Dr. Erin Lentz's New Paper in World Development Journal on Domestic Violence and Women's Food Insecurity


CHASP Faculty Fellow Dr. Erin Lentz

Often women eat "last and least" to protect their children, especially when exposed to domestic violence. CHASP Faculty Fellow and The LBJ School of Public Affairs food policy scholar Dr. Erin Lentz talks about her international work and new paper in the World Development Journal on how domestic violence impacts women's undernutrition.

 

Dr. Lentz received a Ph.D. in sociology and an M.S. in applied economics and management from Cornell University. She received a Fulbright fellowship to Bangladesh to research the secondary effects of food aid in local communities. She has worked or consulted with CARE, the United Nations World Food Program and numerous other international NGOs on markets, food security and food assistance programs. Click for more about Dr. Erin Lentz and her research.

---------

Complicating narratives of women’s food and nutrition insecurity: Domestic violence in rural Bangladesh

 

Abstract

A rich body of research confirms a strong association between a mother’s exposure to domestic violence and poor nutritional outcomes of her children. However, there is less empirical research on how domestic violence impacts nutrition and food security. Two pathways described in the literature are (1) perpetrators withhold food as a form violence or control, leading to poor nutrition of women and (2) women’s food preparation and portion allocation trigger “retaliatory” violence by perpetrators. Interviews by community researchers with over 100 women in rural Bangladesh reveal a little documented linkage between violence and food practices in rural Bangladesh. I find that women, in light of the realities and possibilities of domestic violence, weigh choices about food consumption and distribution, often choosing to eat less or lower quality foods. That is, women often demonstrate agentic decision-making in a context of violence, referred to here as “burdened agency.” Women traverse and navigate a complex set of relationships between hunger, undernutrition, agency and domestic violence, differing from the two presumed-causal pathways. Recognizing burdened agency can explain how women make decisions around food practices, and why the uptake of certain food security and nutrition interventions may be reduced.

Highlights

  • Many women in Bangladesh face both food insecurity and domestic violence.
  • We should not presume that, in these situations, all women are agentless.
  • I find some rural Bangladeshi women navigate these complex relationships.
  • Women may eat less or lower quality foods to avoid violence, or vice versa.
  • Understanding why some women are food insecure can improve policy responses.

Full paper: Complicating narratives of women’s food and nutrition insecurity: Domestic violence in rural Bangladesh (World Development, April 2018)