Training on GENDER - Water and Development

< 1 week


photo credit: Natalia Lazarewicz (EuropeAid Library)

Background and description of content:


This short course aims to contribute to a general common understanding of the terminology, core principles of and approaches to gender mainstreaming used in water projects in developing countries. It is designed as a support to the Water Project Toolkit (EC, 2011) under the transversal theme of ‘gender and water management’, which is present throughout the toolkit. More precisely, this training course will:

-          Explain the concepts of gender, gender mainstreaming and gender analysis

-          Provide information and knowledge about gender and how it impacts development

-          Strengthen readers’ skills in gender analysis and mainstreaming

-          Illustrate women’s issues regarding agriculture and their access to water supply and sanitation (WS&S) services and give some practical measures to overcome these issues

-          Describe the positive impacts of involving women in water management.

The promotion of gender equality is a sine qua non for achieving all development goals. In both rural and urban environments of developing countries, much time and energy is spent by women and girls in water-hauling, leaving them with less time to spend on other family or economic activities. Consequently, water resource management is an important factor in determining women’s availability to participate in these activities. Gender implications need to be considered at all stages of the planning and implementation of water-related activities, giving consideration to the different social, economic and cultural roles assigned to both men and women. Gender implications of proposed interventions have to be considered, and female users and beneficiaries of services should participate in defining those implications. Given the power and responsibility structures that exist within families and communities in many parts of the developing world, a targeted effort is often required to enable females to take a meaningful role in the consultation and decision-making process relating to water and waste disposal.

At the end of this course you will be able to:

-          Define and understand what gender, gender mainstreaming and gender analysis are;

-          Ask the right questions regarding gender implications while planning your water project in all phases of the Project Cycle Management;

-          Better understand the positive impacts of female participation in water management projects;

-          Have an overview of barriers to female participation in water management projects;

-          Better understand the implications of involving gender issues in the programming, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of your water project.

Who can benefit from this course?

The course is addressed to post-graduate students, government staff, donor agencies, NGOs and anyone interested in the water sector who is willing to acquire the basic knowledge, attitude and skills necessary for gender mainstreaming in water projects in developing countries. 


Interesting Gender data and analysis to begin with




What is gender?

Distinguishing between sex and gender is important as sex is what determine us biologically whether gender is sociologically determined (Phillips, 2005).

“Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.”

Source: WHO 2012


In an operational vision, the concept of gender also includes the interests, involvement and adaption to females’ reality tending to support equality between males and females.


What is gender mainstreaming?

According to the UN, gender mainstreaming involves “ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities - policy development, research, advocacy/dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated”  (UN, 2001). It generally involves undertaking gender analysis to produce gender indicators and producing statistics to guide the development of policies and programmes.


What is a gender analysis?

Gender analysis is a process (a tool) that helps to assess the differential impact of development policies and programmes on groups of males and females. Gender analysis of data  disaggregated by sex can guide interventions on building capacity and commitments to gender-sensitive planning and programming activities by donor and partner organisations. It can also help identify equality issues at every level of decision making, and in the planning, implementation and monitoring of projects and policies (Hunt,2004).


References and further reading


European Commission (EC), 2011, Water Project Toolkit: Water resources management for sustainable development. Available online:


Hunt J., 2004, Introduction to gender analysis concepts and steps’, Development Bulletin, no. 64.


Phillips S.P, 2005, Defining and measuring gender: A social determinant of health whose time has come, International Journal for Equity in Health, 4:11.

UN, 2001, Gender mainstreaming: strategy for promoting gender equality. Available online:

WHO, 2012, Gender. Available online:



Gender and development- historical background

Gender and development- historical background


The United Nations Charter of 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 established the first official worldwide recognition of women’s equality and non-discrimination on the basis on sex. However up until the late 1960’s the focus was on women’s reproductive roles, as women were seen as wives and mothers and their main issues were supposed to be obtaining access to food, contraceptives, nutrition and health care.


