The Connection between Gender and Water Management


Zwarteveen, Margreet and Vivienne Bennett. 2005. “The Connection between Gender and Water Management.” In Opposing Currents: The Politics of Water and Gender in Latin America, edited by Vivienne Bennett, Sonia Dávila-Poblete, and María Nieves Rico, 13-29. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Authors: Margreet Zwarteveen, Vivienne Bennett


Bennett and Zwarteveen challenge the assumption that the domestic water world of women and the production / irrigation water world of men are distinct and nonoverlapping. Instead, they argue that absenting women entirely from discourses on production and irrigation can have dire implications for their households’ survival, particularly if male out-migration places a woman in charge of managing the land. By acknowledging that water systems are interlocking and that the roles of men and women (especially in informal water management) are fluid, policy makers can pursue more nuanced water management designs that account for the different experiences and priorities of both men and women. This, however, will be a difficult process, as it will entail uprooting deeply ingrained connections between masculine identities and irrigation management, altering existing divisions of labor that allocate water responsibilities to women without the associated rights, and fundamentally shifting the framing of water-oriented discourses.


“Gender bias refers both to unequal access to resources (land, water, credit, new technologies, etc.) and to gender-differentiated access to the process of making and implementing decisions. What is important is not “who does what” but the exclusiveness of role distribution and its implications for resource allocation and the distribution of power.” (14)

“Though planners and policy makers signal the enormous cost of implementing water supply for all, a gendered analysis shows that water resource projects are vitally flawed when the role of women is left invisible. Acknowledging women’s expertise and needs regarding water resources leads to more comprehensive planning, more effective projects, and significant gains for women, as well as their families and communities.” (18)

“Women’s lack of more or less formally recognized powers, claims, and rights to irrigation water is not only unjust, undemocratic, and inequitable, it may also lead to inefficiencies. For irrigation systems to run smoothly and effectively, there must be a balance between rights (to water, infrastructure, and to participation in decision making) and responsibilities.” (24)

“Water worlds are not just gendered at the level of users. Even where most water policies no longer assume gender neutrality of users, water users typically continue to be conceptualized as atomic individuals… understanding [gender as social relations] involves approaching women not only as individuals and as a social category whose problems appear to be somehow connected to characteristics of this category but also as parties to sets of social relations (involving resources, rights, responsibilities, and meanings) with men and other women through which what it is to be a women, in that time and social place, is defined and experienced.” (28)

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Gender Roles, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Rights, Women's Rights

Year: 2005

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