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 womens 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 FAOs 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 mens and womens local knowledge systems, resource utilization, and income generating opportunities.
There are specific areas in which FAO can provide assistance:
FAO should encourage governments to give priority to integrating gender concerns into their water resource policies.
Many countries still require assistance with the formulation of gender sensitive policies in water related areas. Efforts should be made to target mid-level policy makers for intensive training and senior level policymakers for short introductions to some of the main concepts and tools of gender analysis.
Other developing countries already have gender sensitive policies but little capacity within Ministries of Agriculture or of Natural Resources or Fisheries to implement them or even to fully understand the implications of such policies. Implementation guides should be prepared and presented to relevant policymakers in in-country workshops.
Statistics on the management and use of water resources that are disaggregated by sex and age are key to good policy-making. FAOs gender-disaggregated training approaches should be adapted for water resource planners and managers to build capacity for improved fresh-water related decision-making.
Women are under-represented in water management at all levels. Targeted efforts should be made to identify potential women leaders in rural communities and provide them with the training and skills to become active members of water users associations. An information database should be developed about the needs and concerns of female members of water users associations.
Water users associations do not have a good understanding of womens concerns. Efforts should be made to provide gender training, where possible and relevant.
Within FAO, the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) should ensure that gender analysis is integrated into the irrigation component. The SPFS should apply training materials like the SEAGA Irrigation Sector Guide and carry out surveys to develop a more elaborate and specific information and knowledge base about the multiple water-related needs and priorities of female farmers and agricultural wage workers.
Youth and Children
During the International Year of Freshwater, FAO country offices should sponsor essay contests on women and water-related topics. School children should be encouraged to write submissions on this topic and be eligible to win a prize. They could describe the different roles and responsibilities of men and women in the use and management of both domestic and agricultural water resources.
A second contest, with a slightly higher financial prize, could be held for university students. When the winners are announced, the country office can ensure that the event is well-publicized in the local media.
Gender and Water Ambassadors
Country offices could be encouraged to identify a well-known and respected local person to become their goodwill ambassador for gender and water. This person - who could be of either sex - would be expected to give some public talks to the private sector, to universities and schools about the need to integrate gender into water resource planning. Goodwill ambassadors could be drawn from a variety of local institutions, including universities, the private sector, the NGO community or politics.
Worldwide, there are relatively few professional women in agriculture. FAO should undertake activities to encourage girls and young women to consider agriculture as a career choice. An annual award could be given to a promising young professional woman in the agriculture field.
FAO technical programmes in water, forestry and information should encourage the participation of well trained female professionals in the design of conceptual frameworks of irrigation schemes, settlement schemes or land reclamation activities; the design of water conservation and water harvesting research; and in the preparation of appropriate campaign and information materials.
Gender and Water Task Force
FAO should consider establishing a task force to monitor gender and water activities. Ideally the Task Force would have an annual budget to commission a set of targeted research studies on gender and water.
FAO should take steps to ensure that a higher proportion of women participate in international and national water decision making bodies. Efforts should be made to ensure that at least 30 percent of water decision makers are women.
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.