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II. Integration of Gender Concerns into Water Programmes

Water Policy and Strategy: the Gender Issues

Over the past decade and longer, most bilateral and multilateral donors have publicly emphasized the need to integrate gender analysis into their programming. As already noted, the extent to which this actually occurs is questionable[1]. One reason for this lack of congruence between stated intentions and actual practice is that water-related projects usually have strong technical components and are implemented by engineers who rarely have requisite skills and training to integrate gender concerns (van Koppen 2002; Zwarteveen 1998; Rathgeber 1996). This is especially true in watershed or irrigation development projects. In response to this problem, FAO developed its SEAGA[2] Irrigation Sector Guide in 2001. Intended for use by a wide audience, including irrigation engineers, members of multidisciplinary identification and formulation missions, staff of rural development projects, government employees, staff of NGOs and engineering and consulting firms, the purpose of the guide is to support gender sensitive participatory planning of irrigation schemes and to integrate socio-economic and gender issues into the planning process. The ultimate aim of the SEAGA guide is to improve irrigation scheme performance while strengthening the position of rural women and disadvantaged groups (FAO 2001).

The role of international agencies such as development banks or bilateral donors, which often provide a significant proportion of the funding for large-scale water projects, is of critical importance. Van Koppel (1998) notes that in the development of irrigation projects, agencies often take on the task of defining local water rights by articulating and formalizing both their own obligations and rights and of those of water users. Further, the agencies define who will be the users of the irrigated water, among all the potential land users in the communal area. Criteria may include land ownership, as opposed to land use, or men only, heads of households, or both men and women. These decisions are usually enforced through the creation of water users’ associations. In cases where the agencies are not familiar with the prevailing social and cultural practices or where they are insensitive to or unaware of the different rights of men and women to natural resources, including land and water, there is a strong possibility that the poorest members of the community, including women, will be disadvantaged. This is illustrated in several of the irrigation projects that are described below.

Water Projects and Water Management: Power and Powerlessness

Based on the principles adopted at the Dublin Conference in 1992, water planners worldwide are trying to satisfy a combination of environmental, economic, and social concerns. In most communities, water supplies are limited and water use decisions involve difficult choices. Different users and categories of users have varied needs, priorities and expectations. For this reason, the social status of the potential user and his or her wealth, influence, and credibility in the community, can become important determinants of the choices that are made. As suggested by Jackson, environmental relations can be understood as primarily social relations (Jackson 1998). While ecological or environmental concerns may be part of the decision-making process, these are often overtaken by more instrumentalist, immediate concerns. Most often impact studies are done after water resource decisions have been taken, rather than at the planning, design and construction phase (van Koppen 1998).

Decisions about water policy, allocation, pricing and monitoring are important in the development of sustainable water systems. There is much potential for a lack of objectivity when these are made by individuals or institutions that have a vested interest in the outcome (Solanes and Gonzalez Villarreal 1999). At both the macro and micro levels, this is equally true if women are not involved in decision-making about management of local water resources. Box 7 denotes the weak representation of women in international water meetings and decision-making.

Box 7: Representation of Women in Water Management

The "water world" is almost solidly male. The gender distribution of participants at world wide water symposiums and fora shows a marked discrepancy between the number of women and the number of men participating. Only 20-30 women out of 503 participants were involved in the Marrakesh forum (1997), and 10 women out of 115 persons attended the Consultative Group meeting of the GWP (Global water Partnership). These statistics are representative of the gender breakdown of decision-makers in most leading organizations in the "water world". The World Water Council has 32 board members, of whom 3 are women; the International Water quality association has no women on the board; and the Steering Committee of the GWP includes only 2 women to 17 men. Athukorala, Kusum (1997)

There may be the occasional need for government intervention to ensure that poor grassroots communities actually participate in water resource decision-making. In South Africa during a public consultation on water legislation, lengthy briefs were submitted by industries but community-based organizations, village-level water committees and NGOs were much less vocal (Solanes and Gonzalez Villareal 1999).

In face of the increasing global water shortage, resource economists often recommend that water prices be raised for all uses (industry, agriculture, and domestic). It is argued that higher prices will encourage more efficient use of water in all sectors. However, the implications for the poor can be negative and lead to increased hardship since they often do not have sufficient financial resources to pay higher prices. While subsidization of water prices has sometimes been suggested as a means of ensuring that water is available for all, the poorest households tend to live further away from piped services or irrigation perimeters (Webb and Iskandarani 1998). It should also be noted that there is a high level of inefficiency in the delivery of water supplies in most countries (Box 8).

In some regions, public/private partnerships are increasingly becoming part of national water management strategies. While this has so far been true mostly in the domestic supply and sanitation sectors, public/private partnerships are beginning to become prominent in the irrigation sector. Again, this may be disadvantageous for women, especially female farmers, who do not have sufficient financial resources to pay higher water user fees.

Box 8: Water Losses

About half the water in drinking water supply systems in developing countries is lost to leakage, illegal hook-ups, and vandalism. In some countries, drinking water is highly subsidized for those connected to the system, generally more affluent people, while poor people, not connected to the system rely on expensive water sellers or rely on unsafe sources (Johannesburg Summit 2002).

