“Traditional” Women, “Modern” Water: Linking Gender and Commodification in Rajasthan, India

Citation:

O’Reilly, Kathleen. 2006. “‘Traditional’ Women, ‘Modern’ Water: Linking Gender and Commodification in Rajasthan, India.” Geoforum 37 (6): 958–72.

Author: Kathleen O'Reilly

Abstract:

In this paper, I analyze the connections made between women and water in a Rajasthani drinking water supply project as a significant part of drinking water’s commodification. For development policy makers, water progressing from something free to something valued by price is inevitable when moving economies toward modernity and development. My findings indicate that water is not commodified simply by charging money for it, but through a series of discourses and acts that link it to other “modern” objects and give it value. One of these objects is “women”. I argue that through women’s participation activities that link gender and modernity to new responsibilities and increased mobility for village women involving the clean water supply, a “traditional” Rajasthani woman becomes “modern”. Water, in parallel, becomes “new”, “improved” and worth paying for. Women and water resources are further connected through project staff’s efforts to promote latrines by targeting women as their primary users. The research shows that villagers applied their own meanings to latrines, some of which precluded women using them. This paper fills a gap in feminist political ecology, which often overlooks how gender is created through natural resource interventions, by concerning itself with how new meanings of “water” and “women” are mutually constructed through struggles over water use and its commodification. It contributes to critical development geography literatures by demonstrating that women’s participation approaches to natural resource development act as both constraints and opportunities for village constituents. It examines an under-explored area of gender and water research by tracing village-level struggles over meanings of latrines.

Keywords: water, gender, India, NGOs, development, Latrines, commodification

Topics: Development, Economies, Environment, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender Analysis, Gendered Discourses, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Political Economies, Privatization Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 2006

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