Gendered Participation in Water Management: Issues and Illustrations from Water Users' Associations in South Asia


Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, and Margreet Zwarteveen. 1998. “Gendered Participation in Water Management: Issues and Illustrations from Water Users' Associations in South Asia.” Agriculture and Human Values 15 (4): 337–45.

Authors: Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Margreet Zwarteveen


The widespread trend to transfer irrigation management responsibility from the state to “communities” or local user groups has by and large ignored the implications of intra-community power differences for the effectiveness and equity of water management. Gender is a recurrent source of such differences. Despite the rhetoric on women’s participation, a review of evidence from South Asia shows that female participation is minimal in water users’ organizations. One reason for this is that the formal and informal membership criteria exclude women. Moreover, the balance between costs and benefits of participation is often negative for women because complying with the rules and practices of the organization involves considerable time costs and social risks, whereas other ways to obtain irrigation services may be more effective for female water users. Although effective, these other and often informal ways of obtaining irrigation services are also typically less secure. More formal participation of women can strengthen women’s bargaining position as resource users within households and communities. Greater involvement of women can also strengthen the effectiveness of the organization by improving women’s compliance with rules and maintenance contributions. Further detailed and comparative research is required to identify the major factors that affect women’s participation and control over resources, if devolution policies are to address the tension between objectives of transferring control over resources to community institutions, and ensuring the participation of all members of the community, especially women.

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Women, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Asia, South Asia

Year: 1998

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at