The 70’s and 80’s marked a new phase in which the debate moved beyond women’s equality and the domestic sphere of women’s role as wives and mothers onto the global stage where the role of women was promoted as an aid for economic development. The important events such as the First World Conference for Women held in Mexico 1974, the UN decade for women “76-85” and the promotion of the Women In Development (WID) approach emphasised women’s right to development, recognition of women’s economic role in national economies and, most significantly, gave a voice to women in developing countries.

Some of the shortcoming of the approaches such as the WID applied in the 70’s were that they fell short of improving unequal relationships, and a significant number of projects were unsustainable as development projects  failed to consider the multiple roles carried out by women, leading to a development model that in the end disadvantaged women.


In the late 80’s the Gender and Development (GAD) approach was developed with the idea of improving the development model by “removing disparities in social, economic, and political balances between women and men as a pre-condition for achieving people-centred development” (GWA, 2006:11).


However, since the 1990’s the gender perspective is still struggling to be clearly set into the development agenda of international treaties or objectives such as the Millennium Development Goals. The principles only focus on gender equality and do not concentrate enough on women’s centrality to other development areas (Bunch, 2006). 


For water resources, the Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) principles pay special attention to women as they “play a central role in the provision, management and safeguarding of water” (Dublin statement, 1992 ), implying not just gender equality but also empowerment and equity, their essential role in the concern for effectiveness and efficiency of water sector programmes, their importance for environmental sustainability and the absolute need to have gender-oriented analysis for the success of water resource projects.


As illustrated in Figure 1, the gender process is long and ongoing. Practitioners are still struggling to bring a consciousness of gender issues to development work that will change perceptions and bring about true equality between men and women. Much of the work in the water sector today is affected by gender inequalities and inappropriate development projects. Without giving a proper focus to gender issues, projects often end up disadvantaging the principal group of water users, thereby affecting the lives of an already vulnerable group of stakeholders.

Figure 1: Gender and development-historical framework.
Adapted from: Chege, 2007


References and further reading:

Bunch C., 2006, Women and Gender: The Evolution of Women Specific Institutions and Gender Integration at the United Nations. In: The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations eds. Weiss T.G and Daws S.

Chege, 2007, A Curriculum for the Training of Trainers in Gender Mainstreaming.  African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). Available online:

Dublin statement, 1992, the Dublin statement on water and sustainable development. Available online:

GWA, 2006, The historical framework of gender. Available online:

Reeves H. and Baden S., 2000, Gender and Development: Concepts and  definitions. Institute of Development Studies University of Sussex. Available online:

UN, 2001, Gender mainstreaming: strategy for promoting gender equality. Available online:

WHO, 2012, Gender. Available online:

WHO, 2007, Women’s health and human rights: Monitoring the implementation of CEDAW. Available online:

WHO, 2012, Gender, women and health. Available online:


Mainstreaming gender throughout the Project Cycle Management (PCM)

Mainstreaming gender throughout the Project Cycle Management (PCM) 


Ensuring the participation of all stakeholders, including the local community, is a good leverage to improve the management and sustainability of water services. This is encapsulated by the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (GWP, 2012).

However, women often experience big barriers to their participation in water project decision making, project formulation and implementation. Some of the typical barriers to female participation that should be considered when designing a project include:


-          Lack of recognition of female roles in water resource management

-          Stereotypes (for example husbands refusing their wives permission to attend meetings, subordinated roles, discrimination, etc.)

-          weak leadership due to lack of self esteem

-          lack of mobilisation

-          lack of time and failure to see the benefit of their participation

-          Isolation of some water management groups

-          Lack of gender focus or implementation measures in water related policies.

Source: (CAP-Net and GWA, 2006)


This chapter will illustrate possible questions, tools and methods useful for gender mainstreaming that you could consider when using in the different project cycle management (PCM) phases explained in the Water Project Toolkit (EC, 2011).


The following pre-conditions must be met to allow for the integration of gender mainstreaming in programmes/projects :


·         Statistics disaggregated by sex and qualitative information on the situation of women and men must be obtained for the population in question. This information is required not only at project/programme beneficiary level, but also at the macro and meso levels.

