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III. Conclusions and Areas for Action

This overview of gender and water resource utilization and management has shown that women have a complex relationship with water. It is clear that they are significant users of water both for productive and for domestic purposes but that they rarely have input into water decision making, either at the macro or even at the micro level.

The analysis presented here suggests strongly that planners have tended to build on traditional views about women’s uses of water. Priorities have been set with the assumption that their strategic interests lie primarily in the fulfillment of household responsibilities. The important role played by women in agriculture has seldom been given consideration in water resource planning. At best, it is assumed that if water resources are made available to “small farmers,” women will benefit equally with men. As has been illustrated, this rarely happens.

Competition over water resources is already intense in many parts of the world and by viewing the water needs of male and female farmers as essentially homogenous and by accepting the role of men as spokespersons for the entire community, donors and government planners have reduced the number of actors who have a stake in decision-making related to water resource management. However, one outcome has been that women have often been marginalized in water allocation policies. Beyond the issue of gender equality, this has not worked in the interests of solving food security problems. Women tend to be under-represented at all levels of agricultural decision-making. For example, all of the 14 ministers who participated in the 23rd meeting of the ASEAN meeting of ministers of agriculture and forestry in Indonesia in October 2001 were male. Only five of the 15 ministers of agriculture who participated in an informal meeting of EU ministers of agriculture in Sweden in 2001 were women. Recent research has shown that only one-tenth of the scientists working in the CGIAR system are women (Rathgeber 2002) and agriculture is rarely selected as a course of study by women in universities, worldwide (Rathgeber 2003).

In many parts of the world, women are key food producers and if food security needs are to be met, they must be empowered with access to productive resources, including technology, credit, extension advice, land and water. The achievement of the Millenium Development Goals of the UN is dependent on the full participation of women and it should be a priority of donors and the UN system itself to channel funds and resources to them.

One of the MDGs is to “ensure environmental sustainability” (goal 7) and one of the strategies to be employed is to “integrate sustainable development into country policies and reverse loss of environmental resources.” The achievement of this goal offers a clear opportunity to FAO and other organizations concerned with environmental sustainability, to integrate gender analysis into their programming. As has been shown throughout this review, there are many instances where this has been and is being done, however there is a need for social, community and gender analysis to be accepted as a key component of all agricultural development projects. In view of this, one of the objectives of FAO’s Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002 - 2007) is to promote gender equality in access to, control over and management of natural resources, including land and water (FAO 2003).

A large proportion of agricultural lands in different regions of the world have become unproductive as a result of deforestation, overgrazing, political instability, poor irrigation practices etc. Rehabilitation of degraded lands is a painstaking and time consuming process but it can proceed in a sustainable way only if the needs of poor people living on and around degraded lands are taken into account. This requires a detailed understanding of men’s and women’s local knowledge systems, resource utilization, and income generating opportunities.

There are specific areas in which FAO can provide assistance:



Youth and Children

Gender and Water Ambassadors

Female Professionals

Gender and Water Task Force

Water Management

Some of these suggestions could be implemented very quickly; others will require more time. Given both the urgency of the problem of global food security and the strong commitment that has been clearly expressed by the UN system and by donors alike to halve world poverty by 2015, the next few years will offer many opportunities for FAO to increase its work in the area of gender and agricultural resource management. There are already many success stories. The challenge that lies ahead is to build upon these and to ensure that all members of society have an equal opportunity to contribute to the achievement of food for all.

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