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International Women’s Day 2015: Water, gender, sanitation and uncomfortable truths

March 8th is International Women’s Day. I’ve written before about how gender is a dimension that is often mentioned in water governance scholarship, but I don’t believe it has been given enough emphasis throughout the many decades of research on the social sciences of water. I’ve also written about the fact that we have not yet engaged in a holistic conversation on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the disproportionate negative impacts of lack of sanitation facilities can have on women, including violence. We can’t deny the link between functioning toilets and a lack of justice. And having no functioning toilets are a form of injustice towards women.

I am genuinely shocked that it’s 2015 and I still get snarky comments from a number of male scholars (and, surprisingly, even a number of female ones!) about how “not everything is about gender“. My own research can’t evade the gender dimension. I study cooperative behavior for resource cooperation, particularly water. I also study sanitation and access to toilets. If you think about the fact that “on average women and children travel 10-15 kilometers per day collecting water and carrying up to 20 kilos or 15 litres per trip“, you’ll realize why gender matters to me and why it is always a dimension of my research. Women bear the brunt of a region’s lack of sanitation facilities.

Somo Samo village well

Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr

I study informal waste recycling, as well. You’d probably be surprised about the large numbers of women who engage in scavenging. According to a WIEGO report, women also tend to make less money from refuse picking, sorting and selling than men. Thus gender matters to me and has an impact on my research, yet again.


Photo credit: Basel Action Network on Flickr

Moreover, I co-author with many female scholars (colleagues, and my own graduate and undergraduate students), and I have been mentored by excellent women. So, yes, to me, it IS all about gender. It will continue to be until we are able to achieve equality and erase structural barriers for the progress of women.

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