It is clear that the participation of women in water resource management must be seen as a positive good and promoted by national governments. Although this has been articulated in many international fora, including the Dublin Conference, few governments have actually operationalized this concept in their national policies and legislation governing water issues. South Africa offers a rare positive example, notwithstanding the difficulties discussed above. The country passed its Water Services Act in 1997 and a National Water Act in 1998 which aimed to redress the gender and racial inequalities and discrimination of the past (Schreiner, van Koppen and Khumbane 2002). While changes are being made slowly, the fact that the legislation exists is in itself highly significant.

Finally, in some cases, women are taking the lead in their communities to protect water resources. For example, in northeastern Brazil, the Rural Women Workers’ Movement has mobilized women to revitalize a small local river in the water scarce area. This involves community education, i.e. teaching local people not to dump their sewage into the river, in addition to planting native species of trees along the river banks. Women activists are undertaking this project without government support, hoping that if they are able to demonstrate success the government will initiate and support other similar efforts (Branco and Almeida 2002).

The Gendered Nature of Water Use

Women’s participation in the utilization and management of water resources must be looked at in the broader context of the social construction of gender roles in different regions, and their access to productive assets and resources. Conceptually, researchers are still trying to develop methodologies, frameworks, toolkits and indicators to understand the multiples uses and values of water in developing countries. Some analysts have placed gender at the centre of their framework. Others put economics or environment at the centre. It is clear that there is no single construct that facilitates an understanding of the complex relationships among women, men, and natural resources. Approaches must be developed through situation-specific contexts and acknowledge that the gendered nature of relationships with water, soil, forests and other natural resources continues to change over time. Most importantly, it should be recognized that although women have often been disadvantaged and have lost rights and status as agricultural systems became increasingly technology-based and commercialized, there also have been instances where they have benefited from changes, sometimes as a result of their own negotiations to ensure that they received benefits or rights. Unfortunately, when gender is integrated into development projects, women frequently are seen as a “marginalized” or a disadvantaged group (and often put into a category with children). This tends to reinforce the idea that women are victims rather than strong partners in development.

Since the mid-1990s, the World Bank has put increased emphasis on poverty reduction as a key development goal. Substantial research has been done on gender and poverty issues and considerable attention has been given to women’s role in agricultural production. Women’s disadvantaged position with respect to access to productive resources such as land, labour and financial services, is often mentioned as a key reason for the greater poverty of female-headed households. Interestingly, however access to water is not in itself seen as point of vulnerability (Blackden and Bhanu 1999). Discussion of access to water usually is often seen in domestic terms, i.e. time spent on water collection or the availability of adequate water and sanitation services. FAO seeks to link “access” to productive activities such as the use of time and energy spent in fetching water that is lost or wasted and detracts from the overall productivity and efficiency of women. However, the problem faced by many female farmers is that they have very little or no access to water for agricultural purposes and are entirely dependent on rainfall.

Finally, a group of economists have recently developed a “Water Poverty Index” (Box 9) to quantify the relationship between water and poverty (Lawrence, Meigh, and Sullivan 2002). Their conceptual framework is based on five main components: resources, access, capacity, use and environment. Gender is not included.

Box 9: Water Poverty Index

The Water Poverty Index is an interdisciplinary measure that links household welfare with water availability and indicates the degree to which water scarcity impacts on human populations. Such an index makes it possible to rank countries and communities within countries taking into account both physical and socio-economic factors associated with water scarcity. This enables national and international organizations concerned with water provision and management to monitor both the resources available and the socio-economic factors which impact on access and use of those resources.

In most parts of the world, women are major actors in agricultural production. Their knowledge of local biodiversity, soil, and water conditions is a significant factor in their capacity to contribute to food security. In some cases, e.g. in many African societies, they are often the most important producers of food for local consumption. In other cases, e.g. in Asia or Eastern Europe, they are often employed as agricultural labourers or work with their male relatives on family farms. In still other cases, as in parts of the Middle East, they may be most prominent in post production processes and work in the fields only during periods of labour shortage. It is clear that we cannot generalize about the role of women in agriculture as it varies so much across regions and across time, since their roles have often changed in response to male migration or to changes in agricultural production systems. However, it is worth noting that many national governments and international development programmes continue to consider women primarily as family labourers rather than farmers (Pangare 1998). In all parts of the world, relatively few women own land. An FAO study in India, Nepal and Thailand found that only 10 percent of female farmers actually owned land and an IFAD study in Syria showed that only 5 percent of women owned land (FAO 2002).

Irrigated Agriculture

Irrigation is by far the largest user of the world’s water, but many irrigation systems are highly inefficient, losing up to 60 percent of water in evaporation or return flow to rivers and groundwater aquifers (Johannesburg Summit 2002). Environmental damage is often caused through salination of soils and water-logging. Partly because of the high cost of irrigation projects, investment in the sector is declining. The International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) estimate that by 2025 water withdrawal for domestic, industrial and livestock use will increase by at least 50 percent over 1995 levels. Irrigation water will increase by only 4 percent during this time, which IFPRI predicts could lead to even greater food security problems as farmers face relative declines in water supply (Rosegrant, Cai and Cline 2002). Similarly, FAO makes a strong argument for the continued importance of irrigation as a central element in the improvement of agricultural production systems and sees this as a critical factor in efforts to achieve food security (FAO 2000). Indeed, its commitment is illustrated by the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in which irrigation is one of the main components.

