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Passport to involve women more in water programmes

Securing water is critical to achieve food security and improve rural livelihoods, especially for the women and men living in arid and semi-arid areas. But accessing this scarce resource can be difficult for those engaged in rural agriculture, women in particular.

©FAO/Rodger Bosch

Despite female farmers’ knowledge of crop production, local biodiversity, soils and local water resources, they are frequently not perceived as farmers by planners, engineers, extension staff and policy makers and thus tend to be excluded from making decisions about new agricultural water management systems. Yet, when women have the same decision-making power as men in irrigation, rainwater harvesting, flood control and watershed management, agricultural production can be greatly enhanced.

Designing effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable agricultural water systems is the focus of a publication written by FAO Gender and Development Officer Ilaria Sisto, Deputy Director of Gender and Water Alliance Esther de Jong and International Water Management and Gender Consultant and GEWAMED Project Manager Juan Antonio Sagardoy. Sisto explains why the booklet is important; “Passport to mainstreaming gender in water programmes: key questions for interventions in the agricultural sector” can serve as a conduit for improving women’s access to an essential resource and rural people’s livelihoods.

How can the same access to water for women and men make a difference in agriculture?

When women have equal access to productive resources and services they can increase the yields on their farms, which raises the agricultural output and reduces hunger in the world. This will also bring economic and social gains not only for women but also for households, communities and society.

Women represent 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries -- yet their work is not always recognized by planners, engineers, extension staff and decision-makers. In many parts of the world women, compared to men, operate smaller farms, have fewer livestock and spend more time on household chores, such as fetching water. In Guinea, for example, women spend more than twice as much time fetching water and wood per week than men and in Malawi over eight times more. Women face disadvantages in many countries where they have less access than men to education, agricultural information and extension services, technology and financial services.

What is the purpose of this publication?

To improve the effectiveness of water management projects and systems, while strengthening the position of rural women or other disadvantaged groups. Experience has shown that projects designed and implemented with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective. The ‘passport’ is designed to help water professionals determine the needs of men and women and how they can take part in making decisions on the types of services, location of facilities and operation and maintenance of irrigation systems. It helps identify  the problems that pertain to women and men and any disparities between them during the planning, implementation and monitoring of projects or programmes and to formulate solutions. 

What does mainstreaming gender in water programmes mean?

It is when water projects, programmes and policies take into account the knowledge, needs and requirements of men, women, boys and girls of different ages, class and social-economic status. By involving both women and men in decision-making in agricultural water management, their sense of ownership and their access and control over water services will increase through improved legislation and making programmes more efficient, effective and sustainable.

Who will benefit from using this publication?

This booklet was developed for field staff involved in water management projects. It is in pocket format, so that professionals, practitioners and technicians can easily carry it with them. The ultimate beneficiaries are women and men in rural areas who will profit from equal and efficient water distribution, leading to higher yields, improved food security and poverty reduction.

How should the ‘passport’ be used? Why a list of questions?

The passport focuses on  six key issues related to water programmes for agriculture: 1) access to land and water, 2) farming context, 3) multiple use of water, 4) management of irrigation systems, 5) water distribution, irrigation practices and maintenance, and 6) other environmental issues, with specific questions to guide the users in addressing the gender aspects.

Answering and adapting the questions will help identify areas where efforts are needed to make the project more gender sensitive, so that they even out any inequalities between women and men. The checklists can also be used to prepare a survey questionnaire for local communities.

Its guiding principles are that the different roles that women and men play  are key to understanding the livelihoods of rural people. It recognizes that marginalized men and women are a priority and their participation in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating development activities is essential.

What is unique about this publication, does it fill a gap?

Yes, we wanted to assist water professionals in assessing the needs of the men and women who will manage the water. Until recently the focus of many agricultural water management projects and programmes was on technical issues, but it has since become clear that projects are more successful when the potential users are involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring. Additionally, this passport will facilitate the identification of priorities and in determining what investments are needed. It will also assist in identifying possible conflicts over scarce water resources among different socio-economic and ethnic groups and in foreseeing other problems so they may be  prevented or addressed. We hope that by using this publication there will be more effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable water management in agriculture.

Is there anything you would like to add?

This booklet is an important contribution to FAO’s commitment to reducing gender and social inequalities in the water sector.  As stated in our Policy on Gender Equality, we need to achieve equality among men and women in sustainable agricultural production and rural development for the elimination of hunger and poverty. This means striving to achieve equal voice and access for women and men to productive resources and services.