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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How the Drudgery of Getting Water Shapes Women's Lives in Low-income Urban Communities


Global statistics suggest that people living in urban areas are more likely than those in rural areas to have access to “improved water sources”. Women do most of the work of water collection in low-income urban areas, as they do in rural areas. In this review of the literature on access to water and women’s work in low-income urban areas of the global south, we find that women’s lives and income-generating opportunities in poor urban communities are profoundly shaped by their inadequate access to water. We identify the main modes of access to water and their possible infl uence on women’s lives. Then, we examine descriptions of women’s lives and the range of diffi culties they face in collecting water (time of access, uncertainty and quality of supply, and costs). We describe some of the advantages (health, improved domestic work, livelihood opportunities, education, and gender relations) reported when communities gain access to safe water at the household level. We conclude that the global figures on improved access to water in urban areas focus only on the technology of access, overlooking social obstacles like the collection time and cost of access, and thus obscuring the wide-ranging social advantages of household water connections.

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