Irrigation has increased crop outputs, allowed the diversification of crops and the introduction of higher value crops, enabled the utilization of technologies aimed at increasing yield, and provided employment for the landless poor (van Koppen 1998). However, to date there is no consensus that irrigation actually alleviates poverty. Indeed, there is conflicting evidence from different projects and regions (CGIAR 2002). A recent review of a set of World Bank irrigation projects that became effective after 1997 found that less than half (47 percent) had addressed basic poverty issues, 11 percent had special assistance components for the poor, six percent monitored impact on the poor and 23 percent had special provisions to assist female farmers (World Bank 2002). A review of irrigation projects worldwide suggests that they tend to favour richer farmers. Poor men and poor women rarely benefit.

The expansion of irrigation schemes is often achieved at the cost of evicting tenant farmers, buying out of marginal farmers, and expropriating land formerly used by the poor (van Koopen 1998). In most countries, access to irrigated water is mediated by race, social status and gender. For example in South Africa only five percent of irrigation water goes to black farmers. The remainder is used by white large scale, commercial farmers who practice primarily mechanized agriculture (Schreiner, van Koopen and Khumbane 2002). Figures from FAO in Table 1 indicate the extent to which irrigation is practiced in different developing regions and provide data on water use efficiency and water withdrawal as a percentage of renewable water. It is clear that the high level of water withdrawal in the Near East and North Africa, coupled with an almost equally high level of inefficiency, is unsustainable over the long term.

Table 1: Summary results of agricultural water use and comparison with water resources, 1998

Total renewable water resources (km3)

Irrigation water requirements (km3)

Water use efficiency

Water withdrawal for agriculture (km3)

Water withdrawal as percentage of renewable water resources

Latin America






Near East and North Africa






Sub-Saharan Africa






East Asia






South Asia






90 developing countries






Source: FAO, Aquastat,

There is a considerably larger literature about women’s domestic roles related to water (including water and sanitation), than their economically productive roles. Gender issues are rarely integrated into large scale irrigation projects and women have usually been excluded or been labourers rather than land owners (FAO, n.d). Jackson (1998) suggests that the relative “success” of projects aimed at domestic water development in contrast to irrigation development, may not be due to simple stereotyping by project planners but rather be a reflection of the preferences of women themselves. She cautions against habitually seeing women as “acted upon” and argues that irrigation work may involve heavy labour and women themselves may choose to negotiate alternative arrangements to avoid this work. Jackson suggests that one strategy would be to consider how to make irrigation work more attractive to women. In contrast, van Koppen provides evidence of numerous instances of exclusion of women from participation in both large scale and small scale irrigation projects (van Koppen 1998).

While women have often been excluded from irrigation projects, the introduction of irrigation schemes sometimes upsets the delicate balance of local conditions, rights and customs, and devalues the environmental and agricultural knowledge and expertise that they have built up over generations. For example, in the Gambia, traditional swamp rice farming practices and knowledge is being lost as more land is being pushed into fruit and vegetable production for export purposes (Carney 1998). As already noted, irrigation projects have often been implemented without consideration for existing social and cultural practices and knowledge of the gendered division of labour and responsibilities. Irrigation projects introduced by international agencies are often based on European constructs of the household, where all members contribute to a common goal and membership in the irrigation project is invested in the male head of household.

Gambia’s Jahaly-Pacharr irrigation project provides a good example of the potentially detrimental effects of irrigation projects on women. With the introduction of irrigation technology, women’s resource and access rights declined. They had formerly grown swamp rice in the region but when the irrigation project was set up, their land was re-designated as part of “communal” or “household” farms, under the direction of male household heads (Whitehead 1998). Although women benefited from the increased economic prosperity of the area, they became more dependent on male heads of households, providing labour for their lands, whereas in the past they had had usufruct rights of their own (Carney 1988).

The development of the Jahaly-Pacharr scheme was costly, at US$ 46,500 per hectare, while an NGO project that helped women to develop swamp rice production during the same period, cost an average of US$2000 per hectare. Under the new system, men claimed female labour for double cropping of rice, which they were obliged to undertake as a condition of participation in the irrigation project. Women responded in different ways, sometimes negotiating with men to try to improve their situation under the new conditions and in other cases withdrawing their labour from the irrigated fields (Carney 1998).

Similarly, an irrigated rice project in Cameroon was unable to pay for itself because women, who were not assigned land but were expected to work in their husbands’ fields, withheld their labour in order to grow sorghum for family subsistence outside the irrigation scheme (World Resources Institute et al 1994). In Kenya, the Mwea Irrigation Scheme appropriated all available land, investing control in the scheme managers, who were men. Women lost rights to land they had traditionally used to grow food crops for subsistence. Consequently, women were forced to turn to their husbands for cash to buy food and became more dependent on men than they had ever been in the past (Zwarteveen 1994).

