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Water & Sanitation

The Effects of Changes in Climate and Water Resources on Gender Inequality in Boudinar Community in Morocco: The Case Study Approach


Khattabi, Abdellatif, Soumaya Ibrahim Huber, Naima Faouzi, and Manar Matah. 2014. “The Effects of Changes in Climate and Water Resources on Gender Inequality in Boudinar Community in Morocco: The Case Study Approach.” In Gender Research in Natural Resource Management: Building capacities in the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Malika Abdelali-Martini and Aden Aw-Hassan, 166-186. New York: Routledge. 

Authors: Abdellatif Khattabi, Soumaya Ibrahim Huber, Naima Faouzi, Manar Matah

Topics: Environment, Climate Change, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Africa, MENA, North Africa Countries: Morocco

Year: 2014

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

Community and Participation in Water Resources Management: Gendering and Naturing Development Debates from Bangladesh


Sultana, Farhana. 2009. “Community and Participation in Water Resources Management: Gendering and Naturing Development Debates from Bangladesh.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (3): 346–63.

Author: Farhana Sultana


Community and participation have become popular in development discourse and practice, particularly in the global South and in relation to water resources management. Greater involvement of people in decision making, implementation and evaluation of water management practices is expected to increase efficiency and equity in water projects. However, scholars have pointed out that such discourses are often problematically used and idealised, leading to the exacerbation of gender, class and other social differentiations. Drawing from a case study of drinking water contamination by arsenic in Bangladesh, this article examines the mobilisation and outcomes of participation and community in water provision and arsenic mitigation. Water hardship, conflicts and marginalisations are found to be products of social processes (that are gendered, classed and spatialised) as well as natural processes (local geohydrology, depth of arsenic sediments), in addition to the very ways that community and participation are conceptualised and practised. Nature ⁄ water comes to play a critical role in the ways that development interventions play out, thereby complicating the general debates around community and participation. This article seeks to problematise the ways that considerations of both the roles of nature and gender power relations can be more critically and productively engaged in development geography. As such, the article brings together debates in nature–society geography and development geography to argue that scholars studying community and participation need to pay greater attention not only to gender and spatial power relations, but also to the importance of geographical locations and the agency of heterogeneous nature in the ways water management and development interventions fail and succeed, and are thereby critiqued. More adaptive, reflexive and inclusive development realities that are simultaneously embedded in society and nature may then be envisioned, and more nuanced understandings of nature-in-development enabled.


In this article, Sultana challenges the trend amongst development policymakers to assume that community participatory water management institutions, by default, equally benefit all members of the community. Chief among her critiques is the fact that most discourses on this subject operate on an imaginary construct of community homogeneity, thus failing to take into account the complex interlocking gender and class-based hierarchical systems that structure communal water resource management. Further, Sultana calls for a synthesis of the separate strands of literature on nature-society relations and community / participatory projects, on the grounds that by directing attention towards nature’s inherent heterogeneity and unpredictability, scholars can better understand the evolution and thus specific societal role of water management institutions in a community. Sultana bases her arguments on a study of Bangladesh villages where differentiated arsenic distribution was instrumental in determining whether the development of water management institutions reinforced or subverted existing societal hierarchies.


“Traditional notions of participation in village life are often worked out through patronage systems and kinship structures. It is within such unequal set-ups that participatory water management projects often embed themselves and thereby perpetuate cycles of inequality. As a result, participation is a process that involves conflict and consensus, within broader historical factors and constraints, and not just a mechanism to facilitate project success or a set of techniques, although this is primarily how it has been treated in most development projects.” (349)

“Blindly assuming that having rich or elite women participate in the [water management] project leads to ‘gender mainstreaming’ can be problematic, as exclusions and privilege may become institutionalized...There may be a range of different lines of connection and differences that situate women differently from each other, and the myth of female solidarity thus does not hold up to the ways that women may choose to pursue different desires, connections, and needs (for example, not all women in a neighborhood may be similarly exposed to contaminated water or have similar water needs).” (349)

“Given that participation activities are largely conducted in public spaces, or what are perceived to be public activities of decision making and sharing opinions, notions of femininity and masculinity can be challenged when women and marginalized men are involved.” (350)

“While most women felt that they should have more decision making powers, and expressed interest in voicing their opinions and having more decision making capacities, the majority were not willing to challenge the norms and authorities of their husbands, fathers, brothers or elders in order to do so.” (358)

Topics: Civil Society, Class, Development, Economies, Economic Inequality, Environment, Gender, Women, Men, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Gender Mainstreaming, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Bangladesh

Year: 2009

Women Are Weak When They Are Amongst Men’: Women’s Participation in Rural Water Committees in South Africa


Hemson, David. 2002. “‘Women Are Weak When They Are Amongst Men’: Women’s Participation in Rural Water Committees in South Africa.” Agenda: Empowering Women For Gender Equity 52: 24–32.

