A critical ethnographic analysis of women’s demands for water amidst chronic water insecurity and hygiene behavior-change interventions in rural Amhara, Ethiopia

Authors: Yihenew Tesfaye*, Oregon State University, Roza Abesha Feyisa, Independent Researcher , Mulat Woreta, Emory Ethiopia , Matthew C. Freeman, Emory University , Kenneth Maes, Oregon State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Women, Africa
Keywords: water insecurity, right to water, water, sanitation and hygiene, women, behavior change, Ethiopia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines how water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) education programs interact with women’s demands for water in Amhara, Ethiopia. Amid chronic clean water scarcity and limited water infrastructure, low-income country governments and their partners implement WaSH education as part of disease prevention strategies. Through participant observation and in-depth interviews with health workers, and community members, we explain how interventions designed by government and public health experts attempt to change rural people’s WaSH behaviors while also influencing women’s demands for clean water. By meeting this aim, we intend to advance the application of entitlement theory to the problem of water insecurity. We focus on two projects: Ethiopia’s national Community Led Total Sanitation and Hygiene, and an ongoing intervention trial designed to increase face washing, hand washing, and latrine improvement and use. Neither the national program nor the intervention encourages women to make demands for better access to more clean water, despite widespread household water insecurity. When women wonder how people are going to wash their faces more often when clean water is already scarce, health workers respond that rural people should reduce their estimate of water required for face-washing. Meanwhile, Ethiopian government authorities are effective in keeping people from making stern demands of the government, and in compelling them to instead donate their time and labor to water-infrastructure-related and other projects. Though women remain responsible for household water collection and WaSH behaviors, gender and class norms mediated by government authorities and households keep them from voicing demands for water access.

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