Research in Kenya on smallholder rice irrigation in the Kano Plains revealed similar inequities (Hulsebosch 1993). Most women were not active members of the water users’ associations in the rice schemes and those who attended meetings were not allowed to speak before men or to express opinions in opposition to those expressed by men, although women performed up to 61 percent of the requisite labour in their own and their husbands’ plots. Even when both men and women participated in irrigation schemes, their needs and priorities sometimes differed. Women were less interested in night irrigation because cultural norms made it difficult for them to work after dark. Men wanted to have watering places for cattle; women wanted communal areas for washing clothes and dishes. These different perspectives were not effectively represented by the water users’ associations because women were under represented and were not given an equal voice in decision making.

In India, women also tried to negotiate informal agreements to solve their irrigation-related problems. When water projects made provisions to ensure that “at least one woman” was on water user committees, the effects were minimal and tended towards tokenism. Experience showed that at least one-third and preferably one half the members should be female and women should have specific responsibility and be made signatories to project bank accounts (Pangare 1998). In general, female participation is minimal in water users’ organizations in South Asia (Meinzen-Dick and Zwarteveen 1998). However, in Ecuador, although women’s participation in water user associations was generally weak and their decision-making role was limited, women who had higher than average levels of education did occupy positions of leadership in the water user’s organizations (Bastidas 1999).

However, there have also been successes. For example, Box 10 describes a proactive approach taken in an FAO project in Indonesia where it was recognized that special efforts would have to be made to ensure that women participated. In Burkina Faso, a case study by the Gender and Water Alliance, showed that overall productivity increased when women and men were allocated small separate plots rather than larger household plots. Women proved to be good irrigation farmers and preferred to work on their own plots. As they became economically less dependent upon their husbands, they were able to help support their relatives and increase their own opportunities for individual accumulation of wealth in the form of livestock. The effects of having an individual plot also significantly improved the bargaining position of women within households.

Box 10: Proactive Approaches

The Cidurian Upgrading and Water Management Project in Indonesia conducted a pilot programme to include women farmers in planning the project after it became apparent that they were not participating. Separate meetings and special training sessions were organized for them. The objectives were to:

  • provide women with basic information on the programme

  • overcome women’s initial reluctance or shyness

  • make an inventory of women’s interest in participation, leading to concrete plans

  • identify potential leaders and representatives for water users associations

It is clear that the gender effects of irrigation are complex and not easily understood.

IWMI, based in Sri Lanka, has developed a gender performance indicator for irrigation that presents appropriate concepts, tools and applications (van Koppen 2002). This tool helps users to analyse the gendered nature of local farming systems and to examine inclusion and exclusion processes in local irrigation institutions

Finally, discussion of irrigation schemes is often based on the assumption that irrigation water is used solely for purposes of agricultural (usually cash crop) production. However irrigation water often has multiple uses. A study in Sri Lanka showed that it was being used for domestic purposes, home gardens, trees, livestock, aquaculture, and small scale enterprises such as brick making (Bakker et al 1999). A study in Morocco showed that women used irrigation canal water during periods of peak flow to wash heavy household items such as coverlets and then laid them on the concrete canal sides to dry (Watts et al 1998). A study in Bangladesh showed that the use of ground water for irrigation had made many drinking water hand pumps run dry (Sultana 2002).

Box 11: UNDP/FAO FARM Programme (1995)

The FARM Programme focused on rainfed agriculture because:

  • The prospects for continued expansion of output from the irrigated areas are limited and the logical option for improved food security is to turn to rainfed agriculture.

  • The land use pattern is changing. Rapid industrialisation and urbanisation are impinging on fertile agriculture lands, and mainly on irrigated areas. The answer to improved agricultural output and food security is again, to focus on rainfed agriculture.

  • Rainfed areas support very fragile and extremely useful ecosystems. With the growing demand for agricultural land, the pressure on rainfed areas has begun to increase. It has become essential that these fragile areas be managed in a sustainable manner.

  • Rainfed areas support the poorest of the poor and are home to many indigenous ethnic minorities who themselves are generally poor. The focus on rainfed areas is an important strategy to support resource poor communities and help alleviate poverty.

Rainfed Agriculture

As already discussed, investment in large-scale irrigation projects is declining and water is increasingly being diverted to non-agricultural purposes. Moreover, water sources in many regions have become polluted and farmers are unable to grow high value crops. In this context, there is considerable scope for the improvement of the productivity of rainfed agriculture. The CGIAR system anticipates that new development in molecular breeding in addition to improved modeling and enhanced communications technologies can all help improve the efficiency of water use, both in rainfed and irrigated systems (CGIAR 2002). Particular attention must be given to improving the use of rainfall, of stored water, and of water with marginal quality.

In most parts of the world, women make a substantial contribution to the provision of farm labour, especially in the rainfed areas. For example, an FAO study in Lebanon showed that women were responsible for sowing, weeding, harvesting and processing. Their workloads were greater in non-irrigated than in irrigated areas, due to poorer economic standards in non-irrigated areas (FAO 1995). However, they often have little influence on decision-making processes, especially in the planning and implementation of farm activities. Since women have been excluded from irrigated agriculture, efforts to improve dryland or rainfed agriculture should be focused on women and women’s crops. Yields can be improved with moisture preservation and good crop management, mulching, in-site water harvesting and short cycle varieties (Wolter 2002).

