An Issue of Environmental Justice: Understanding the Relationship Among HIV/AIDS Infection in Women, Water Distribution, and Global Investment in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa


Lewis, Nghana. 2009. “An Issue of Environmental Justice: Understanding the Relationship Among HIV/AIDS Infection in Women, Water Distribution, and Global Investment in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa.” Black Women, Gender & Families 3 (1): 39–64.

Author: Nghana Lewis


This essay contributes to debates about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women of African descent by juxtaposing two challenges facing rural sub-Saharan African women today: HIV/AIDS and the water crisis. When analyzed in juxtaposition and in the specific context of rural sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV/AIDS and water crises represent an issue of environmental justice. The remediation of these two crises requires comprehension of the interrelations among the political history of sub-Saharan Africa. It requires an understanding of the policies driving global relief efforts that target rural sub-Saharan populations. And it requires insight into the socioeconomic needs of rural sub-Saharan African women as well as the cultural resources among this population that can be mobilized to help resolve the problem.


Lewis argues that the origin of the current water and health crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa can be traced at least in part to the abrupt societal structural shifts that came about as a result of decolonization. Lewis’s descriptions of the formative reconstruction (and the heavy privatization) that took place in Africa after the colonial system broke down reflect the development processes that take place in post-conflict areas. The crux of the article is Lewis’s argument that the HIV/AIDS epidemic should be framed as a crisis of environmental justice and that doing so would not only facilitate unprecedented public and private sector engagement at the intersection of water and women’s health, but would also empower women with knowledge and resources needed to connect their daily struggles with HIV/AIDS to the politics of water scarcity.


“There is no question that the illicit economic and political engineering that took place during Africa’s period of decolonization to vest authority in African elites provides the proper context for comprehending the exigencies of sub-Saharan Africa’s current water crisis.” (46)

“In their daily search for clean water, women in rural sub-Saharan Africa literally and symbolically walk the social, economic, and geographic paths along which, scholars argue, the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be mapped.” (48)

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Development, Environment, Gender, Women, Health, HIV/AIDS, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, International Organizations Regions: Africa

Year: 2009

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