Gender and Water

The water sector has been a pioneer in understanding that involvement of both men and women in water management is imperative to ensure development opportunities and equitable management. Even since 1977 at the United Nations Water Conference in Mar del Plata the question has been constantly raised. In 1992 at the International Conference on Water and the Environment in Dublin the central role of women in water management was clearly recognized (Dublin principle No. 3 on role of women in water management).

Gender is a concept that refers to socially constructed roles, behavior, activities and attributes that a particular society considers appropriate and ascribes to men and women which determines how they are expected to behave, think and act. Due to historical, economic, cultural and religious factors, certain societies are more prone to social and gender inequity and inequality, normally biased in favour of men thus women are the ones more vulnerable.

In several countries, mainly developing countries, girls and women are the ones responsible for fetching and safeguarding water for household and agricultural purposes while the decision making at all level is mainly a male sphere.

Gender mainstreaming is “a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated” (UN, 1997). Mainstreaming includes gender-specific activities and positive actions, whenever women or men are in unfavorable position.

It is surprising that, in spite of the high awareness of the importance of gender in water resources management, 22% of the 134 countries that participated on the 2012 UN Survey on the Application of Integrated Approaches to Water Resources Management thought that gender mainstreaming for water management was not relevant to them. Hence, it is clear that extra time, human and financial endeavors, and of course an influential and strong political will is required to introduce the gender perspective in implementing integrated approaches to water resources management.

Why is it important to include a gender approach in water initiatives?

  • Involving women and men in consultation processes and in management and implementation of water-related project results in efficient, effective and equitable management of water resources. Involving both men and women in IWRM initiatives can increase project effectiveness.
  • Gender stereotypes concerning abilities and interests of men and women create non-equitable decision making. Thus having a gender approach will contribute to redress the inequality and can impact positively on the social, political and economic position of women. 
  • Social and economic analysis is incomplete without an understanding of gender differences and inequalities.
  • Reduced time, health and care-giving burdens from improved water services give women and girls more time for productive activities such as education, empowerment activities and leisure.

Understanding that water management and environmental sustainability in general are enhanced when the priorities and demands of all stakeholders are addressed is vital. The institutional capacity should address gender in all dimensions of water management. Training is an invaluable tool in providing support, advice and understanding to develop tools and policies. Policies and strategies on water management need to respect gender differences. In this sense gender disaggregated data collection and evaluation, as well as monitoring programs are important in understanding differences and imbalances and to follow the implementation of policies and programs.


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