In sub-Saharan Africa, more women than men are too poor to buy inputs such as fertilizer, and they are not generally considered creditworthy by financial institutions. Recent FAO figures suggest that women receive less than 10 percent of the credit awarded to smallholders and only 1 percent of the total amount of credit directed to agriculture in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe (FAO 2002b).

There have been some positive initiatives in the improvement of rainfed agricultural practices. For example, UNDP and FAO established a joint Farmer-centered Agricultural Resource Management (FARM) programme in eight Asian countries in 1995 (Box 11). The programme aimed to support improved sustainable agriculture resource management and the attainment of household food security in rainfed areas. In the first phase, gender analysis was not given special attention but it was soon recognized that gender is an important determinant of agricultural outcomes in terms of resource management and productivity. In the second phase, gender analysis became a central part of the initiative and NGOs, government extension workers and others regularly received training to ensure that the benefits and opportunities reach both women and men. Male and female farmers also received training in gender analysis and in resource mapping, daily time profiles, seasonal calendars, Venn diagrams, and community needs assessment. This led to the creation of community development and resource management plans. Women started to participate actively in decision making and to take leadership roles in management. For example, in Vietnam, a rotating fund was managed entirely by women. In the two sites in Nepal, women assumed responsibility for organising adult literacy classes. The FARM programme has ended but it provided some important insights and practical experience on how communities can be encouraged to integrate gender analysis into their farming practices.


In fisheries, as in agriculture, the contribution of women at both subsistence and commercial levels is rarely recognized by appropriate national, regional and international institutions. In the Pacific, the total fishing yield supplied by women fishers is 32 percent in American Samoa and between 25 and 50 percent in the Gulf of Papua New Guinea. In the Fiji Islands, invertebrate sales averaged 2000 tons, over a three-year period in the late 1990s, with salt- and freshwater clams, which are exclusively harvested and marketed by women, comprising about 48 percent of this volume (Kronen 2002). Despite these levels, women’s contribution continues to be underestimated and undervalued.

Research has shown that women in Africa and Asia are active in river, lake, pond, canal, and sea fishing. In many areas, they take leading roles in the development of aquaculture. Aquaculture provides both income and family nutrition in Lesotho and other southern African countries participating in FAO's Aquaculture for Local Community Development Programme. Women often manage small household ponds where production is aided by warm water and plentiful food, while nutrient-rich runoff promotes plankton growth. Aquaculture has proved to be sustainable because it does not reduce the water resource or conflict with most other uses, except for domestic use. Again, women are able to integrate their productive activities in aquaculture with their other agricultural and household activities. In many regions, women have become very active in aquaculture.

An aquaculture project in Tamil Nadu, India provided a valuable source of year-round income for poor women who were able to cultivate ornamental fish in backyard pools. While fish farming was common in the area, it normally employed males, partly because women were unable to spend long hours at distant fish ponds and hatcheries. By developing fish ponds close to their homes, they were able to combine their household chores with productive labour (Shaleesha and Stanley 2000).

Box 12: The Chorkor Oven

Developed by FAO and Ghana’s Food Research Institute, the Chorkor is easy to use, has a high capacity, uses little fuel wood, results in shorter smoking time and produces high-quality smoked fish. The Chorkor oven has demonstrated the potential of traditional technologies to meet present day challenges. It has raised the income, living standards and nutritional status of fishing communities in Ghana. Not only has its successful example encouraged younger women to take up fish smoking as a profession, but it has also spawned integrated programmes leading to the further socio-economic and rural development of the fishing communities. The Chorkor oven has received wide acceptance in most western, central and eastern African countries and to date, Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia have demonstrated their commitment to adopting this simple and cost-effective technology.

In coastal and lake fisheries, women often perform most of the work of feeding and harvesting fish, and also process the catch and sometimes undertake marketing. In some regions, women’s contribution to fisheries is considerable and it is especially important in resource-poor households where fish are an important source of family protein. An FAO project in West Africa in the late 1960s continues to have an impact to the present day (Box 12). In many regions women process the fish catch which may include sun drying, salting, smoking and preparing fish and fish-derived cakes. The Chokor oven had a considerable impact in lightening the labour involved in fish smoking and because of its fuel efficiency, it required less firewood (which not only had a positive environmental impact but also reduced the time women spent collecting wood.)

Finally, in many parts of the world, traditional patterns of fisheries are changing. A study of fishing practices and coastal conservation in Mozambique and Tanzania found that the strong traditional sexual division of labour was starting to be affected by the changing demographic profiles of the regions (Golder 2002). In Mozambique women were still not permitted to fish, but in Tanzania some women had started to fish, against traditional practice, because large numbers of men had left the coastal areas in search of employment elsewhere. The study also found that both men and women in Tanzania practiced environmentally destructive means of harvesting sea resources. Men tended to fish in open waters and often used dynamite and poison. They also cut mangroves and used the wood for construction of boats and homes. Women used mangrove for fuel wood and charcoal and for sale in markets. They also collected seaweed, crustaceans, oysters and turtle eggs. The poorest women tended to be most destructive of the marine ecology, collecting marine resources to contribute to their own survival. However, women proved to be more open to changing harmful environmental practices although they were less likely to be included in environmental protection training and workshops.

