Men's household water fetching in India: Gender inequity is associated with greater responsibility and related risks

Neetu Choudhary, Amber Wutich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Household water fetching elevates physical and emotional harms, and these are generally assumed to accrue to women due to gendered labor assignments. But even in cases like India where fetching remains a highly feminized task, there are households where the primary responsibility is assumed by men. Methods: We test the proposition that men's responsibility for water fetching is predicted by greater gender equity, reflected in measures of wives' empowerment. We used an extremely large, nationally representative Demographic and Health Survey dataset from India (2019–2020), narrowed to only households in which spouses co-reside with off-plot water sources (N = 10 616), and applying a multinomial regression approach. Results: In >20% of households, men are the primary fetchers. They are more likely to have primary responsibility when water is more distant, privately purchased, or transported by vehicle. Contrary to predictions, men assume greater responsibility for household water fetching as their wives' empowerment measures decrease and when they want to control their movement. Conclusion: Married men in India sometimes assume responsibility for water fetching, but this is not explained by greater household gender equity. The findings also suggest that when men are responsible for fetching they have heightened risk of some forms of physical trauma but less relative psychological harm. Detailing why men fetch water matters for identifying and mitigating the physical and emotion harms of bearing responsibility for water labor, with implications for how gender should be conceptualized in water interventions intending to improve health and well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23990
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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