In sub-Saharan Africa, cultural norms strongly determine men’s and women’s roles related to livestock [1]. It has been well documented that livestock productivity improvements can improve the well-being of resource-poor smallholder farmers, but the benefits to household members and degree and type of investments (time/labour, financial) each contributes may differ between household members [1, 2]. Moreover, there is evidence that productivity improvements result in loss of entitlement by women and that ownership of livestock assets plays a significant role in determining entitlements to the benefits that are associated with those assets [2, 3]. “Gender considerations relating to access to and control over assets play a major role in determining how income does or does not translate into welfare” [4]. Women may not have an incentive to invest in productivity improvements if they are not compensated for any additional labour requirements above and beyond current demands [1, 5]. Moreover, a growing body of literature describes the inadequacy of models wherein households are viewed either as one entity with a single set of preferences (unitary models), or as multiple individuals operating in their own best interest (non-cooperative models) [4, 6, 7]. Rather there is a need for consideration of the complexity of relationships within households, i.e. individuals make decisions based on the interests of others and their own self-interest, and some interests are common while others conflict [6, 8].

Household members may have differing preferences and abilities to impact intra-household decision-making outcomes [4, 7, 8]. Agency, “the ability to define one’s goals and act upon them” for example through decision-making, and gaining, retaining, and exercising command over goods and income [9] may differ between members of the same household. Some individuals may overtly exercise agency, while others may act covertly (e.g. through deception, manipulation, subversion, resistance, bargaining, and negotiation) in order to mitigate the relative disadvantage they experience [9].

Agricultural development projects need to be aware of the dynamic nature of gender norms related to roles, responsibilities, and assets and investigate the potential impacts that interventions may have on the ownership, control, and use of assets [2, 8]. There is a paucity of literature describing the roles and responsibilities of men and women in pig-raising households on smallholder farms in east Africa as well as the entitlements each can claim over the benefits from the pig enterprise. This paper addresses that gap through a gender-disaggregated exploration of Ugandan smallholder pig farmers’ perceptions of asset ownership, control, and access, division of labour, and decision-making ability related to pig rearing and income. These perceptions are presented in the context of the potential impact of adopting improved diets for pigs (a pig productivity improvement). Contrasts between Ugandan statutory and customary law are described.

Pig production and East Africa

Small-scale pig production in east Africa can improve the welfare of smallholder farm families and lift people out of poverty [1012]. East African smallholder pig farmers typically raise 1–2 pigs to pay for medicine, school fees, food, home improvements, seeds, funeral costs, and to buy other animals and expand their farms [11, 13, 14]. Pig keeping is attractive for several reasons: pigs require minimal inputs and labour, produce offspring in large numbers, and have short intervals between generations [15]. The inputs required to purchase cattle and to manage cattle (e.g. amount of land required for grazing or growing feed, amount of purchased feed [e.g. Napier grass], amount of water consumed daily) are typically higher than those for pigs. When the inputs required to raise cattle are beyond the resources of farmers, especially disadvantaged members of society, raising pigs may be within their reach [16, 17].

In Uganda in 2013, 38% of the population earned ≤$1.25 US dollars (USD) per day, and the gross national income per capita was low ($600 USD) [18]. Six million people (43% of the working population) were involved in subsistence production—58% of whom were female [19].

Almost 30% of the 7 million households in Uganda were headed by females of whom 20.5% were divorced or separated, 35.8% were widows, and 5.3% had never married) [19]. The average monthly income of female and male household heads was 125,000 and 179,000 Ugandan shillings, respectively ($37 and $52USD per month, or $1.22 and $1.71 per day, respectively, at time of publication) [19].

Traditionally women are not allowed to own cattle, but they are allowed to own pigs [2023]. Given the high prevalence of poverty and the high number of people working in subsistence production, more than half of whom are women, it is not surprising that smallholder pig raising has become a popular enterprise in Uganda [18, 24]. In 2011, there were over 1.1 million smallholder farm families raising over 3.2 million pigs in Uganda [24].

This study, conducted in Masaka district in Central Region, Uganda, is part of a larger Smallholder Pig Value Chain Development (SPVCD) project lead by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) looking at rural and urban pig value chains in Masaka, Mukono, and Kamuli districts of Uganda. Masaka district is an area characterized by mixed cropping of bananas, coffee, vegetables, and maize, and some dairy farming [25]. Masaka district was identified by ILRI as an area with high pig population and high poverty levels [11, 25]. The SPVCD project in Uganda, supported by the European Commission, the International Fund for International Development, and Irish Aid, focused on improving the livelihoods, incomes, and assets of smallholder pig farmers, particularly women, in sustainable ways, through increased productivity, risk reduction, and market access improvement in pig value chains.

One component of SPVCD was to develop balanced diets (recipes) for pigs using locally available ingredients (e.g. banana leaves, avocado, maize bran, sun-dried fish). Locally available feed ingredients for pigs were identified by smallholder pig farmers and government extension workers through focus group discussions (FGDs) [11]. Participants reported they did not know how to combine the ingredients into nutritionally balanced diets for their pigs and that commercially prepared pig diets were beyond their financial means [11]. Participants also reported competition between humans and pigs for the same food and that food/feed shortages happened seasonally [11]. Pigs were malnourished and growing slowly [22]. Others report higher pig growth rates on east African smallholder farms, resulting in greater potential profit and revenue for farmers [26]. Hence, improved, nutritionally balanced diets for pigs on Ugandan smallholder farms were needed to improve pig growth rates and increase pig-enterprise revenue.