Box 13: Women in Fishing Communities in Pakistan

While traditional fishing communities still tend to be liberal vis-à-vis women, this is not the case with the large number of agricultural communities who now derive their livelihood from the fisheries, following their displacement from agricultural activities in the Indus deltaic area. Agricultural societies have usually been rigid with regard to the accepted roles of women. Women tend to be considered as a commodity whose ownership rests with the male and are often confined within the four walls of the house in the name of morality and decency. Many of these values have now also been transmitted to fishing communities (Shah 2002).

In Pakistan, coastal women have lost some of their freedom as a result of migration. Women in fishing communities traditionally enjoyed more freedom and rights than those in agrarian communities (Box 13) but as resource poor farmers have been driven off their land and moved to the coastal areas, they have brought with them a set of values that imposes greater restrictions of movement on women. Moreover, with the commercialization of the fisheries and the entry of outsiders into the coastal villages, women have been pushed out of fisheries, where they traditionally played strong roles and had considerable independence. They also have been pushed out of net weaving, a second traditional source of employment, with the increased tendency for fishermen to use imported nets (Shah 2002).

Finally, fisheries is a less important source of employment in the Middle East/North Africa region. Only about six percent of the rural population is engaged in fisheries production and women play very limited roles. Some may be involved in net-making and net maintenance and women in Egypt, Sudan and Cyprus are engaged in some marketing of fish and fish products. In Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey, women are involved to a limited extent in processing fish, while in Mauritania, women process fish for food and medical purposes, as well as assist men in dam and dike building (FAO 1995)

Watershed Development

Watershed development programmes have often had a negative effect on the poorest sectors of the community. Although they are sometimes important sources of employment in rural communities, there is considerable evidence that they can increase poverty because they tend to displace the poorest sectors (CGIAR 2002). The majority of watershed projects have given emphasis to the physical and technical planning aspects and less attention to the economic, social and environmental and ecological concerns. Equity issues have usually not been a prime consideration. In recent years, FAO has emphasized the development and refinement of national policies and programmes related to integrated and participatory watershed management activities. The important role of watershed management, especially with regard to water resources and food security, has received high priority.

Experience in India has demonstrated the need for communities to become key actors and decision makers in watershed management. In recent years there has been a move towards the development of participatory methodologies for watershed management, relying on the creation of self-help, community-based watershed management committees. However, there is still a possibility that the less advantaged members of the community (e.g. women, youth, the landless) will not be members of the committees. Special efforts have to be made to include them and one possibility is to allocate blocks of common land exclusively for their use (Wolter 2002).

Women do sometimes participate in watershed management, for example, undertaking work to reduce soil erosion by maintaining forest cover and reducing the risk of floods and silting of reservoirs and waterways. However, training programmes on the technical and scientific aspects of watershed development are usually aimed at men. Training for women tends to be concentrated on practical issues such as tree planting. Ultimately this means that women do not have the necessary skills, knowledge and confidence to participate in community decision-making and to assume leadership roles in management of watershed development (Pangare 1998). Gender analysis has not been a component of most watershed development projects.

Box 14: Sustainable Watershed Management in Vietnam

Thanks to a seminal on-going FAO project in Viet Nam, local communities have been empowered to improve their livelihoods, strengthen food security and work towards environmental stability in their watershed. Located in a protected watershed area, upstream from the important Yen Lap irrigation reservoir, the project seeks to create a visible, measurable and sustainable impact on the watershed conditions in the midland and upland areas of Hoanh Bo. Key to the project is the concept of participatory information generation and planning. Phase one succeeded in decentralizing the management of the watershed, and entrusting provincial, district and communal authorities to plan, implement and monitor development initiatives in Hoanh Bo. The project empowered local farmers: they played a key role in the planning process, and were given the opportunity to voice their needs and aspirations. The goal of phase two of the project is the complete involvement of the project beneficiaries in negotiating, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the project. Accordingly, phase two will focus on building local capacity to effectively manage not only the project, but the renewable natural resources on a sustainable basis.

Similarly the impact of displacing local populations to accommodate large dam projects has rarely been analysed from a gender perspective (Baruah 1999). In some cases, planners actually have been aware of the costs of not incorporating gender concerns into relocation plans but they have rarely followed through on this awareness. The World Bank’s on-going Sardar Sarovar project on the Narmada River in Gujarat, India will displace population currently residing in the planned reservoir area. Women will be adversely affected since they are responsible for collecting fuel wood, food, fodder and water. Earlier experience has shown that when populations are displaced due to dam-related projects it becomes more difficult to collect these resources because all available water is channeled into the dam and all adjoining land becomes out of access to local populations.

While watershed development projects have had mixed results, there have been some successes. For example, an FAO project in Vietnam has had a positive impact on local communities, developing new sources of employment and income for both men and women (Box 14).

However, the effect of watershed development projects on women can sometimes be highly negative. In large resettlement projects in India, women have been adversely affected by the breakdown of existing and traditional villages and social units. They often have to leave relatives and friends and sometimes lose touch with adult daughters who have married into nearby villages that will not be displaced. However, women are seldom provided with compensation. In most cases, adult males, who are considered the “heads” of family receive monetary compensation and are allocated new land. Thirdly, widowed women and unmarried adult daughters have received fewer or no benefits and deserted women have not been considered at all (Baruah 1999).

