Water: Gender and Material Inequalities in the Global South


Crow, Ben. 2001. “Water: Gender and Material Inequalities in the Global South.” Working Paper, Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Author: Ben Crow


Because water is pivotal for health and livelihoods, inadequate access to water may be a significant cause of poverty and conflict. Poor access to clean water for drinking causes ill health. Poor access to water for agriculture and other livelihoods may be a cause of material deprivation. How people get access to water is surprisingly complex and varied. That access involves natural conditions, human tools and social practices. This paper is about modes of access to water, the main social and technical conditions through which people gain command over water. Modes of access have particular characteristics. Some are free, others cost money. Some, like well-water, require work on the part of the water consumer, while other modes of access, like piped water, may entail little work. The potential for change and for sustainable use of water may also vary according to the mode of access. Water deprivation is widespread, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century it has to be tackled under unpromising conditions. Scarcity is increasing and government action is becoming more constrained. These circumstances demand innovation if water deprivation is to be tackled effectively. That innovation will require us to understand the technical, social and natural dynamics of the main modes of water access.


This working paper explores various modes of access to water in rural areas of the global South and the role that water plays as an impetus for and a reflection of societal inequality. Crow focuses specifically on material and gender inequalities as the main causes of diminished water access which subsequently impinge on individuals’ ability to achieve their full potential in terms of livelihood and / or economic prosperity. Crow disaggregates rural water access into five different modes--private ownership, common property access, open access, state-backed provision, and market access-- and details ways in which each access point has the capacity to create and to perpetuate material and gender inequalities.


“In Bangladesh, and in other parts of South Asia, the unregulated use of private pumps has thus created inequality between the use of deep tubewells for irrigation and the use of handpumps for drinking. This is a largely unreported, conflict over water in which the dominant, and male-dominated, priority of government, economic growth, clashes with lesser priorities of government, health and domestic water supply, reflecting women’s practical interests.” (12)

Topics: Economies, Economic Inequality, Poverty, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Health, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Livelihoods Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Bangladesh

Year: 2001

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