Locally available ingredients were sampled and analysed to determine their nutritional content [27]. Low-cost balanced diets, designed to enable pigs to grow more quickly than pigs were currently growing on east African smallholder farms, were developed using suitable local ingredients [28, 29]. A feed trial conducted in Uganda determined the rate at which pigs grew when fed the improved diets. Farmers attended training workshops to learn about the nutrient content of locally available feed ingredients suitable for pigs, pig growth rates, and how to make the improved diets.

Study purpose

Prior to broader dissemination of the improved diets, exploration of the potential impact of diet adoption on smallholder pig-farming household members was needed. The average growth rate of pigs on Ugandan smallholder farms will improve if pigs are fed the improved diets (Unpublished data Carter et al. 2016). Farmers earn more income per kilogram for heavier pigs than for light pigs (Unpublished data Levy et al. 2014). However, adoption of the improved diets may result in increased labour and resource requirements since home-grown ingredients must be collected, chopped, and mixed and some ingredients must be purchased. Labour and access to resources may not be evenly distributed among household members. The entitlements that household members may have over the benefits from increased pig productivity resulting from adoption of the improved diets may also vary and be influenced by societal norms, attitudes, and perceptions that shape ownership patterns and resource access. Others have documented east African gender norms associated with employment, and livestock and crop production, the ways in which gender norms vary between households, and signs that the gender norm status quo is not always maintained [1, 3032]. The degree to which pig keeping benefits men, women, and families, as well as various family members’ investments in pig keeping, is largely unknown.

The purpose of this study was to explore smallholder pig farmers’ perceptions of the potential outcomes of adopting the improved diets on their farms; their potential to adopt the diets; constraints to adoption; ownership and access (land, pigs, cash); division of labour; allocation of pig-enterprise income; and the ways in which decisions about these topics are made at the household level. These topics were explored in the context of men and women’s roles, responsibilities, and agency, and sex of household head.

Gender norms, statutory law, and customary law

Gender norms and disparities between statutory and customary law that dictate household members’ ability to control, retain, and make decisions about investments and assets, and their within-household bargaining power, may result in differential benefit allocation between household members [1, 32, 33]. In this study, customary law refers to “customs that are accepted as legal requirements or obligatory rules of conduct; practices and beliefs that are so vital and intrinsic a part of a social and economic system that they are treated as if they were laws” [34]. Statutory law refers to “A law or group of laws passed by a legislature or other official governing bodies” [35]. Customary law is recognized by the Ugandan courts, and its impact is greatest on people in rural areas [36, 37]. Seventy-seven per cent of the Ugandan population lives in rural areas; thus, customary law impacts much of the population [19].

The 1995 Ugandan Constitution guarantees property rights “without bias to gender or marital status” and “affirmative action in favour of marginalized groups based on gender or other reason created by history, tradition or custom, for the purpose of redressing existing imbalances (ibid.)” [36]. Although the Constitution “mandates that state law prevails where it is in contradiction with customary law”, the mandates are rarely heeded [36]. A disconnect between Ugandan statutory and customary law has been well documented [3639]. Legal pluralism wherein statutory laws coexist and interact with “state, customary, religious, project and local laws” is enshrined in the Constitution which results in individual’s ownership of assets being based on legal and social norms [36, 37].

In Uganda, women are expected to be obedient and submissive to men and must seek permission from their husbands to work outside their domestic domain [20, 32]. This power differential is promulgated by the practice of bride-wealth payment (bride price). Women are responsible for tasks such as cooking, housekeeping, and childcare even when employed outside the home [20, 32]. Women are also responsible for pig and poultry-rearing [40]. Culturally, men are head of households and men are the decision-makers [32, 41]. They are responsible for providing an income and shelter [41]. Men are also responsible for rearing large livestock, especially cattle, and for marketing agricultural products [40]. However, as others describe:

Despite these inequities, women have been able to create room to manoeuvre through creative strategies that bargain with patriarchal discourses and practices, and re-re-interpret and subtly manipulate customary laws, norms and idioms back in their favour. For instance, they resist patriarchal norms by withdrawing their labour from their husband’s land and farming enterprises [42].

This study explores such creative strategies that Ugandan smallholder pig-keeping household members employ.


A qualitative study design was used. Questions were adapted from the gender transformative analysis of the value chain tool developed by others (see Additional File 1) [43]. Questions were pretested once and revised in consultation with Ugandan facilitators to improve clarity, and single barrelledness and to ensure cultural appropriateness [44].

Participants were recruited from 2 villages (1 near and 1 far from a market) in each of 3 sub-locations of Masaka district in Central Region, Uganda (6 villages total; 4 rural and 2 peri-urban). Villages were purposively selected based on known popularity of smallholder pig farming, and proximity to markets where pig-feeding ingredients were sold [45]. District veterinary officers (VO) listed potential participants residing within the VO’s jurisdictional area (n = 72 participants). The inclusion criteria were: smallholder farmers raising 1 to 8 growing pigs who were men (n = 24), or women in female-headed households (WFHH) (n = 24), or women in male-headed households (WMHH) (n = 24) to enable exploration of “multiple, apprehendable, and sometimes conflicting social realities” [46]. Following a verbal script, VOs orally informed potential participants in person that they were invited to participate. A written letter of invitation written in both Luganda (the predominant local language) and English was left with each participant. The letter was addressed “Dear Sir/Madam” regardless of the gender of the participant. This is because women require permission from the head of their household to participate but social norms dictate that the request for permission be expressed subtly. All invitees agreed to participate. However, two men did not attend and five women did not attend but two of the women sent their primary-school-aged sons to represent them. No participants asked for data to be removed.

Focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted in primary school classrooms in villages near participants’ homes. Transportation was provided when needed. Participants were welcomed and thanked for coming, given an opportunity to ask questions, and gave oral consent to participate. Trained facilitators orally administered a brief checklist one-on-one to each participant in each participant’s language of choice: English or Luganda. The checklist determined: gender, age in years (within 10-year ranges), level of education, marital status (married, widowed, single, other), if they are head of household and if not the gender of the head of household, number of sons and daughters, number of sons and daughters who participate in household farming, number of people living in the household and their relationship to the participant, number and type of pigs kept (piglet, weaner, finisher, gilt, sow, boar), type and number of other livestock kept, land area owned and cultivated, land ownership and rights, type of crops currently cultivated, farmer group membership status, and distance from where pigs are kept to market where pig feedstuffs are available. Participant answers were recorded (written) in English by facilitators. Participants were then assigned to 1 of the 3 gender-stratified groups (men/boy, WMHH, WFHH), told their group number orally, and given a slip of paper with their group number written on it.

Trained facilitators conducted a plenary lecture-style training about locally available feed ingredients for pigs, feed-trial growth performance results of pigs fed 1 of 3 diets (forage-based, silage-based, commercially prepared), relative cost of feeding each of the diets to pigs including if all ingredients are purchased or if some are home-grown). Participants were then divided into their gender-stratified groups (to enable facilitators to establish a rapport with participants). In the gender-stratified groups, participants received hands-on training wherein participants chopped, measured, and mixed ingredients to make the forage- and silage-based diets under the guidance of a facilitator. Training was conducted in Luganda. Training material (printed handouts and projected slide presentation) content was mostly pictorial and translated to Luganda in deference to participants with no formal education, or partial/completed primary level education (n = 1 and n = 24 participants, respectively). Training was followed by a plenary lunch; then, participants returned to the same gender-stratified groups for FGD. All discussions were conducted in Luganda, audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and translated into English. Field notes were taken by a second facilitator who observed the FGD.

Data analysis

Data familiarization through immersion was done [47, 48]. All data were imported to Atlas.ti 7 (Scientific Software Development GmbH, PO Box 2466, Corvallis, OR, USA) for management. Data were coded, and latent thematic framework analysis was done [48]. Analysis focused on “maintaining the integrity of respondents’ narratives” [47]. Partial data analysis and verification were done by one researcher and further theme refinement followed until all themes were distinct, non-overlapping, and could not be further refined or collapsed. All stages of the thematic content analysis were reviewed by members of the research team to reduce possible bias and increase validity [49].


The first 9 semi-structured FGD included a total of 67 people: 24 men and 41 women (of whom 17 were WFHH, and 24 were WMHH), and 2 boys enrolled in primary school who were sent by their mothers (1 WFHH and 1 WMHH) to represent them and participated in the man/boy group. Of the men participants, 23 (96%) were married and 1 (4%) was single. All were head of the household except for 1 unmarried 17-year-old man whose father was head of the household. Of the WFHH participants, 10 (59%) were widowed, and 7 (41%) were single. All were head of the household except for 1 unmarried woman whose mother was head of the household. Of the WMHH participants, all 24 (100%) were married and their husbands were all head of the household. The final 3 semi-structured FGD were mixed (4 men plus 4 WMHH; 4 men plus 4 WFHH; 4 men plus 2 WMHH and 2 WFHH). Participants in the mixed-gender FGD had attended one of the first 9 FGD and were selected and invited to attend the mixed-gender FGD by the VOs at the end of the first 9 FGD.


Potential benefits of adopting the improved diets are presented in Table 1. Contradictory views about the potential impact of diet adoption on labour requirements and feed costs, as well as advantages and disadvantages of the inclusion of seasonal, home-grown ingredients in the diets, are presented in Table 1. Concerns about competition between people and pigs for food, because the improved diets contain avocado, jackfruit, and sun-dried fish (Rastrineobola argentea called mukene in Luganda) which people also eat, and food competition mitigating solutions, are presented in Table 2. When prompted about “the risks, dangers, [and] injuries one may get while preparing feeds for the pigs” participants described potential risks as well as strategies to mitigate the potential risks of harvesting, chopping, and going to buy ingredients. These are presented in Table 2.