When impacts of watershed development projects are described, it is almost always from a “gender neutral” perspective (Box 15). This tends to conceal the differential impact on different members of the community and on men and women.

Box 15: Watershed Development in India

In India, a watershed development project successfully brought nearly 1 000 ha of severely degraded land back into production, improving food security and sustainability in an area where 52 percent of all households lived below the poverty line. Water availability was also enhanced considerably, allowing farmers to expand irrigated areas from 11 percent to 79 percent of the total cultivated land. Farmers were able to start growing high-yielding, high-value crops that require more reliable water supplies, such as wheat, groundnuts, soybeans and vegetables. Average crop yields increased more than ten-fold and farmers more than doubled the average number of crops grown on the available land, from 0.7 to 1.7 crops per year. The higher productivity helped boost farmers’ incomes by over 600 percent. Employment generated by the scheme helped landless members of the community increase their income from less than US$40 to US$360 per year – a nine-fold gain in a span of just seven years. (FAO 2002).

Beyond the Agricultural Sector

Aside from agriculture, the informal sector is the most important single source of employment for poor women. In most countries both rural and urban women are involved in petty trading, sale of cooked food, and brewing of ale and beer or other traditional drinks. Other informal sector activities typically undertaken by women include running tea kiosks, processing and selling street foods like rice balls, roasted maize, or groundnuts, producing handicrafts; selling charcoal or firewood; tailoring; and making dresses.

Commonly, women’s informal sector activities are extensions of their domestic roles, and they often operate directly from their homes, sometimes relying on assistance from their children. Most of these businesses require a low initial capital outlay, but access to water is often essential for both production and sanitation. There has been little analysis of the importance of access to water in women’s choice of particular informal-sector business activities, in the success or failure of their businesses, or in the capacity to expand their business activities. A study of urban agriculture in Nairobi revealed that urban food production is an important source of family food and additional income for women but that women’s access to irrigation was minimal (Freeman 1993).

A study of women’s petty-commodity production in rural Uganda revealed that economic necessity, either that of providing basic support for their families or that of supplementing inadequate incomes of their husbands, was the basic motivating factor for participation in informal sector economic activities (Kyomuhendo 1992). In no case was economic independence or a general desire to improve socioeconomic status a primary motivating factor. More work needs to be done to verify these findings in other countries, but it seems that rural women engage in informal sector work primarily as a family survival mechanism. If this is indeed the case, then there is a strong argument for incorporating their needs for access to water for economic production into water resource planning and for assigning such needs the same priority as is assigned to the needs of male small scale entrepreneurs.

Domestic Water

Collecting water for domestic purposes is undertaken by women and children in most countries. However, this is sometimes mediated by culture and religious tradition. For example, in Morocco, male children have responsibility for collecting water. Older girls take on the task if there are no appropriately aged male children. Adult males collect water if there are no children present and married women collect water if all other household members are away (Watts et al 1998).

Box 16: Walking for Water

One third of women in Egypt walk more than an hour a day for water; in other parts of Africa, women spend as much as eight hours collecting water. The average distance walked by women in Africa in search of water is six kilometers per day (UNFPA 2002).

The amount of time and effort required to fetch water in many societies has often been recorded (Box 16), but it is important to note that patterns of water collection, use, and contact change according to season. Although time is important, it is not the only and sometimes not the most important factor that influences women’s water collecting behaviour. A study in Zimbabwe found that women preferred to collect water from more distant but reliable wells than from unreliable alternative sources, located closer to their homesteads (Waughray, Lovell and Mazhangara 1998).

Cultural preferences and patterns are important. A study in Egypt showed that women and men believed that canal water lathered clothes more effectively and made them whiter, so they preferred to wash their clothes in the canal (where risk of exposure to schistosomiasis was higher) rather than washing them under a tap or in a washing machine (El-Katsha and White 1989). Studies have shown that the source of water chosen for domestic uses is dependent not only on availability but also on convenience.

Research in Morocco showed that women performed some tasks at a more distant water source rather than at nearby wells, because of the physical effort and strength involved in lifting the water from the well (Watts et al 1998). Additionally, if facilities for the disposal of waste water are not readily available, it may be easier to perform domestic tasks such as washing dishes or clothes away from the house.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that at any given time, one-half of all people in developing countries are suffering from one or more of six main diseases associated with water supply and sanitation: diarrhoea, ascaris, dracunculiasis, hookworm, schistosomiasis and trachoma. (WHO 1996). WHO estimates that 3,300,000 people die annually from diarrhoeal diseases and a further 1,500,000 die from malaria (which is also related to poor water management and storage, operation of water points and drainage).

Box 17: Sanitation

Poor sanitation is a major source of disease and mortality but in 2000, there were 31 countries in the world where less than half the population had access to adequate sanitation facilities such as a connection to a sewer or septic tank system, a pour-flush latrine, a simple pit latrine or a ventilated improved pit latrine (UNDP, Human Development Index, 2002).