Author: David Hemson


In this article, Hemson uses existing quantitative studies on water development projects in South Africa to formulate a series of conclusions on the potential for water management to function as a mechanism for the empowerment of women. He argues that one of the primary reasons for the failure of some water projects is the exclusion of women from leadership roles and meaningful participation (despite the fact that it is women’s lives that are most directly affected by changes in water policy). When women are included in these committees, they are often present as a token of gender inclusion (to comply with new government requirements), they are never given substantive leadership roles, and they rarely verbally participate. Even in communities where prevalent male migration has given women greater decision-making responsibilities, there is a tendency towards “deferred participation,” meaning that women postpone decision-making out of psychological deference to the absent male. Hemson concludes with a series of recommendations for improving women’s participation in water management, including provision of / access to adult education, gender-sensitivity training, and technical training.


“This [the transformation of water provision into a public and political issue] has produced a marked divergence between domestic responsibilities and the public administration of water. While women have responsibility for family health and access to water, both menial and domestic issues, water projects are prestigious and public; this has led to the domination by men who feel most capable in this sphere.Thus women remain responsible for domestic water supply but without the power to ensure that delivery is effective and continuous.” (30)

Topics: Civil Society, Development, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2002

Women, Equity, and Household Water Management in the Valley of Mexico


Ennis-McMillan, Michael C. 2005. “Women, Equity, and Household Water Management in the Valley of Mexico.” In Opposing Currents: The Politics of Water and Gender in Latin America, edited by Vivienne Bennett, Sonia Dávila-Poblete, and María Nieves Rico, 137-153. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Author: Michael C. Ennis-McMillan



“Because women often have the primary responsibility for managing crucial household resources, their increasing role outside the household in accessing such resources indicates how social change and power struggles over household consumption spill over into social relations outside the domestic sphere.” (139)

“As development specialists explore how to incorporate women into water management, it is critical to realize that installing piped water systems involves more than simply applying engineering principles and transferring new technology. Water control systems are also cultural systems that emerge from particular histories, meanings, and practices.” (139)

“Although women’s status is changing, both men and women often commented that women’s participation in local water management makes sense because of, and not despite, traditional gender norms and expectations. Women have extended their traditional roles as managers of water in the household to community water management…” (151)

Topics: Civil Society, Development, Gender, Gender Roles, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Mexico

Year: 2005

Irrigation Management, the Participatory Approach, and Equity in an Andean Community


Delgado, Juana Rosa Vera. 2005. “Irrigation Management, the Participatory Approach, and Equity in an Andean Community.” In Opposing Currents: The Politics of Water and Gender in Latin America, edited by Vivienne Bennett, Sonia Dávila-Poblete, and María Nieves Rico, 109-122. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Author: Juana Rosa Vera Delgado



“The women of Llullucha were clearly not passive victims of the prevailing rules and discourses that prevented their access to land, water, or knowledge. They actively resisted, building their agency to take advantage of even the smallest openings… They proved that women can participate in an integrated water management project and that water management is not the exclusive realm of engineers or men, despite the initial bias of the IMA water management project.” (116)

“When we researched the participation of Llullucha women in the emerging water user organization, we found that it was not even considered by the comuneros or by the engineers. There was nothing regarding how women might be able to participate in decision making or occupy a position of authority. As a result, only men discussed then decided the requirements for accessing water, and they did so according to their prevailing, typically patriarchal, ideology… Evidence from around the world shows when a social organization for managing a water system is formalized, women become invisible at the formal level of participation.” (120)

“The extent to which gender can be integrated with water management policies does not depend only on the resoluteness of technicians in deconstructing their ideology regarding womanhood or manhood and their willingness to cross boundaries. It also depends on the willingness and capability of authorities and institutions to listen, integrate, and promote gender equity in all types of social action.” (122)

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equity, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Bolivia

Year: 2005

The Invisible Water Managers


Dankelman, Irene, and Joan Davidson. 1988. “The Invisible Water Managers.” In Women and Environment in the Third World, 29–41. London: Earthscan Publications Limited.

Authors: Irene Dankelman, Joan Davidson


This chapter evaluates the UN’s International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1982-1992) by focussing specific attention on how successfully-- in light of structural, cultural, and gender-based discrimination-- limitations on women’s access to quality water supplies have been addressed. Dankelman and Davidson highlight a reality that subsequent academics use as the foundation of their argument: women already do a great deal to manage water on a daily basis when they make decisions on how to collect and transport, how different water sources of varying qualities should be used for different purposes, and how to purify drinking water. The authors use case studies from Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Brazil to illustrate how over centuries of performing these informal water management tasks, women have built up substantial knowledge of water, health, and sanitation that is passed on through generational exchanges and that must be acknowledged if improvements to water supplies are to be successful.