Table 1 Smallholder pig farmers’ perception of the potential impacts of adoption of improved diets for pigs: men, women in male-headed households (WMHH) and women in female-headed households (WFHH) in Central Region, Uganda
Table 2 Potential risks and risk mitigation associated with adoption of improved diets for pigs by men, women in male-headed households (WMHH) and women in female-headed households (WFHH) smallholder pig farmers in Central Region, Uganda

Income allocation and beneficiaries

Intra-household allocation of pig-enterprise income and the degree to which household heads and other household members benefitted from it are presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Pig-enterprise income allocation reported by men, women in male-headed households (WMHH) and women in female-headed households (WFHH) smallholder pig farmers in Central Region, Uganda

Overt decision-making

The ability of heads of households and other household members to influence intra-household decision-making outcomes differed. Instances when men and WFHH gained, retained, and exercised command over the pig enterprise and pig-enterprise income are presented in Table 4. Instances when men had overt control over their wives’ behaviour or used physical violence, or the threat of it, to retain overt decision-making ability are presented in Table 4. Instances when WMHH did and did not gain, retain, or command control over the pig enterprise or pig-enterprise income are presented in Table 4.

Table 4 Decision-making by men, women in male-headed households (WMHH) and women in female-headed households (WFHH) Ugandan smallholder pig farmers about buying and selling pigs and pig-sales income allocation

Our study indicates that WFHH and men gained, retained, and commanded control over the pig enterprise or pig-enterprise income. Some WMHH had overt decision-making ability when they were the owner of the pigs and their husbands did not choose to remove women’s command of the pig and pig-enterprise income, or in the absence of men, or when men failed to provide for them. However, some WMHH did not gain, retain, or command control over the pig enterprise or pig-enterprise income.

Covert strategies influencing the relative disadvantage of some household members

Instances in which WMHH employed covert strategies (negotiation, bargaining, evasion, exclusion of men, resistance, manipulation, and deception) that influenced intra-household decision-making outcomes about pig-enterprise income allocation, thereby mitigating women’s relative disadvantage compared to men, are presented in Table 5. Instances in which men employed covert strategies (negotiation, evasion, manipulation, and deception) that influenced intra-household decision-making outcomes about pig-enterprise income allocation, thereby maintaining men’s relative advantage over women, are presented in Table 5.

Table 5 Strategies smallholder pig-farming household members (men, women in male-headed households [WMHH] and women in female-headed households [WFHH]) in Central Region, Uganda, employ to influence pigs-sales income allocation

Compensation and motivation

Some women reported having raised men’s pigs and then not receiving any financial compensation for their labour. Men reported that women were reluctant at times to clean pig pens because although women did a lot of the work associated with pig keeping, men were not transparent about pig-enterprise income. Other men argued that such behaviour only happened in the past and that nowadays men would not expect a woman to provide labour and not benefit from it. Women reported having to compensate men for raising pigs on men’s land because women did not own land of their own. Women lost motivation to raise pigs when men borrowed pig-enterprise income from them and never paid it back. “Sometimes when women sell pigs, their husbands borrow money from them but they never pay back. And this makes women lose interest to continue rearing pigs” one man explained. Women also lost motivation when they contributed labour to the pig enterprise and their husbands gave pig-enterprise income to another woman. “Does the other woman also do something to be able to take money to this home, or he just siphons out the money to the concubine in [name of village], whereas I [name] I am working hard…cutting trees…we have reared the pigs together. Is that fair?” one WFHH said. A final example from our study is of a man who exclaimed, “The women have got more points than men! You are winners! I like women. They are hard working. They stay at home, but if she does not like the project, it will not survive. She will make sure it fails. She will be saying ‘that pig is for the man’”.


Men, WMHH, and WFHH listed faster pig growth, increased income from pig enterprise, and improved family well-being as potential benefits of adopting the improved diets. Men, WMHH, and WFHH also mentioned an increase in the number of pigs that would be raised which would result in an improved pig market, and better quality and/or increased volume of manure which would improve crop yields as potential benefits of diet adoption. Men, WMHH, and WFHH viewed the inclusion of local home-grown ingredients including waste products as a potential benefit. Men, WMHH, and WFHH described challenges associated with seasonal fluctuations in availability of some ingredients, and human and pig competition for food (discussed further below). However within the men, WMHH, and WFHH FGD groups, participants had contradictory opinions about whether feed costs would be higher or lower than their current spending, and whether more or less labour would be required compared to their current pig-feeding practices. Only WFHH said they may be unable to adopt the diets due to lack of funds with which to buy ingredients. Only WMHH and WFHH mentioned that extra labour (additional help) would be needed if the diets were adopted and that there would be a potential increase in on-farm employment opportunities. Only men mentioned a potential increase in produce market opportunities although WMHH did suggest that an increase in agricultural product prices would occur which would benefit the community. Only WFHH suggested adoption of the diets would create job opportunities for resource-poor children. Only WFHH suggested that the potential increase in pig-enterprise income would enable them to hire help, thus decreasing their overall workload.

Participants expressed concerns about competition for food, between people and pigs. It is important to note that when the improved diets were developed the number of ingredients that are eaten by both people and pigs, and the volume of those ingredients were purposefully minimized to decrease the potential for food competition. However, there is a lack of inexpensive high-energy ingredients available for pigs in Uganda. To keep the cost of the improved diets low while ensuring diets met pigs’ nutritional needs, it was necessary to include three ingredients that both people and pigs eat (avocado, jackfruit, sun-dried fish). This study demonstrates that including ingredients that people and pigs both eat challenges farmers’ ability to adopt the diets. Thus, research is needed about alternative energy sources for pigs to enable the development of diets containing even fewer or no ingredients for which people and pigs compete.

