In the Nigerian cities of Lagos and Benin City, the 2006 census reported that just 26% and 5% of households had access to treated piped water respectively, with a significant informal water delivery sector working alongside, or in place of, public utilities, community wells, or private bore-holes. The resulting complexity, irregularity, and unaccountability of water supply has a significant impact on women in particular, as they are usually responsible for sourcing and buying water on a daily basis (a task that can take hours each day). This article, published in the journal Gender and Development, examines women’s responses in poor communities to the inadequate water infrastructure in Lagos and Benin City. Drawing on 783 household ethnographic surveys from 18 neighbourhoods, as well a four semi-structured group interviews, the author argues that urgent reform is needed, with explicit attention paid to gender relations in water governance. Having briefly discussed the lack of gender dimensions within existing literature, the challenges and state of water governance in the Nigerian cities, and women’s roles and political action in Nigeria, the paper presents the research findings. Responses were analysed according to a framework which divided responses to situations of grievance into three categories: exit (changing provider/source), voice (individual or collective protest), or loyalty (staying and hoping the problem will be resolved). Exit behaviour was shown to be on the rise in each location, being the majority reaction in Lagos. Voice was more commonly used in Benin City, but was still rare by comparison. Further, the use was voice was associated with non-water related factors, such as membership to religious or community associations. Neighbourhood associations however seemed to encourage exit responses over voice; this could reflect the total lack of women representatives in the study areas. Challenges to using voice were apparent in difficult and exclusionary bureaucracy, a perception of widespread corruption, and a lack of accountability.
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