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Why women’s involvement is so vital to water projects’ success – or failure

Hi there, I am sharing my article about gender issues in water management , here is the link:

When thinking about water management, gender is probably the last thing on many people’s minds. But in fact, the whole process of water management – technology choices, decision making, implementation, benefits and risks are all gendered.

We know that men and women tend to have different priorities and needs when it comes to water. For instance, women prefer to have domestic water supply and irrigation structures close to their households. This allows them to effectively divide their time between productive and domestic responsibilities. Men are usually more mobile, so the location of supply is less important to them.

Women are also more often responsible for subsistence agricultural production while men are most likely engaged in commercial agricultural production. That means that they have different needs in terms of supply and water management.

In most African countries, women and girls are responsible for finding and carrying water. This leaves them with less time to improve their lives through education and work: that’s how the cycle of poverty sustains itself in Africa.

Women’s role in water management isn’t just domestic. Women also have notable but often invisible roles in the economically productive use of water, including agriculture, fisheries, and livestock: they are responsible for half of the world’s food production and, in Africa, women make up 43% of the agricultural labour and produce up to 80% of the food.

The relationship between people and water is not gender-neutral and there’s a growing body of evidence which shows the benefits of incorporating gender issues into water management. Any policies and interventions around water management can only really be successful if women are included alongside men in every aspect of water management.

Women’s role

Traditionally, women are responsible for managing and maintaining communal water supplies. This is quite common in many African communities, where women regulate and control the use and maintenance of water resources. For example, they restrict cattle watering to particular sites, and washing to specific downstream sites on the river.

Women also take on the work of finding alternatives and solving problems related to water and food supplies. When crop yield is low due to soil exhaustion, it is women who modify farming practices. They develop alternative strategies in response to soil deterioration and erosion.

Women also negotiate with their neighbours for access to water supply. They evaluate water sources, analyse supply patterns, lobby relevant authorities, and launch protests when water availability reaches dire levels.

However, these tasks are not part of a formal structure. This means women are not drawn into community discussions with government about different water sources and, as such, they tend not to be involved in strategic planning and decision making.

This is a serious oversight. Through their informal work, women are enriched with special knowledge, experience and skills around water management. Water projects that overlook women’s central role in water management and exclude them not only bypass half the population but also reduce the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the projects.

Success stories

In Morocco, a World Bank project provided convenient access to safe water and dramatically reduced the time women and girls spent collecting water. As a result, girls’ school attendance increased by 20%. Another study in Tanzania showed a 12% increase in school attendance when water was available within 15 minutes, compared to when it took more than half an hour to reach water.

In Burkina Faso, women’s participation has been found to add noticeable value to the success of water projects. They were found to have information on the year-round reliability of traditional water sources: village chiefs, men and elders lacked such knowledge.

There’s potential for broader societal change, too. Men’s perspectives on women’s abilities are challenged, and women are equipped with new skills that allow them to step away from stereotypical roles.

The Watersheds and Gender project in El Salvador is a great example of this. Women were trained to learn new skills, and put in charge of small scale water-related companies. They acquired technical agricultural knowledge and performed tasks previously considered suitable only for men. In Hoto village, Pakistan, huge success was achieved in a water project when a women’s solution was adopted. This encouraged women to become active participants in decision-making, and led to significant changes in their lives – like the opening of a girls’ school.


All of these examples show that when women and men are equally involved in decision-making around water, decisions and solutions are representative of the entire community’s needs.

More water management projects should be paying attention to gender, and the very important role that women can play in projects’ success – or failure.

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Comment by Martha Peter on November 18, 2019 at 13:08

 the article reminds me very well when I mobilize the community to protect water sources at Mlevela village at Njombe, the water sources were destructed by livestock keepers and most women in that village face the scarcity of water, which force women and girl to travel for a long distance to fetch water, it was very challenging , only women was forefront to fit, this means that women are the right people to be involved in the issue of water management, because are the on who are victim if there is a scarce of water in their area.

Comment by susmita mukherjee on October 11, 2019 at 10:46

Very pertinent matter/topic of the hour - Water. Very well articulated about the need of engagement of Women in planning and managing the water resources and its utilization. No doubt men have been also facing the problem regarding water management; however engagement of women would yield good and long standing results. In India, during summer 2019; we have seen how women and young girls have been involved in fetching water from far off places for the family. men have been carrying water in their bikes. the quality of water is also a grave area. 

Comment by ANIRBAN CHATTOPADHYAY on October 10, 2019 at 16:12

Women are considered as primary water managers especially in developing and under-developed countries. So the article hits the right notes. two quick points on the issues (i) if the urban / peri/semi-urban challenges and consequent solutions the same as in village settings, which may be discussed (ii) how the changes (as provided in the article - Success Stories) were thought and executed, some light may be shared on the same. 

Comment by Dr. Sanghamitra Kanjilal-Bhaduri on October 10, 2019 at 12:12

Very well written. This is such a relevant topic which demands attention in the present scenario. We at SIGMA Foundation work a lot on Water and Sanitation issues. Inclusivity of women is indeed very crucial for the success in these areas. 

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on October 9, 2019 at 21:58

Brilliant! I work with communities.  Learning from your experience, I will encourage men to think what value women bring in water management.

This reminds me of my experience in Bangladesh. When working with farming and fishing community, men said that women were not involved in agriculture and I turned and asked the women what did they do and women said that they took care of irrigation, they dried the seeds and also kept them secure for the next season as it was a flood prone area. 

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