Participants also expressed concerns about potential personal safety risks related to diet adoption. It is important to note that the practices required in collecting ingredients and preparing the diets are activities already undertaken by smallholder farmers. The ingredients were identified through FGD with 1400 smallholder pig farmers and 280 key informants including local extension officers through an in-depth value chain assessment conducted in Kamuli, Masaka, and Mukono districts of Uganda [11]. The methods used to prepare the diets, such as harvesting sweet potato vine from fields, picking tree fruits, chopping jackfruit using a machete, cutting avocado with a knife, and pounding dry ingredients with a mortar and pestle, are traditional local methods commonly employed by smallholder farmers. In the absence of mechanized chopping and mixing methods, traditional methods were considered the best alternative to maximize adoption feasibility. We recognize the risks associated with collecting and preparing diet ingredients and encourage farmers to implement safe practices to mitigate these risks.

Participants suggested risk-mitigating practices; however, it is important to note that some smallholder pig farmers may not be able to implement risk-mitigating practices which require cash purchases (e.g. buying gloves, gum boots, or chopping machines). This particularly applies to WFHH who said they could not afford to buy ingredients for the diets so may also be unable to buy protective equipment. Rather they reported relying on God to protect them in the absence of risk-mitigating measures. Although a man participant said “Persistence and love for our pigs should be the number one aspect to drive us to look after our pigs without hesitations”, research focused on removing factors constraining farmers’ access to safety equipment and safe practices is needed.

Income allocation and beneficiaries

Men, WMHH, and WFHH said that adoption of the new diets would improve pig growth, which would result in increased income from pig sales. However, allocation of pig-enterprise income and the degree to which household members benefitted from it varied within and between genders. Men and women both said that men and women allocate pig-enterprise income to benefit people within their households. Men and women both said that men spend pig-enterprise income to benefit people outside their households (second wife/family, extended family, lovers). Men and women both said that men spend pig-enterprise income to benefit only themselves. While men and women frequently said that men’s preference was to serve their own best interests, in particular to buy alcohol and sometimes clothes, some men said that awareness of “the role of a man” motivated men to provide for their children, their wife, needs of second wife and/or family, extended family, and lovers. Similar to our study, other authors report that at times men’s income allocation served men’s own needs and at other times served the needs of others [50]. The findings of our study support other authors’ claim that gender stereotyping about men’s spending preferences should be avoided [50].

One man said that women spend pig-enterprise income to benefit people outside their households (extended family), but no one else said this about women. No one said that women spend pig-enterprise income to benefit only themselves, but men and women both said that women spend pig-enterprise income to benefit both their household members and then themselves. Women were motivated by “the pain of poverty” and their preferences were to spend income to provide for their children, household, and extended family. Once other people had been provided for women would spend income on their own needs (clothes, hair). Perhaps women’s stated preference to spend more income on their children than on themselves can be explained as discussed by other authors, “women in traditional societies may lack a notion of personal welfare because their identities are too closely tied to the interests of the household” [51]. Moreover, this “overlap between personal and household interests preserves intra-household inequality” [51]. Similarly, other authors describe the strong link between Ugandan women’s identity and their domestic role [52].

A gender equality and development report claims that “increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children” [53]. These findings, which are similar to our own, stand in contrast to other researchers who report that when playing experimental games, there was no evidence that women in eastern Uganda contributed more to the common pool than men [8].

Our findings are also similar to those whose discussions with smallholder farmers in Uganda indicated that men and women make agricultural production decisions based on the food security needs of their households, but at times income from agricultural sales may be spent on frivolous personal expenses rather than in ways that benefit the family as whole [31].

Our study demonstrates that Ugandan men and women allocated pig-enterprise income based on the interests of others (i.e. household members, second wife and/or family, extended family, lover), based on a mixture of their own and others’ interests, or based on their own self-interest. Thus, Ugandan smallholder pig-farming households cannot be viewed as one entity with a single set of preferences nor as multiple individuals operating solely in their own best interest, just as other authors have cautioned [4, 68].

Overt decision-making

The ability of household members to influence intra-household decision-making outcomes also differed. Participants described many instances when men and WFHH gained, retained, and exercised command over the pig enterprise and pig-enterprise income. Men made overt decisions about buying and selling pigs, and about how pig-enterprise income was used. Some men bought pigs because they “are the ones with money” indicating men’s access to financial resources was greater than that of women. Even if women provided all of the labour required to raise men’s pigs, some men sold the pigs and refused to let women express their opinion about how the income was spent. If men and women owned pigs together, some men took control over decision-making. Men sold women’s pigs unbeknownst to women and without women’s permission and when women were away (for instance at a burial). Men sold pigs owned by children (gifted to them by World Vision) and the wife had no input into the decision to sell or how the income was spent. Our findings are similar to others who report that although women owned livestock they did not have full control over the use and sale of the livestock or livestock products (e.g. milk and eggs) nor were they able to make decisions about the use of income from sales of livestock or livestock products [1].

Some men said that men no longer behave that way, or hoard money, because women know the law (their marital benefits rights). However, some women who owned pigs had to give their husband a piglet or money as compensation for the pig being raised in the man’s home. This was because even if the pig is a woman’s project, the project belongs to the man because it is done in his home. Other researchers report similar statements by Kenyan smallholder farmer FGD participants, for instance, who stated “Everything with blood in the household belongs to the man” [54]. Although “women claimed to have some influence in the selling”, it was men who owned the animals [54]. Therefore, men had the authority to sell animals and dominated decision-making about selling them despite women dominating decision-making about daily care of animals [54].

