The Department of Afroamerican and African Studies welcomed Dr. Ellis Adjei Adams to speak as a part of their Africa Workshop series on Wednesday, October 19th, 2022. Dr. Adams’ talk took place in Haven Hall, home to DAAS’s offices to kick off DAAS’s hybrid event, with a remote Zoom option for those who were unable to attend in person. Cosponsored by the African Studies Center, the event was open to all members of the University of Michigan community. Dr. Adams, Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Policy in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, presented on his research surrounding water access in Africa. His talk entitled “Why Should a Married Man Fetch Water? Household Water Insecurity, Masculinities, and Embodiment in Africa’s Informal Settlements” brings up the implications of fetching water, such as how it has become gendered and fosters emotional embodiment. Water access also directly influences access to proper food preparation, education, hygiene and wellbeing, causing Dr. Adams to deem water access an “interconnected issue.”
The obstacles facing African women in their water fetching pursuits involve their role as caretakers. With long lines at the water taps that impede their ability to remain in the home and watch after their families, women must decide which of those responsibilities must be prioritized, as in the case of Tamiko, a mother and wife who experiences these struggles everyday. In response to the gendered nature of water fetching, “bachelor’s taps” have been established, where men may head to the front of the line to fetch water. However, women often feel that it is solely a female responsibility to fetch water for their household. With these gendered implications come the considerations of masculinities and marital relations. Adams takes notions of what community members consider to be a “good wife and mother,” a husband’s needs for water and beauty, and the multiple expectations of women in society.
Alongside the gendered aspects of water security is the idea of water journeys and embodiments. Dr. Adams cited the research of Nancy Krieger that delves into how our bodies tell a story. The embodiment that Adams talked about spans at least four dimensions: bodies as infrastructure, bodily sacrifices, bodies and risks, and emotions. Through the physical and emotional labor undertaken through the responsibility of fetching water, women have more “physical exposure to risks.”
Water access has very basic, fundamental questions, that are made to be more complex by those who are policymakers or have the ability to make any tangible change. The complexity of these questions has led to the development of an urban water crisis throughout Africa, which Adams described as consisting of multiple insecurities including housing, food and pollution, a lack of basic water and sanitation services and environmental risks. These factors lead researchers like Adams to answer the following question: What does it mean for someone to be “water insecure?”
The talk was followed by a Q & A session which further delved into how in order to lessen the hardships posed on women in Africa, there must be action taken to simplify the water fetching process. For more information on Dr. Adams’s research, visit this webpage.