Topics: Gender, Women, Health, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, International Organizations Regions: Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Americas, South America Countries: Brazil, Burkina Faso, Kenya

Year: 1988

Incentives and Informal Institutions: Gender and the Management of Water


Cleaver, Frances. 1998. “Incentives and Informal Institutions: Gender and the Management of Water.” Agriculture and Human Values 15 (4): 347–60.

Author: Frances Cleaver


In this paper I consider the contribution that theories about common property resource management and policies relating to participation can make to our understanding of communal water resource management. Common to theoretical and policy approaches are the ideas that incentives are important in defining the problem of collective action and that institutions apparently offer a solution to it. The gendered dynamics of incentives and institutions are explored. This paper briefly outlines theoretical approaches to institutions as solutions to collective action problems and indicates the linkages with policies regarding participation in water resource management. It suggests that, whilst offering considerable insights, such approaches are limited and may result in policy prescriptions that do little to involve or empower women. In particular, I argue that the modeling of incentives is impoverished in its economism and its abstraction of the individual from a life world. I suggest that the conceptualization of institutions is primarily an organizational one, which, whilst alluding to the role of norms, practices, and conventions, focuses primarily on formal manifestations of collective action; contracts, committees, and meetings. Where women’s participation is concerned, I illustrate that incentives to cooperate may be devised from reproductive concerns and the minor exigencies of daily life (as well as from productive concerns) and that alternative models of institutions may better reflect the way in which decisions are made and implemented within a social context.

Keywords: incentives, informal institutions, policy and organizations


Using ethnographic case study of rural Zimbabwean villages, Cleaver argues that current institutional approaches to involving women in water resource management are flawed in that they prioritize formal organizations over informal institutions. Formal water-management organizations, even when they deliberately include women in decision-making processes, are less effective than informal social institutions at reflecting the complex concerns of women in a community and are further often designed in a such as way as to be overly economized and reductionist and to exclude those who stand to gain the most from them (i.e.: poor women). The construction of these new formal institutions ignores pre-existing informal networking-based water management systems that tend to be coordinated by women and to be oriented around deeply ingrained customs of conflict avoidance, approximate compliance, and minimal intervention. Furthermore, common incentive models for water use and management are fundamentally erroneous in their reliance on oversimplified divisions between “domestic” and “productive” water use at the household level and on assumptions about women’s preferences.


“Perceptions and priorities in relation to different [water] sources change seasonally, according to the demands placed on users by agricultural activities and environmental conditions. These complexities, the changeability of preferences over time and the use of multiple sources, would make it difficult to construct a simple hierarchy of preferences… The principle of the prime importance of time saving as an incentive for women can then be qualified by the importance of other considerations arising from domestic concerns...The gendered division of labor is not static but shifting and negotiable as new income generating-opportunities through the sale of crops open up and old ones, through employment, decline.” (351)

“...There is little evidence that participation on committees is either empowering to women or necessarily efficient in terms of water resource management… Appointing women to committees may just be reinforcing their role as “housekeepers” of the water sources rather than enhancing their decision making capacities.” (354)

“A static view of gender interests, household priorities, and local level institutional capacity is of little use when planning interventions. Rather, we need to recognize the shifting and changing priorities of individuals and households over time, that individual men and women have complex social identities, and that both individual and collective action are likely to be shaped by both economically “rational” incentives and socially embedded motivations.” (358)

Topics: Civil Society, Economies, Economic Inequality, Gender, Women, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Zimbabwe

Year: 1998

Women at the Helm of Irrigated Agriculture in Mexico: The Other Side of Male Migration


Buechler, Stephanie. 2005. “Women at the Helm of Irrigated Agriculture in Mexico: The Other Side of Male Migration.” In Opposing Currents: The Politics of Water and Gender in Latin America, edited by Vivienne Bennett, Sonia Dávila-Poblete, and María Nieves Rico, 170-189. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Author: Stephanie Buechler


This chapter explores the impact that mass male migration has on women’s role as water managers, specifically as pertains to groundwater-sourced irrigation. From interviews with women in rural Mexican communities, Buechler finds that with the absence of a male in the household, timing of irrigation services became a crucial factor; nighttime irrigation excludes women because of safety concerns, limited child care access, and societal notions of impropriety (women who go into the fields at night are suspected of carrying out sexual liaisons). Other challenges facing women include perceptions of irrigation as a male activity, stigma against women drivers, and minimal participation in water management bodies (most often as a function of land ownership requirements). The initial step to addressing any of these, Buechler concludes, is to make the rapidly growing numbers of women irrigators visible to their communities and, more importantly, to decision-making water management bodies.