Hygiene education has been a standard part of water and sanitation projects, but a recent evaluation of Ghana’s Upper Region Water Supply Project found that women’s sanitation and hygiene behaviour had not improved substantially despite almost 20 years of health education. The evaluation found that hygiene education was usually an “add-on” to water projects and educators were primarily male civil servants doing a second job. They also found that men dominate water use committees although women do most of the work such as keeping the pump site clean, collecting water and paying water tariffs (Kendie 1999).

The relationship between irrigation and health is also important. Irrigation and other water development projects are often breeding grounds for schistosomiasis. Villagers living near the Richard Toll irrigation project on the Senegal River showed an almost 100 percent infection rate in people above five years of age (Watts et al 1998).

Although in Africa more women than men are now effected with HIV-AIDS, women carry the bulk of responsibility for looking after sick family members. The time and attention required by AIDS-effected patients places another heavy burden on women, who are often mothers, grandmothers, or aunts of adult patients. The household need for water to nurse the sick is increased while at the same time the available labour for fetching water is decreased.

Finally, the numbers of ageing women are increasing worldwide, and lack of safe drinking water, a gender-based division of domestic chores (including the carrying of water), environmental hazards, such as contact with polluted water, agricultural pesticides and indoor air pollution, all have a cumulative negative impact on the health of women in many developing countries (WHO 2000).

Box 18: Some Water-Related Disasters in Asia, 1998-2000

Floods throughout Asia in 1998 killed 7,000 people, damaged more than 6 million houses and destroyed 25 million hectares of cropland in Bangladesh, China, India and Vietnam.

In September, 2000 flooding and landslides in Japan forced the evacuation of 45,000 people caught by flood waters; the rainfall was the most in a 24-hour period ever recorded since records began in 1891.

In September 2000, heavy rains in Southeast Asia resulted in unprecedented flooding along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Damage was widespread:

Flood waters inundated parts of northern Thailand, damaging more than half a million hectares of cropland

Nearly half a million people in the Mekong Delta (in Cambodia and Vietnam) had to abandon their homes

In Cambodia, rising flood waters submerged close to 400,000 hectares of cropland; emergency supplies were distributed to 1.4 million people

In Laos, over 18,000 families had to be evacuated from flood plains and the rampaging waters severely damaged just under 50,000 hectares of cropland

Disaster Preparedness and Response

Flooding and drought are the two most common forms of “natural” disaster, worldwide (Webb and Iskandarani 1998). Most flood and drought-prone countries do not have natural disaster plans in effect with the result that humanitarian assistance at time of crisis is scattered. Box 18 presents an overview of the destruction caused by just a few of the water-related disasters in a recent two-year period. It is clear that the magnitude of the problem caused by floods alone is immense. Since large scale flooding often contaminates drinking water, women are faced with the necessity to find clean water sources often under very difficult conditions.

However, by far the most important cause of emergency evacuation and displacement is not natural disasters, but armed conflict. This has led to the creation of huge refugee communities in many regions of the world. Both male and female refugees are faced with the effects of human rights violations, political instability, absolute poverty, social disintegration, lack of resources, and environmental degradation. However, since women have the primary responsibility for collecting wood and water for domestic uses and looking after family health, disaster situations, whether caused by natural phenomena or by human interventions, cause special problems for them.

In Bangladesh, a Flood Action Plan was developed between 1989 and 1995 but although the focus was on giving protection to Bangladeshi farmers, a gender analysis was not included until international consultants and donors made strong appeals for this to be added. Gender analysis revealed that women’s normal responsibilities were greatly increased during the flood season, that there were many more female-headed households than planners had known, and that they tended to be the most economically vulnerable and often socially marginalized. They were also less likely to benefit from flood relief and rehabilitations. Moreover, women tended to have less valuable assets to sell or use as collateral for emergency borrowing (GWA 2002). Women in purdah are especially vulnerable since their mobility is restricted and they have had less opportunity to develop coping strategies outside the family compound.

Some of the gender-specific aspects of disaster include:.

Box 19 below describes the gendered reactions of Pakistani villagers in times of flood. It is clear that there are very specific patterns and practices and that these should be taken into consideration in emergency-preparedness planning.

Box 19: Gendered Responses in an Emergency Situation

According to villagers, floods affect the existing life patterns. In the event of flood, women are separated from men. With the onset of floods men go out of the locality taking cattle to safe places. Women locate to high places and shift the utensils from their households. If water rises further, women bind trees with ropes and climb on with the children and elders for safety. By the time this eventuality takes place hardly any men are left in the villages. Therefore women have to manage with children and the old persons. They feel isolated without the men of the community. At this stage, sometimes relief in the form of food and other consumables may reach them. During such periods women mentioned that the usual gender division of labor changes - such as men sometimes having to prepare food and women having to cut fodder.

Madhavi Ariyabandu, Duryog Nivaran, 2000, Country report from Pakistan. (Enarson 2000)

[1] For example, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has a clear, well-articulated institutional framework for the incorporation of gender issues into water and sanitation projects, but a brief review of their on-going projects in the water and sanitation area reveals that only four out of 20 mention the word “women” or “gender” in the project description. This is by no means unique to the ADB. Similar observations can be made about other agencies
[2] Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA)

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