·         A gender analysis should be conducted with regard to the gendered division of labour, access to and control over material and non-material resources, the legal basis for gender equality/inequality; political commitments with respect to gender equality; and the culture, attitudes and stereotypes which affect all preceding issues. Gender analysis should be conducted at the micro, meso- and macro-levels.

·         Gender analysis of a programme or project concept should reveal whether gender equality objectives are articulated in the initial idea, whether or not the planned activity will contribute to or challenge existing inequalities, and whether there are any gender issues that have not been addressed.

·         During the identification and formulation phases, gender analysis contributes to the identification of entry points for actions that will be needed in order to meet gender equality objectives.

·         A gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation system should also be in place from the design phase onwards, including the establishment of indicators to measure the extent to which gender equality objectives are met and changes in gender relations achieved.


From: EC, 2004.







During project programing, a gender analysis should be carried out in order to assess the impacts that a development project may have on females and males and on gender relations. In order to enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of the project’s activities, the analysis should be used to ensure that neither men nor women are disadvantaged by the project, or to identify priority areas for action to promote equality between men and women (Hunt, 2004).

If gender is not mainstreamed in the project programming phase, there is a risk that inequalities could be exacerbated by, for example, further enhancing the capacity of men who generally already have better skills and employment prospects. To avoid further disadvantaging women it is essential to factor into programme design the existing differences between men and women based on previous gender analyses. When programming a project the following questions should be therefore asked:


Does the project design consider gender issues?


Has a stakeholder dialogue been carried out and voices of men and women been heard and included in the project/programme to be implemented?


Is there a national policy on gender or women and development? What are the country requirement? How does the project takes into account the policy?

Is consultation and data collection forseen?


Is the project implementing team briefed on gender issues ?


Has a gender analysis been carried out relevant to the project to be implemented? The results have been incorporated into the project design?


Does the project preparation foresee appropriate budget for a gender strategy and its implementation?




In project programming enough time and resources should be given to data collection and consultation in order to give genuine consideration to gender issues. A non-exhaustive list of qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and their practical application are illustrated below:

Example of qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection:

Quantitative methods:

-          Household surveys: a set of predetermined question about certain topics that are answered by a target audience. They can give information on household size, labor force participation, income and expenditure levels, ownership of assets etc…

-          Perception and attitude surveys: analyse attitudes towards different organizations or prioritization of needs and projects.

-          Time use studies: Can estimate the time women and men spend collecting water and fuel, travelling to work, unpaid and paid productive activities.


Qualitative methods:

-          Stakeholder analysis: Identifies the key stakeholders affected by or affecting planned projects. Determines stakeholders interests, influence and importance. It can also assists in developing ways to involve stakeholders in the consultation and participation process during the project’s PCM phases.

-          Focus groups interviews: Can give insight on in-depth investigation of processes, social networks, values and beliefs.

-          Spatial maps: Can give a clear visual picture of participants, beneficiaries and constrains. It can indicateby sex on maps of fields/enterprises who is responsible, provides labor and controls resources for example.

-          Group and community interviews: Can give an inexpensive overview of conditions and practices across villages, neighbourhoods etc…

Adapted from: Word Bank, 2001.



Identification and formulation:

Identification and formulation:



The identification and formulation phases allow for the compilation of a balanced set of ideas, giving special attention to male and female opinions on water use, locations, options, and technology and how to manage it. It addresses the potential impacts the project will have on the lives of women and men and identifies subsequent measures. It allows for the collection of necessary information on gender issues through indicators that will be useful later in assessing the impacts of the project.

An example of a tool that can be used in these phases is, for example, the gender division of labour exercise illustrated below. This exercise involves community members who collect and analyse information about which work is carried out by women, and which work is carried out by men. A tool such as this is important in planning an initiative. The exercise can reveal how time is used and who does what in a community, revealing the issues on specific roles, land and incomes. This kind of information is essential for good project formulation. It helps understand which stakeholders will be most influenced by the project and therefore reveals who should be more involved in the design and planning of that activity.




