of countries with high HIV/AIDS infection rates is furthermore impacted, since the disease affects people indiscriminately, whether rural unskilled worker or economic urban elite. Political elites, the Police force and the military, representatives of the justice system, and government bureaucrats can all be affected at times when their skills are needed most (Elbe. 2006:209). Access to and distribution of life-prolonging medicines is an issue that can furthermore create political divisions within countries (Elbe. 2006:210).

The Health Security of countries is impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Apart from AIDS-related mortality, the wider impact is twofold: first, it increases the number of people seeking health services, overstretching medical resources, denying patients with curable diseases access to healthcare, and leading to rising medical costs; and secondly, HIV/AIDS has a negative impact on the supply of medical services, due to doctors and nurses contracting the disease, leading to absenteeism, as well as the migration of medical professionals to developed countries where they have access to medicines to save lives (Elbe. 2006:210).

High degrees of socio-economic insecurity, social exclusion, and political instability provide the breeding ground in which AIDS thrives. Individuals who are living in these conditions, such as migrant workers, displaced people, refugees and ostracised minorities worldwide, face a much higher risk of infection. (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 4) In the past decade, HIV/AIDS has also emerged as a major threat in emergency settings and where humanitarian operations can place both relief workers and local populations at greater risk of infection HIV (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 4). There is an increased likelihood of sexual violence and prostitution among refugee populations and it broadens and accelerates the spread of HIV (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002:4). 

Mobile workers such as long-distance truck drivers have a higher probability of being HIV-infected than their communities of origin, as well as migrant laborers who are separated from their families for prolonged periods of time, are more prone to visit prostitutes or have multiple sexual partners, become HIV-positive, and then return to their primary sexual partners to spread the virus in those home communities (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 6).

The impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and rural areas

The agricultural sector in developing third world agrarian societies is the biggest economic sector in those countries generating GDP. Most third world people live off the land in subsistence agriculture. These societies are hit the hardest with HIV/AIDS infections, due to customary and traditional practices, as well as the lack of HIV/AIDS education. As over 70 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa consists of farmers and other rural occupations, engaged in agriculture, impact will first be felt in the agriculture sector (van Liere. 2002:2,4) Examples from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, tell the story of reduced crop production and shifts to less labour-intensive cropping systems (van Liere. 2002:2,4). The FAO has estimated that in the 27 most affected countries in Africa, 7 million agricultural workers have died from AIDS since 1985 and 16 million more deaths are likely in the next two decades. Several studies have shown a reduction in production and shifts in farming system (van Liere. 2002:2).

There is also a severe challenge to Agricultural Extension Services, in developing nations, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. Due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has decimated farming populations and rural areas, serious challenges now also exist for agricultural extensive services, who by their mandate and character deal with small scale farmers and traditional, mostly illiterate, rural households in providing them with technical advice on agricultural technologies, and advice on farm input supply, credit, marketing and farm management (Qamar. 2003:894).

The impact of HIV/AIDS on not only the farming and rural population, but also on the agricultural extension services, its agents and officials and their families, as well as their partner institutions are listed by Qamar and are briefly: extension service staff’s heightened risk of exposure to HIV infection, due to their frequent visits to the rural areas; some are already themselves suffering from HIV; the time, money and energy burden of taking care of their own HIV infected relatives and minor children; the pressure of attending an increasing amount of funerals at a financial cost and distracting them from farming activities; low morale, depression and economic worries among extension service workers, due to the loss of colleagues, and far heavier workloads; disruption in the extension service programmes due to staff absenteeism and death; the increasing costs for extension service organizations for the treatment of sick staff and their relatives, the funerals for dead staff, recruitment and training of new staff, and buying insurance coverage; administrative, strategic, policy and operational practices of all relevant organization going obsolete, due to drastic changes in social structures, including income levels, patterns of life and types of clientele; the negative implications for other organisation who are linked to extension services such as those who provide credit, technology packages, marketing facilities, land tenure and plant protection; new clientele, such as widows and orphans, applying for rural credit, requiring new criteria for applicants to qualify, but which does not exist straining extension service officers; the changing composition of clientele for extension services, to increasingly include the elderly, widowed, the young, orphans and physically weak; the increasing need of farmers to receive HIV/AIDS education, which the extension workers are unable to provide and the worsening supply of farm labour, food insecurity and poverty due to able bodied adults being lost and households being taken over by the elderly, the weak, and orphans, with limited earning (Qamar. 2003:894-900).

