water swirls down a 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.


CSW’S Gender and Water project is supported by a major grant from the UCLA Grand Challenge on Sustainable Los Angeles.


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.

Learn more about the study


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