Source: CIDA, 2008



Furthermore, disaggregated data can help to bridge the gap between conceptual or theoretical understandings of gender issues and everyday grassroots realities. They are essential for making effective analytical comparisons across communities, assessing the effects of policy and project measures on women and men and understanding the important role of women in development (UN water 2009).

To facilitate this collection of disaggregated data, the United Nations recommends, for example in the field of water and sanitation, the following six gendered indicators: 

Example of six gendered indicators for water and sanitation:

1.      the adequacy and availability of water at the household level for daily needs, distinguishing between reproductive[1] and productive[2] activities of men and women;

2.      the time spent, by sex, to collect water, further distinguishing between that work done by adults and children (and collected by urban/rural);

3.      relationships between transportation and gender in collecting water, with particular care taken to distinguish between “carrying” vs “assisted transport” (whether animal or mechanized);

4.      what kind of sanitation facilities (if any) are actually used  by men and by women and who are not using facilities, and why; these data should be further disaggregated by income and by urban/ rural setting;

5.      women’s participation in decision-making processes regarding water and sanitation at all levels, including careful attention to indicators (such as qualitative ordinal scales) that reveal the nature and quality of women’s inclusion in decision making;

6.     sanitation in schools, including specific information on whether facilities are provided separately for males and females, the extent to which existing facilities are actually used by male and female schoolchildren, and the extent to which those facilities meet the specific needs of girls in terms of safety, privacy, proximity, hygiene, cleanliness, water, and provision for menstruation.

Source: UN water, 2009


[1] Reproductive roles include childbearing/ rearing responsibilities and domestic roles usually performed by women who are required to reproduce and maintain the labour force. Although these roles are actually work, they are however differentiated from what is understood as ‘productive’ because performing these roles are not recognised as ‘work’ (GEM, 2012)

[2] Productive roles comprise work done by both women and men that generate income (in cash and/or in kind) and have an exchange value. (GEM,2012)


Implementing, monitoring and evaluating

Implementing, monitoring and evaluating



During implementation, monitoring and evaluation, gender analysis helps to assess differences in participation, the effect of the project on gender relations, and disparities in the benefits and impacts between males and females. Gender analysis must be a means by which the development objectives of achieving gender equality can be reached. For example, it can be used to assess and build capacity in and commitment to gender-sensitive planning and programming in donor and partner organisations, and to identify gender equality issues and strategies at the country, sectoral or thematic programming level. (Hunt,2004 ). The key questions to be taken into account at this level are summarised below:

  • Do women/men benefit from the programme in the same way?
  • Are some women/men negatively impacted by the programme?
  • Have gender relations of women/men in the target group changed as a result of the programme? Have gender gaps been reduced?
  • Do gender relations challenge working hypotheses and/or influence the efficiency/sustainability (+/–)?
  • Are new gender issues emerging within the programme?
  • Are there new external factors/actors affecting gender besides the programme (+ or –)?
  • Are women/men supportive of the programme or do they wish to change it (partly/totally)? Who? Why? How?

Source: OECD, nd.



Gender-oriented monitoring mechanisms are essential for continuous assessment, which ensures feedback during the implementation period.  This will allow the person responsible for the development project to follow its progress towards eliminating gender gaps and gender inequality in the water sector and undertake strategy revision as needed.  In this respect, the development of indicators and the collection and analysis of data are vital to provide information to the project implementing team so that they can identify good practices, highlight changes, set priorities, design strategies and follow up on progress made towards achieving gender equality.


Examples of monitoring and evaluation data sources in a rural development project for gender analysis:

  • Rural household survey
  • National statistical data
  • Impact evaluation
  • Gender study report in the project area
  • Mid-term reviews and project completion evaluation
  • Issuance of government decree and allocation of funds
  • Time-use studies of the daily activities of women and men 
  • Case studies
  • Field interviews

Adapted from: WB, 2001


References and further reading:

EC , 2004, Toolkit on mainstreaming gender equality in EC development cooperation. Available online:

European Commission (EC), 2011, Water Project Toolkit: Water resources management for sustainable development. Available online:


CAP-Net and GWA, 2006, