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Gendered water spaces: a study of the transition from wells to handpumps in Mozambique

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In many parts of rural Africa, women and children spend a lot of time collecting water. In the development literature, the water collection task is portrayed as oppressive, arduous, and disliked by women. Eliminating this activity from women's lives is believed to empower them, yet there has been little research investigating what actually happens at the water source or how women themselves perceive the time spent there. This research is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork in five rural communities in the northern province of Nampula, Mozambique. Over this year, handpumps were constructed in communities where people previously collected water from distant shallow wells and rivers. This article compares the social interactions and activities between the customary water sites and the handpump through the lens of gendered space. The customary water sites are controlled by women and highly valued for their social attributes. While clean water is more accessible at the handpumps, men often regulate access to the technology and social activities are limited. This article contributes to feminist geography and political ecology by showing how differences in the materiality of water spaces interact with local norms to shape social interactions and gendered subjectivities, and how, in turn, men and women contribute to the production and meaning of these spaces. I argue that the handpumps open up new spaces for men and women to negotiate gender roles and (re)define their associations with modernity and development.
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Keywords: Africa; Mozambique; agua; feminist geography; gender; geografía feminista; género; mujeres; water; women; África

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Office of International Research, Education, and Development, Virginia Tech, 526 Prices Fork, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

Publication date: November 26, 2015

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