Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Water and Sanitation in East Africa: Perspectives from Africana Feminism

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Water and Sanitation in East Africa: Perspectives from Africana Feminism

Article excerpt


Safe water and sanitation are an essential part of life and fundamental to human dignity. Recognized as basic human right, governments and other empowered entities are obligated to supply them (UN, 2002-General Comment Number 15). Actual performance by these elites varies greatly, of course, but it is also evident that when communities are involved in addressing and solving these problems, projects initiated are sustainable and often inspire further activities leading frequently to a considerable direct return on investment.

While the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (2015) goal of achieving a 76-88% rate of people having access to safe drinking water was met in 2010 in many countries, in Africa south of the Sahara, 50-75%, or approximately 325 million people, had no access to safe drinking water and are still not on track to do so (World Health Organization & UNICEF, 2014). In sanitation, African countries south of the Sahara have also fallen behind, disparately impacting women and children through decreasing health, nutrition, education, gender equality, and poverty reduction (United Nations, 2013).

Though positioned internationally in a human rights framework since 2002, the gender neutral language of that framework often does not acknowledge gender inequalities around safe water and sanitation, particularly in Africa. As Mama (2002) notes:

African gender politics have become increasingly complex and contradictory. Feminism as a global and local movement has potential to be intersectional. In postcolonial contexts it presents a praxis that directly opposes the hegemonic interests of multinational corporations, international financial and development agencies and nation states as well as the persisting male domination of disparate tradition structures, civil structures, civil society formations and social movement.... African women are mobilizing at local, regional and international levels, and deploying various strategies and forms (Mama, 2002, p. 1).

Acknowledging controversies with the term intersectionality (Davis, 2008), the emphasis here remains crucial to analyzing water and sanitation, especially through an Africana feminist lens (Crenshaw, 1989). Without recognizing intersectionality, differential outcomes between men and women in rural areas or slums around issues like water usage, time costs for water access, legal distinctions between public, State-owned, and private water entities, organizational advantages and gaps in NGO and grassroots activism on behalf of these issues, as well as conflicts between national neoliberal economic policies and ethical frameworks intended to offset those policies lose clarity or become otherwise intractable (Archer, 2005; Arku, 2010; Dickson, Otor, & Afullo, 2015; Hall & Lobina, 2004; Lutomia, Sanya, & Rombo, 2016; Mugisha & Berg, 2008; Ogendi & Ong'oa, 2009; Rono, 2002; Tripp, Casimiro, Kwesiga, & Mungwa, 2008). Intersectionality, which in this study highlights social inequalities between women and men, can inform virtually every aspect of any analysis of water and sanitation. Akin to the notion that women's rights are human rights (Clinton, 1995). Therefore, gender has to be invoked against a counter-claim for human rights, in order to acknowledge that the word "human" historically has not included women, so too one might strategically amend the SDG no. 6 as embracing "availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for [women]", not "all" as it currently reads, since "all" historically has similarly not generally included women.

The purpose of this this paper is to use AFA to analyze the contexts around safe water and sanitation in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania from colonial times to the present.

An Africana Feminism Approach on Water and Sanitation

Africana feminism is a feminist epistemology that explores African women's livid experiences and oppressions (Goredema, 2010; Norwood, 2013). …

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