The socio-economic consequences of HIV/AIDS

The socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS is particularly rife in Africa and specifically Sub-Saharan Africa. The pandemic has given rise to the possible emergence of AIDS-related national crises as well as a higher incidence of orphan related crime. Taking a pessimistic view of current trends in Africa, such as in Zimbabwe, De Waal foresees the emergence of AIDS-related national crises (ARNCs). The HIV/AIDS pandemic may afflict the future governance, peace, and security of African countries to such an extent, that ARNC’s (Aids Related National Crisis) may occur (De Waal. 2002:190-191). Each ARNC will manifest itself as a crisis of governance, corruption, armed conflict or social conflict, appearing to be a normal crisis (De Waal. 2002:192). This pandemic-induced crises manifests itself in a range of other social, economic and political pathologies, fastening itself onto the weak points of governance or socio-political relations that already occur in a given society, for example if a country is at war, the conduct of the armed forces, is likely to be an area in which the ARNC emerges (De Waal. 2002:192).

There are sufficient early warning systems of the full-scale development of national HIV/AIDS epidemics in Africa, according to de Waal (2002:193), but the problem is that countries do not know how to respond to ARNC’s. Conventional responses by neighboring African countries and the International community to ARNC’s, such as diplomatic dialogue, negotiations, conditionalities on aid, and even sanctions, will, according to De Waal (2002:193), not work. A further problem may be the unwillingness of key decision makers, to acknowledge the AIDS-related dimension to the problem (De Waal. 2002: 193). The HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be prevented, but the effects can be mitigated (De Waal. 2002: 194). ARNC’s, on the other hand, are preventable, by means of early warning and preparedness and targeted interventions aimed at specific areas in which HIV/AIDS interacts with governance (De Waal. 2002: 194). De Waal argues that the prospect of ARNC’s should shape the governance agenda and the HIV/AIDS programming of individual African countries (De Waal. 2002: 194-195).

The socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS is the most dramatic and visible in the staggering rise of children being orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. Aids-related orphaning specifically impact our socio-economic stability and security, in the area of crime. Growing up without a parent or parents, and badly supervised by relatives and welfare organizations, Southern Africa’s burgeoning orphan population will be at greater than average risk to engage in criminal activity (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 13-14). The many orphaned African children who will grow up under extreme levels of poverty will be sorely tempted, or even obliged for the sake of their physical survival, to commit a range of property related crimes. 

These crimes would include the theft of food and clothing by shoplifting and residential burglary, or the theft of other items that can be sold or traded for the necessities of life. Older orphans in their early teenage years might resort to mugging and robbery to make ends meet (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 13-14). A large influx of orphaned children into the urban slums surrounding many African cities will exacerbate socio-economic conditions, thereby creating a vibrant breeding ground for a variety of social ills such as crime. Moreover, the frequency of certain types of crime – such as gang-related crimes, vehicle thefts, robberies, and burglaries – is higher in cities than in rural areas, with the rate generally increasing according to city size (Fourie & Schönteich. 2002: 14).

Pharoah and Weiss (2005:800-801) argues that there are three main ways in which AIDS-related orphaning may lead to higher levels of crime and instability, namely: that the death of parents leave children scarred and marginalized in ways that predispose them to delinquency and criminal behavior; secondly that growing numbers of orphans provide a ready recruitment pool for organisations that violently oppose the status quo of the existing socio-political order in African countries; and lastly, that the demographic change brought about by the pandemic, especially the fact that young adults and adolescents are now over-represented, will create additional problems such as crime. Schönteich (in, Pharoah and Weiss. 2005:801) speculates that due to the disproportionate number of young men between the ages of 15 and 24 in highly affected countries, the incidence of crime, specifically violent crime and group-based aggression, will increase.

HIV/AIDS in South-Africa

HIV/AIDS has left a huge scar in the economic and social security of South Africa. South Africa has the highest number of people infected globally, estimated at around 5.3 million, including 220 000 children under the age of 15 years, in 2008 (UNAIDS 2009, in South Africa ranks in the top five highest HIV prevalence countries in the world, with 17.5% of the population estimated to be infected ( The UNAIDS 2009 Global Report Epidemic Update estimated that in 2008, 310 000 people died from AIDS in South Africa ( South Africa is regarded as having the most severe HIV epidemic in the world ( It is estimated that by 2010, the South-African economy will be 22 percent smaller than it would have been without HIV/AIDS, amounting to a cost of US$ 17 billion (De Waal. 2002:191).

