Water flowing down a sink drain.
  • How do ideas about gender shape the way we use water?

Around the world, women play prominent roles as water is procured, adjudicated, struggled over, and distributed. For example, they sue over contaminated water in Flint, Michigan; protect indigenous lands and watersheds near Standing Rock, in present-day North Dakota, by protesting a planned pipeline; disproportionately hold responsibility for procuring household water across the globe; and lead longstanding efforts to “mainstream gender” in United Nations initiatives on water in developing countries. The slogan of the water protector movement at Standing Rock is Mni Wiconi, or “Water is Life” in Lakota: settler colonialism and the politics of indigeneity concern not only land, which are their focus, but also water.

Not only does water make up more than half the human body, but it also is the surrounding substance in which life develops in utero. In myth and symbols, in narratives, poems, and songs, water is gendered, most often by association with women. Across the academic disciplines and the arts, attention to water illuminates gender, and vice versa.


How does gender impact the way people in Los Angeles use water—and can understanding the connections between gender and water use help us find new ways to conserve?

Two-thirds of the world population will live in conditions of water scarcity by 2025, and water is of paramount concern to the sustainability of life in Los Angeles.  Researchers at the Center for the Study of Women are investigating the important but understudied role of gender—as it intersects with race and class—in residential water use in Los Angeles. The goal of creating culturally-acceptable pathways to reduce residential water use and increase use of greywater and other sustainable sources requires nuanced understanding of patterns in water’s everyday use and valuation. Many water use reduction efforts take place in households, where research has shown divisions of labor and decision-making are often gendered. Thus, a gender analysis of residential water is called for. We ask: In what ways is household water use gendered in Los Angeles? What are the gendered patterns in household water valuation, as diversified by class and race? How do gendered cultural systems interact with water management and ecosystem health? Findings are expected to yield recommendation for reductions in residential water use.

CSW Senior Faculty Research Associate Jessica Cattelino (PI) and former CSW Director Rachel Lee (Co-PI) were awarded a grant from UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge program in order to tackle these questions. Her pioneering new research project, “Gender and Everyday Water Use in Los Angeles,” is the first of its kind and asks new questions about how to conserve water for future generations. Along with ten other initiatives funded as part of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge this year, this study helps researchers and policymakers envision and build a more sustainable future for Los Angeles in the face of climate change.

The study examines how gender shapes the way that people use, value, and save water on an everyday basis. It is well known that women disproportionately procure and manage household water in developing nations. Despite the fact that household work and decision-making remain highly gendered in the United States, there is little scholarship on gender and residential water use here. Selecting four diverse Los Angeles neighborhoods, CSW researchers observed everyday gendered water practices, not only studying women but also documenting indoor and outdoor water practices for all adults over a two-year period.

By using a combination of anthropological methods—surveys, participant observation, etc.—and by explicitly using gender as an analytical lens, this study reveals new data about how gender intersects with race and class to inform the way that Angelenos use water and ways that we might conserve. CSW researchers will use the results of this study to advise legislators and policymakers on how to reduce water use, increase use of greywater, and encourage other sustainable indoor and outdoor residential practices.


This working paper series presents preliminary results from the Gender and Everyday Water Use in Los Angeles Study. Conducted by researchers at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women with the support of a Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Grant, this project investigates the important but understudied role of gender—as it intersects with race and class—in residential water use in Los Angeles. The goal of reducing residential water use requires nuanced understanding the ways that people use, think about, and value water. In the context of international development, policymakers and researchers understand that gender shapes water, especially because women and children are disproportionately responsible for procuring water. In the United States, feminist scholars long have found that divisions of labor and decision-making are often gendered. Putting together these two bodies of knowledge, along with the fact that women have led many American water struggles, from Standing Rock to Flint to Compton, it is surprising that gender remains largely absent from water management and water research in the U.S. This study found that women disproportionately are responsible for the household management of water and for its use in households. It connects everyday life to the large-scale questions of water scarcity and management that face our world in the twenty-first century.


The five working papers in this series address a variety of topics that center on the everyday lives of Angelenos: Megan Baker examines gendered divisions of labor in families’ management of household water usage. Courtney Cecale explores the ways in which Los Angeles’ children are marshalled as advocates for water conservation. PwintPhyu Nander investigates the effect of generational knowledge and the immigrant experience on Angeleno families’ water consumption. Kelsey Kim explains the process of water diary-keeping that was essential to the study. Finally, Dalila Ozier delves into the rhetoric of disaster that underlies Los Angeles’ discourse around water. Their work connects everyday life to the large-scale questions of water scarcity and management that face our world in the twenty-first century. Download here.


Photo of Jessica Cattelino.

Principal Investigator

Jessica Cattelino

Associate Professor, Anthropology

Megan Baker

Megan is pursuing a PhD in Anthropology. Her responsibilities include fieldwork, interviews, and data analysis.

Megan authored Working Paper, “Myths of Fifty-Fifty: Household Water Use & Gendered Divisions of Labor in Los Angeles.”

Courtney Cecale

Courtney is pursuing a PhD in Anthropology and is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Society and Genetics. Her responsibilities include conducting interviews with experts, home visits with participants, and data analysis.

Courtney authored Working Paper, “‘Are You A Waste-A-Roo?’: Kid Cops, Water Education, and Individual Responsibility in Porous Los Angeles Households.”

Kelsey Kim

Kelsey is pursuing a PhD in Anthropology. Her responsibilities include visuals and infographics, methods, and water diary analysis.

Kelsey authored Working Paper, “Conservation, Division of Labor, and the Low-Hanging Fruit of Chores: Tracking Los Angeles Household Water Usage Through Diary Keeping.”

Dalila Ozier

Dalila is pursuing a PhD in Anthropology.

Dalila authored Working Paper, “Portrait of a City at the End of the World: Los Angeles’s Discourses of Disaster.”

PwintPhyu Nandar

Pwint is pursuing a B.S. Environmental Science and a minor in Environmental Systems and Society. Her research focuses on water use and conservation in immigrant households.

Pwint authored Working Paper, “Gender and Intergenerational Knowledge in Los Angeles Immigrant Households.”

Grace Fratello-Hakim

Ana Gonzalez

Ana is pursuing a B.A. in Geography and a minor in Geo-spatial Information Systems. She served as a Research Assistant, conducted qualitative interviews, and transcribed and translated Spanish interviews.

Sarah Hallock

Sarah is pursuing a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in LGBTQ Studies. She provided transcription services for the project.

Michael Kim

B.A., Political Science and Geography

Michael served as interviewer, researcher, and Korean translator.

William Lan

William is pursuing a B.S. in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics. His research focuses on the gendered dimensions of showering and how gender affects shower usage in L.A. households.

Virdiana Velez

M.P.P., Public Policy

Virdiana assisted with initial project/concept development, developed interview questions in English & Spanish, and more.


In May 2019, CSW and the UCLA Department of Anthropology’s Culture, Power, and Social Change Interest Group hosted two Gender and Water events featuring Anthropologist Andrea Ballestero:

May 16: Book talk on A Future History of Water

May 17: Gender and Water Research Masterclass