In our study, in some households, men and women each owned pigs and each made decisions about their own pig. Also some men had to consult with their wives about the price at which to sell pigs before a sale could be made.

At times men made decisions about how pig-enterprise income was allocated that women described as unfair and inequitable for women and children. Sometimes men indirectly controlled women’s pig-enterprise income by refusing to pay for household needs requiring women to use their income instead.

Men also had overt control over their wives’ behaviour. For instance, men did not allow women to sell their [women’s] pigs. Men also ordered women to sell their [women’s] pigs to solve a financial problem at home even though women were raising pigs with another objective in mind. Other authors report that in Ugandan societies “women tend to abide by male authority to avoid community gossip and to keep their marriages ‘stable’” although some women are beginning to defy these cultural norms [32].

One WFHH suggested men used physical violence, or the threat of it, to retain overt decision-making ability. Moreover, she said women are submissive and because of potential physical harm a woman would yield and would not challenge a husband’s decision (about how to spend pig-enterprise income). Although only one woman mentioned domestic violence, her statement is notable, particularly since domestic violence is a sensitive topic about which participants may not have wished to speak. Other authors argue that “because women’s status is intertwined with their husband’s, there are strong social pressures for women not to reveal personal feelings about their marital relationships that might undermine their commitment to the established social order” [55]. This may explain why only one participant mentioned domestic violence.

In Uganda, many (56.1%) 15–49-year-old women reported having experienced physical violence since the age of 15 [56]. Most commonly the perpetrator was their current (60%) or former (18.9%) husband or partner [56]. Similarly, most (55.7%) 15–54-year-old men reported having experienced physical violence since age 15; however, far fewer men reported that their current (31.1%), or former (5.4%) wife or partner, was the perpetrator [56]. In Central Region, the location of this study, 28.9% of women and 20.6% of men reported that a husband was justified in beating or hitting his wife if she argued with him [56]. Also, if a wife goes out without telling her husband (for instance to sell a pig), 51.3% of women reported a husband was justified in beating or hitting his wife and 31.5% of men reported it was justified [56]. When the report was released, The Daily Monitor, a leading national Ugandan newspaper reported that Mr. Bedha Balikudembe, the communications coordinator of Isis Wicce, a women’s rights organisation, said that women accepted wife beating as a “sign of love from their husbands” [57].

These customary cultural attitudes are telling and indicate that customary law is in sharp contrast to statutory law, namely The Domestic Violence Act of 2010. As other authors describe, the act states that “A person in a domestic relationship shall not engage in domestic violence” [33]. Moreover, “The consent of the victim shall not be a defence to a charge of domestic violence under this Act” [33]. Other authors provide an in-depth discussion of the history and challenges associated with implementing this act, but for reasons of brevity we will not discuss it here [33]. Suffice to say that customary law associated with domestic violence and the statutory law that criminalizes domestic violence are sharply juxtaposed within Central Region, Uganda. The threat of personal violence, and some men and women’s attitude that domestic violence is justified, undoubtedly play a role in women’s (in)ability to make decisions about pig buying and selling and the allocation of pig-enterprise income.

Men also had overt decision-making ability over pig buying and selling, and pig-enterprise income allocation even when they did not own the pig and even when the pig’s owner, a woman, had a different objective in mind when raising the pig. Other researchers report that livestock ownership at the household level is gendered, and women are more likely to own less valuable, smaller livestock (for example pigs) than men [58]. However, in their study of smallholder pig-keeping families in Gulu and Soroti districts in Uganda, other researchers reported pigs were owned by husbands in 66% of households and by wives/women in 23% of households [21]. Thus, fewer women than men owned pigs. Regardless, our study demonstrates that ownership of pigs and labour investments by Ugandan smallholder farm women did not guarantee decision-making ability, nor did it guarantee they would command or benefit from pig-enterprise income. Similarly, other researchers report that joint ownership did “not necessarily translate to joint decision making on assets” and that “within-couple inequality of rights can persist in joint ownership” [59]. Other studies also report that very few co-owners needed their co-owner’s involvement to sell or bequeath land which may explain the sale of pigs, a much less valuable commodity, without the co-owner’s consent [59]. The findings of our study support arguments put forward by other researchers, that future research and development projects in Uganda need to be aware of the complex nature of the gender norms related to ownership and asset control, and to investigate the potential impacts that interventions may have on the ownership, control, and use of assets [2].

Similar to men, WFHH made overt decisions about buying and selling pigs, and about how pig-enterprise income was used. Women in female-headed households gained, retained, and commanded control over pigs and pig-enterprise income allocation. Since they were head of the household, just like men, WFHH had overt decision-making ability.

In contrast, as mentioned earlier some WMHH did not gain, retain, or command control over the pig enterprise or pig-enterprise income rather their husbands exercised overt control. However, some WMHH gained, retained, and commanded control over pigs and pig-enterprise income allocation but reported “it depends”. According to WMHH, in some households, families discussed buying a pig and then men did the buying and in other households women took the initiative and bought a pig. However, according to WFHH, it was usually the women in male-headed households, and not the men, who bought pigs because women wanted to alleviate household poverty so decided to rear pigs.