The policy and human rights response of South-Africa has been exemplary. The South African Human Rights Commission was the first national human rights body in the world to publicly endorse and adopt the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights. Further, the Commission addressed HIV/AIDS as a human rights issue at its first national conference. One of the outcomes of the conference was a resolution stating that discrimination against PLWHA violated the South African constitution, which was made possible due to efforts by the AIDS Law Project/AIDS Legal Network, South Africa that held the government accountable for upholding its political commitment in implementing the Guidelines. (Program on International Health and Human Rights et al. 2004:9)

HIV/AIDS prevalence among women

Women make up the majority of those infected with HIV. Kristofferson (2000:597) argues that the economic, food, health, personal and political security of women, in particular, are at greater risk than those of men due to their physical, emotional and material differences and due to the existing social, economic and political inequalities between men and women. The vulnerability of women and the spread of HIV/AIDS among women are exacerbated by conflict and emergency situations and according to Kristofferson (2000:598) are the following factors enhancing the spread of HIV infections in emergency situations, namely: 1. Sexual violence, where rape is used as a weapon of war and women considered as bounty; 2. The breakdown in social structure and legal protection, leading to transitory sexual relationships involving a great many partners, and young people getting involved with sex and marriage at an early stage, due to the absence of leisure, education and employment opportunities; 3. The lack of Health infrastructure, limiting the access to condoms, preventing the treatment of STD’s, preventing the availability of mother-to-child transmission drugs, limiting the availability of trained medical staff, and excluding privacy and confidentiality as well as proper care and support for HIV infected people; 4. Women’s desire to meet their basic needs and create economic opportunities, accomplished through exchanging sex for food, shelter, resources, money, and protection; 5. The lack of education and skills training for women, increasing their dependency to get involved in risk behavior; and 6. The presence of military and peacekeeping forces with high rates of HIV infections, and who abuse their power to get what they want from refugees, women, and children.

HIV/AIDS and Human Rights

HIV/AIDS is a key concern in Human Rights and increasingly international law, obliging national laws and constitutions are being passed to ensure non-discrimination and legal rights for those infected with HIV. The first global AIDS strategy, developed in 1987, made it clear that Human rights are fundamental to any response to HIV/AIDS. Human Rights are “universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions that interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity.” 

The promotion and protection of human rights empower individuals and communities to respond to HIV/AIDS, to reduce vulnerability to HIV infection and to lessen the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on those affected. (Program on International Health and Human Rights et al. 2004:1). According to Resolution 49/1999 of the UN Commission on Human Rights is “Discrimination on the basis of HIV or AIDS status, actual or presumed, prohibited by existing international human rights standards…” (in UNDP-KSA. 2002:4). Another resolution, passed in April 2004, by the Commission on Human Rights recognizes that access to HIV treatment is fundamental to progressively achieving the right to health and calls on governments and international bodies to take specific steps to enable such access (Program on International Health and Human Rights et al. 2004:4)


The HIV/AIDS pandemic is ripping away at our social, economic, political and personal security, greatly affecting not only our individual ‘human security’, but also the socio-political stability of countries, as the disease eats away our skills bases, our social networks, our national incomes, and our political stability. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the first health issue not only to pose great human security risks, but also national security risks. It adversely affects all dimensions of human security, namely economic security, food security, personal security, community security, political security, and health security. The disease has severe impacts on agrarian based developing countries where agriculture is the main source of GDP and subsistence income for the majority of the populations and where lack of proper HIV/AIDS education, leads to fatal decreases in agricultural output. Aids-related national crises in African countries may occur, but are preventable, by means of early warning and preparedness and targeted interventions aimed at specific areas in which HIV/AIDS interacts with governance. 

The socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS is no more visible than the incidence of AIDS orphan related crime. The economic, food, health, personal and political security of women, in particular, are at greater risk than those of men due to their physical, emotional and material differences and due to the existing social, economic and political inequalities between men and women. 

South-Africa is the worst affected country in the world, but its HIV/AIDS-related human rights policies and laws, lessen the socio-economic impact on PLWHA’s, and ensure human security. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is growing worse, affecting the human security of millions of people worldwide especially Sub-Saharan Africa. I conclude with a quote from Fourie & Schönteich (2002: 17), “We are dying. Our economy is under threat. The enemy is attacking the elite in our society, but also the children, the elderly and the infirm. Using the urge at the core of what makes us human – the will to reproduce – it has already infiltrated our schools, houses, mines, governments, and churches. The threat to Southern Africa’s human security is such that those of us who are not infected, dying and dead are certainly equally affected by the disease. This state of affairs is partly the result of our historical legacy of poverty, creating a confluence of time and space that makes this continent the Armageddon of HIV/AIDS. And we are losing. Yet we are in denial. The Political Science community ignores the issue, and our governments ponder the causal link between HIV and AIDS whilst the latter is already affecting our food security, our livelihoods, and our sense of community.”


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- Soli Deo Gloria -