The Gendered Politics of Water: The Effects of Drought on Afghan Widows

By Deborah Zalesne.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Crop failures, devastation of livestock and severe shortages of drinking water have put much of the Afghan rural population at risk of starvation. Only 25 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water, and one in eight children die from drinking contaminated water. The effect of the drought is particularly devastating for widows, who face unique challenges due to a confluence of economic, cultural, and social factors. The average widow in Afghanistan has over four children, and the death rate among men has made the traditional practice of a surviving male relative caring for a widow and her children impracticable. By spending their time fetching water, widows do not have as much time to participate in income-generating activities to support their families. Consequently, Afghan widows are more than twice as likely to suffer from malnutrition as other women, and children of widow-headed households are five times as likely to be malnourished and to suffer from diarrhea or water-borne disease. Widows are often overlooked in reform efforts, most likely because of broad cultural assumptions that they are elderly and celibate, cared-for by other family members, and contribute little to household production. These cultural assumptions do not hold true in Afghanistan, where years of prolonged war have left over one million young women widowed. Because occupational barriers, family responsibilities and cultural impediments can disentitle widows from adequate economic security, special attention should be paid to them when investing in water and sanitation solutions. The proposals put forth in the paper could be adapted to any international relief efforts in countries with great numbers of widows. In particular, the proposals herein are acutely relevant to efforts in other war torn countries, and to countries facing the AIDS epidemic.

Keywords: Afghanistan, Widows, Water, War, Women, Children

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.463-470. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 532.967KB).

Prof. Deborah Zalesne

Professor of Law, School of Law, CIty University of New York School of Law, New York, NY, USA

Deborah Zalesne is a tenured professor at the City University of New York School of Law. She earned a B.A. degree from Williams College, a J.D. from the University of Denver College of Law, and an LL.M. from Temple Law School, where she was an Honorable Abraham L. Freedman Fellow. Previously she taught at Temple Law School, practiced law with a firm in Denver, Colorado, and clerked for a Colorado Supreme Court Justice. She is a board member of Beyond the 11th, a charitable organization devoted to supporting disenfranchised widows in Afghanistan. She has published numerous articles on gender discrimination and poverty law.

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