Although men said they did not allow women to sell pigs, WMHH said that if their husband was not available then women could “look for the market”. Moreover, WMHH said that if they owned the pig then they did not have to consult with men about how to spend the money, but if the pig was owned jointly then they must consult. These findings are similar to others who report the ability of smallholder farming widows in western Kenya to do “everything [related to the pig enterprise] all by herself” [30]. Moreover, other researchers report that in western Kenya, 46% females and 54% males negotiated the selling price with butchers indicating men and women are both involved in pig sales in east Africa [60].

In our study, some husbands did not ask their wives for money from the pig-enterprise. They only asked how the money was going to be spent, and were happy that their burden to provide was lessened, which creates an additional burden on women to provide. Thus, some wives had command over income allocation and their husbands did not try to remove or reduce their wives’ command. Others researchers report similar findings that “a woman’s relationship with her partner shapes her asset rights” [59].

Additionally, WMHH said that sometimes they could decide how to spend the income from pigs because their husbands were no longer looking after them. A study of gender and tourism work in Uganda reports similar findings that men’s support of women is waning and rather than help their wives, men have “resorted to unproductive alcohol drinking” [32]. In that study, one participant described herself as “both a man and a woman” in her household because she receives so little help from her husband [32].

Covert strategies influencing the relative disadvantage of some household members

As we have discussed, men exercised overt decision-making ability over pig buying and selling and over the allocation of pig-enterprise income and often spent the income outside their household or in their own best interest. Conversely, few WMHH exercised overt decision-making ability over pig buying and selling and over the allocation of pig-enterprise income and often spent the income on their children and only spent any surplus on themselves. Thus, women were relatively disadvantaged with regard to decision-making and benefitting from pig-enterprise income compared to men. Some WMHH employed covert strategies that mitigated their relative disadvantage as did some men to maintain men’s relative advantage over women.

Negotiation and bargaining

Men and women both negotiated and bargained about how to spend pig-enterprise income. Some families negotiated by sitting and agreeing about how to spend pig-enterprise income. Women negotiated and bargained, mainly to provide for their children. Some women negotiated by suggesting household needs to their husbands such as school fees. Men bargained by stating that because the pig had been raised on their land, they required compensation such as a shirt, or a piglet, or money when pigs were sold. Women bargained by stating that they wanted something for themselves and something for their children. Then, when men bargained for something for themselves, women gave men what men wanted and relinquished what they wanted for themselves. Sometimes while bargaining, in order to get what they wanted for their children, women feigned ignorance that men were conniving with pig traders about the price at which the pig was sold and that men were giving some of the pig-enterprise income to another woman. Men negotiated and bargained on their own behalf, and on behalf of second wives/families/lovers, and maintained the relative advantage they experience.

Evasion, exclusion of men, and resistance

Men and women were both evasive about how much income they earned selling pigs (and other agricultural products). Through evasion, men and women were able to control how pig-enterprise income was spent. Men said that they were evasive because women were evasive, and because men needed to secretly provide for second wives/families. Women were evasive about how much income they earned from selling pigs so that they could secretly save money to be able to provide for their children in times of need when men said they had no money. As one WFHH stated, “…a woman always keeps some money which they use when the man says he has no money”. Women said they did this because men made decisions without discussing pig sales and pig-enterprise income allocation with women. Similarly, other authors report that men and women indicated that profitability of agricultural products is important for household well-being because it is used to pay for clothing, medical care, and school fees, but described instances in which men “fail to provide” so women must be “innovative” [31]. Women’s deception and secret savings mitigated the relative disadvantage of women and children and enabled women to provide for household members when men were unable or refused to provide.

Another strategy that women employed to maintain control over pigs and pig-enterprise income was to exclude men from pig management and care. By excluding men, men were less likely to take over the pig business and less likely to want a share in the proceeds. Therefore, women could retain command of pigs and pig-enterprise income allocation. Excluding men from the pig business mitigated the relative disadvantage women experienced.

Men and women both exercised resistance to influence pig-enterprise income allocation. Men and women quarrelled when men sold pigs without consulting with women. Through quarrelling, women made efforts in opposition of men’s behaviour and refused to accept men’s actions.

Women also exercised resistance by refusing to contribute their income to family needs (for instance medical bills) which required men to contribute instead. Women’s evasion, exclusion of men, and resistance mitigated the relative disadvantage of women by enabling women to retain command of some pig-enterprise income.

Manipulation and deception

Women’s refusal to contribute income to family needs may also be an example of manipulation. Men and women both employed manipulation as a strategy to influence pig-enterprise income allocation. Men exercised manipulation by being away from home a lot which forced women to provide the labour required to care for pigs since women “can’t let them starve”. Women exercised manipulation when they secretly gave their children gifts and money or provided for their children and told them that their fathers had not provided for them. However, men had paid for many of the children’s needs and had run out of money, i.e. women were manipulating the truth. This created misunderstandings between children and their fathers.

Thus, secretly giving children gifts and money is an example of women exercising deception to mitigate the relative disadvantage their children experience. Women mislead their children about the amount their fathers had provided. Men were aware this was happening and implored women to give children money openly so that misunderstanding would not develop. However, men also said that lies about income and expenditures are necessary in order for a family to run smoothly; thus, deception was employed by both men and women.