“When women take charge of the land, they often irrigate or supervise others themselves, which runs counter to prevailing views on gender divisions of labor that irrigation is men’s work and that it is physically taxing.” (171)

“They [women] irrigate by themselves or supervise male irrigators despite attitudes in and outside of their communities that this is not women’s work. They know how to manage water due to their vast experience with agricultural work. Even though they often manage water alone, women continue to be viewed as mere helpers to a male farmer.” (187)

Topics: Agriculture, Displacement & Migration, Migration, Gender, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Mexico

Year: 2005

Water and Gender: The Unexpected Connection That Really Matters


Bennett, Vivienne, Sonia Dávila-Poblete, and Maria Nieves Rico. 2008. “Water and Gender: The Unexpected Connection That Really Matters.” Journal of International Affairs 61 (2): 107–25.

Authors: Vivienne Bennett, Sonia Dávila-Poblete, Maria Nieves Rico


“This article explains the connection between water and gender for household use as well as in the context of irrigation, focusing on poor urban women, peasants and indigenous women. It then examines the failures of water policy, including privatization, to embrace a gendered perspective and the failures of gender policy in addressing water issues. Throughout, we provide stories that show how women in Latin America have overcome or circumvented these failures to improve water management in ways that improve their daily lives” (Bennett et al. 2008, 109).
This article complements the authors’ 2005 book Opposing Currents: The Politics of Water and Gender in Latin America by furthering the investigation of the gendered impacts of water management with examples from Latin America. The authors argue that the connection needs to be made between gender and water not just in domestic water usage, but also in irrigation and agriculture (a space in which women’s roles are often overlooked). For, in constructing water development policies that are theoretically “gender-neutral,” development authorities overlook the fact that the outcomes of these policies are almost always gender-differentiated. This has become especially true in recent years as male urban migration has placed increasing numbers of women in positions of primary responsibility for the household’s agricultural operations, including irrigation management. Excluding women from water management perpetuates patriarchal power imbalances, endangers the well-being of household members (especially in the absence of a male head), and omits valuable perspectives on sustainability and community water access. Bennett et al conclude that the success of measures to improve water management practices is dependent on understanding the community, facilitating active participation from both men and women, and fostering equitable distribution of water resources-- all with an explicit acknowledgement of cultural gender roles. 
“Women already know about water management. Why is this powerful? If women already know about water management, then their knowledge, experiences and priorities will enrich policy and planning in the water sector. Bringing in women’s knowledge, experiences and priorities regarding water use alongside men’s is to implement a gendered perspective in water management. Failing to do so is to lose valuable knowledge that could have led to more effective water management.” (109)
“A gender division of labor that defines agriculture as a male occupation and women primarily as housewives, irrespective of their contribution to family agriculture, characterizes many Latin American countries, and has lead to great distortions in water management planning because women’s knowledge, experience, wisdom and needs with regards to water are left out of the planning process.” (111)
“When irrigation is identified as a typically male domain, then for women to claim water rights for irrigation explicitly challenges the norm and this means challenging the power and ability of their husbands to properly carry out their manly roles-- and doing so comes at high social costs.” (112)
“Control over water thus both depends on and accompanies control over other resources and information. Participation of women in water users’ organizations for irrigation not only improves women’s access to and control over irrigation but also may contribute to wider goals of women’s empowerment. Exclusion of women from water users’ organizations can be interpreted as denying them their economic rights and complete citizenship.” (114)
“The under-representation of women and their indirect participation not only destroys the democratic character of decisionmaking but also may negatively affect the responsiveness of organizations to the needs of women. It it more than just a symptom of gender inequality-- it is one of the factors that perpetuate it.” (115)
“Making the water world more habitable for women requires changes at many different levels and in many different arenas. It requires changing divisions of labor that currently allocate water responsibilities to women without granting them the associated rights, and it requires changing existing routines of public decisionmaking to allow women to participate.... It also requires changing the terms of water policy discussions, because reducing the gender gap in control over water is not just a direct struggle over water resources but is also—and more importantly—a struggle over the ways in which water needs are defined. ...Creating legitimate discursive, legal and organizational spaces for women to articulate and defend their water interests means that deeply embedded cultural and normative associations between water and masculinity need to be challenged.” (123)

Topics: Civil Society, Development, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Americas, Central America, South America

Year: 2008


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