Unequal Burden: Water Privatisation and Women’s Human Rights in Tanzania


Brown, Rebecca. 2010. “Unequal Burden: Water Privatisation and Women’s Human Rights in Tanzania.” Gender & Development 18 (1): 59–67. doi:10.1080/13552071003600042.

Author: Rebecca Brown


Access to water is a critical component in advancing the human rights of women. Although privatisation of water services continues to be pushed by donors such as The World Bank, the available information shows that privatisations are not increasing access to water for poor women. This paper examines the human right to water and why this right is critical for women and girls. It then discusses privatisation, and the tension between contractual obligations and respect for human rights. Finally, it explores some strategies and successes from women’s involvement in the struggle against water privatisation in Tanzania.


In her article, Brown argues that the privatization of water is inherently at odds with the increasing international recognition of safe, accessible, and affordable water as a fundamental human right. A study of water privatization in Tanzania, the country with the lowest percentages of water access in the East African sub-region, demonstrates that when water is made into a commodity (often at the behest of international monetary institutions), those socially disadvantaged by their gender or their class suffer the most. According to Brown, supporting women to become active contributors in the implementation of human rights by incorporating them in the design, implementation, and monitoring of water service delivery can bring about lasting societal change. 
“Despite the fact that women are disproportionately affected by water sector reforms, reports show little or no consultation with women during the design and implementation of the privatisation scheme in Dar Es Salaam. Analysis of the ‘pro-poor’ water reform policies under this scheme failed to integrate an understanding of how impacts of reform can be gender-specific and, therefore, did not ensure equitable access and distribution for women and girls.” (64)
“The design and implementation of a national water strategy much ensure that the policy is formulated on the basis of equality. Every phase of the strategy must not only ensure that these women are a part of the process, but also that they are facilitated to participate as actively as possible.” (66)

Topics: Gender, Women, Girls, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, International Financial Institutions, Rights, Human Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Tanzania

Year: 2010

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