Participants referred to open, honest communication as transparency. “Transparency between wife and husbands is not there” as one WFHH said. Men also recognized a lack of transparency saying “In most cases women don’t believe in their husbands when it comes to money because transparency is not always there with things concerning money”. Our study has demonstrated one reason why this lack of transparency may exist, namely that men and women are attempting to mitigate or maintain the relative advantages and disadvantages each experiences. Other researchers report that when playing experimental games, even when they had control over resource allocation, men and women in eastern Uganda routinely held some resources back from the common pool [8].

Polygyny may also contribute to the lack of transparency between husbands and wives. Other studies report that aloofness between spouses and increasing age differences between a man and each of his subsequent wives result in less communication among polygynous couples [55]. In Central Region, Uganda, 75.9% of currently married women aged 15–49 reported they did not have a co-wife. However, 14.6% reported having one co-wife, 2.7% reported having two or more co-wives, and 6.8% did not know whether they had co-wives or not [56]. In the same report, 84.9% of currently married men aged 15–49 reported having one wife, and 15.1% of men reported having two or more wives (n = 559 women and 120 men interviewed) [56]. Moreover, 55.7% of rural Ugandan men and 12.5% of rural Ugandan women reported having had concurrent sexual relations for durations of 65.1 and 27.5 months, respectively, while with their previous 3 partners [61]. Given the prevalence of polygyny and concurrent relations, the lack of transparency between men and women about income allocation is not unexpected. Our study indicates that polygyny, and men’s responsibility to more than one wife and/or family contributes to the lack of transparency between men and women. Moreover, Ugandan women whose husbands had another sexual partner were 2.4 times more likely to experience domestic violence than women whose husbands did not have another sexual partner [55]. This indicates that non-monogamous relationships are associated with an increase in domestic violence. Although only one participant mentioned threat of domestic violence as impacting women’s decision-making ability, given the high number of non-monogamous men and the cultural acceptance of domestic violence, it is likely that threat of domestic violence impacted the decision-making ability of many women in our study.

Others studies report that “female researchers seem to obtain greater insights into the emotional nuances of co-wives’ lives” [55]. A limitation of this study is that some FGD were co-facilitated by a man and a woman (one as facilitator and one as scribe), which may have decreased the degree to which women shared personal insights about domestic violence. However, women and men participants spoke frequently and freely about polygyny and concurrent relations related to allocation of pig-enterprise income. It is interesting to note that WFHH spoke more openly about instances wherein men took control over pigs and pig-enterprise income than WMHH did (Tables 3, 4). The sole participant who mentioned threat of domestic violence was a WFHH. Thus, WFHH may have felt more able to openly discuss these topics than WMHH did given the public nature of the FGD. Lastly, WFHH suggested that WMHH took the initiative to buy and raise pigs and had more decision-making ability than WMHH suggested about themselves (Table 4).

Compensation and motivation

The inability of some women to gain, or retain or command pigs and pig-enterprise income meant they were not compensated for the labour they invested in pig rearing which affected their motivation to continue to raise pigs. As discussed previously, some men required compensation from women for raising pigs on their land (shirt, piglet, money). This results in a loss of income or potential profit for women which would be avoided if women owned land on which to raise pigs. In Uganda, few women who are not household heads own land by themselves (9%) or jointly [59]. This contributes to their inability to retain command over pigs and pig-enterprise income because they must raise pigs on land that is owned by someone else. More Ugandan women who are household heads own land by themselves (38%) or jointly (41%), but it is mainly Ugandan men who own land by themselves (43%) or jointly (53%) [59]. Similarly, other studies report that lack of control over land was an important concern for women in Bangladesh because women must give up 50% of their agricultural products to landowners [62].

Women’s motivation to raise pigs was decreased when men borrowed pig-enterprise income from women and did not pay it back. Women also lost motivation when they worked hard and reared pigs with their husbands and then men gave the pig-enterprise income to their [men’s] lover. Given the increased labour demands which some women would experience if they adopted the improved diets, despite the potential for faster pig growth and resulting increased income, if women anticipate they are unlikely to be compensated for the additional labour, and if they do not have decision-making ability over the use of pig-enterprise income, they may not be motivated to adopt the diets. Other studies also suggest that women and girls may be disinclined to adopt an agricultural productivity improvement if they are not compensated sufficiently to offset the additional labour they must invest [1].


Participants were confident in the benefits of diet adoption. Men and WMHH were confident they could overcome challenges associated with diet adoption. However, lack of funds and human/pig food competition could limit the ability of WFHH to adopt diets. Men and WFHH had overt decision-making ability over pig rearing and pig-enterprise income. Some WMHH were able to retain the benefits of pigs they owned and raised but in some cases were restrained by men selling pigs and/or retaining some or all pig-enterprise income. Polygyny reduced the degree to which women benefitted from pig-enterprise income. Threat of domestic violence reduced the decision-making ability of WMHH. Women’s relative disadvantage was mitigated by various intra-household strategies. Women and men distributed the benefits of pig-enterprise income according to their interests: these overlapped to varying degrees, depending mainly on whether men felt responsible for other women and children (other wives or lovers) and children and the desire to spend profits on personal needs. Women’s ability to benefit from, and be compensated for, the additional efforts required for diet adoption is likely to have a major influence. Future agricultural productivity improvement projects need to be aware of the diverse nature of households with regard to intra-household decision-making, ownership, control, and use of assets and income, and the potential impact of domestic violence and polygyny/concurrent relations.