Counting (Gendered) Water Use At Home: Feminist Approaches In Practice
AbstractIn recent years, international policy-making bodies, including UN agencies and major donors, have been vocal in demanding gender-disaggregated water-use data, a requirement that is also receiving attention in academic research. Although the data sought is presumably macro-scale official statistics of sectoral water consumption divided into male/female categories, the structure of such data and the means of collecting them remain unclear. The demand for gender-disaggregated data has arisen at a time when feminists have urged researchers to exercise caution in how they generate data, what might be considered as data, and what that information signifies to the users. Feminist scholars also caution against the “knowledge effect” produced by numerical data: an overwhelming conversion of complicated and contextually variable phenomena into unambiguous, clear, and impersonal measurements. Heeding their concerns, I argue in this article that the generation of official statistics cannot be the aim; in order to understand gendered water use, particularly at the microscopic scale of the household, tools must be consistent with broad feminist goals and ideologies. This would necessitate not merely the aggregation of statistical data – referred to here as “counting” – but also consideration of the circumstances in which it occurs and its envisioned purpose and authorship, typified by questions such as “where does the counting take place?”, “who counts?” and “what purpose is the counting for?”. This research reflexivity and transparency is crucial, lest the numbers subsume decades of hydro-feminist insights by reducing gender equity to simplistic and replicable technologies. To substantiate my argument, I give examples of two recent “counting exercises” undertaken in India and Australia that were based in feminist philosophy and practice.
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