Participatory Management: Who Participates


Athukorala, Kusum, and Margreet Zwarteveen. 1994. “Participatory Management: Who Participates.” Economic Review 20 (6): 22–5.

Authors: Kusum Athukorala, Margreet Zwarteveen


The Gender Program of the International Irrigation Management Institute (IIMI) is currently undertaking a study which examines, among other things, some of the constraints to female participation in Farmer Organizations. To this end, IIMl's Gender Program is conducting detailed field studies in three sites - Rajangane, Mahaweli System H and Gampola Raja Ela- which were chosen to include the three Participatory Management  Programs which are currently being implemented in Sri Lanka: Management of Irrigation Schemes (MANIS), Integrated Management of Major Irrigation Schemes (INMAS) and Mahaweli. Some first findings of these studies will be presented here.

The success of all three Participatory Management Programs in Sri Lanka stands or falls with the development of strong and competent Farmer Organizations (FOs). FOs are expected to assume part of the responsibilities and costs of operating and maintaining irrigation infrastructures, in return for which they should get a better, more reliable and more equitable access to irrigation water. The question this brief article aims to address is to what extent strong FOs, which represent the needs and interests of the main end users of irrigation services, can be expected to emerge when women are inadvertently excluded from participation.



“The fact that men and women have distinct responsibilities with respect to irrigated agriculture implies that women have specific knowledge about irrigated agriculture and specific needs with respect to irrigation. This in itself would justify some sort of female involvement in FOs, unless of course men do adequately represent women's concerns at meetings. The field data do not support such a hypothesis. Although there are some farming couples who make most of the farming decisions together, in many households men and women have different objectives and perspectives.” (23)

“Irrigation, irrigated agriculture and irrigation management tend to be thought of as all male affairs. The study shows that this is an inaccurate perception of the reality in irrigation systems. Because of their high involvement in field activities as well as decisionmaking, women as well as men can and should be considered an interest group in irrigation systems.” (25)

Topics: Agriculture, Civil Society, Gender, Women, Men, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, International Organizations Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Sri Lanka

Year: 1994

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