Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Absael Antelo


Dorothy Ettling


Michael Guiry


Sharon Herbers


Over the last five decades, an abundance of research on sustainable development has emerged in multiple disciplinary areas, but few studies on the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainability have examined water issues for rural communities. Consequently, the purpose of this case study was to understand how a group of rural women from the Kagera region in Tanzania perceived and experienced sustainable development as a result of their improved access to water. The following central questions of the study sought to explore the local meanings of sustainable development and improved water sources: (a) How was life of rural women from the Kagera region in Tanzania before the rainwater harvester project, and how did it change as a result of it?; (b) How did the rural women from the Kagera region in Tanzania perceive and experience the economic, social, and environmental impact as a result of easier access to water?; and (c) As a consequence of the rainwater harvester project, what did they seek to sustain, and what did they seek to develop? Using a qualitative case study approach, I traveled to Bukoba, Tanzania, to interview members of the Bukoba Women’s Empowerment Association (BUWEA) who were associated with the water project. The findings of the study revealed the hardships of living without easy access to water. The rural women of the Kagera region spent countless hours trekking through harsh terrain in search of water, at times fearing for their safety, while enduring fatigue, illness, punishment, and having to deal with contaminated water. With support from nonprofit organizations, the rural women built rainwater harvesters in four villages. Economic, social, and environmental improvements were reported as a product of easier access to water. Moreover, their reflections provided their own framework and understanding of sustainable development based on four themes: membership, partnerships, group projects, and empowerment. The BUWEA women understand sustainable development as an action constructed under their own framework with outside support. The concept of sustainable development calls for strong membership, supportive partnerships, meaningful group projects, and ultimate feelings of empowerment, all leading to the expansion of their capabilities and enhancement of freedom. Institutions, policymakers, and NGOs should support local initiatives in a collaborative manner with mutual agreement on results as a strategy to secure commitment and sustainability from all.