Today is International Women’s Day and I finally got a moment to sit down and share some thoughts. In doing this work at The Human Utility over the last five years (wow!), one pattern that stands out about water affordability is that most people applying for assistance with their water bills are women. If we wanted to be precise and run each applicant’s name through some kind of algorithm to determine if they are a man or a woman, we’d probably find that at least 95% are women.
Anyone who’s even halfway paying attention knows poverty is overwhelmingly female. Statistically, women in America are more likely to be poor than men. It’s no secret that women are paid less. I don’t need to rehash the statistics here, but if we want to be specific, Black and brown women are paid even less than white women. This plays out in our work because most women we help are Black women. We see paystub after paystub from Black women scraping by on minimum wage. It’s $9.25/hr in Michigan where we do most of our work.
Tons of stories stick out to me from this work, but recently, we paid the water bill of a woman in Detroit whose ex-husband threatened to use her chronically delinquent water bill as grounds to go to family court to regain custody of their children. The Human Utility’s donors paid this woman’s water bill and staved off this threat. But, this shouldn’t be. No man should be able to use a water bill to make a woman look like an unfit parent.
Day in and day out, at The Human Utility, we see women affected by job loss, work hours being cut, domestic violence, unstable living situations, and the like. Not being able to afford water is a sign of how women — especially Black women — are treated and allowed to live―basically as second-class citizens―in the United States.
I say all this to say that water affordability in the United States is fundamentally a (Black) women’s issue. On this International Women’s Day, don’t forget the women who are scraping by, often literally without the most fundamental resources needed to survive.
I mean, not to be crass, but when it’s that time of the month, how would you get by without the dignity of a shower? Donate here to prevent a woman** from even having to contemplate such a fate.
**Yes, I realize there are men who have periods.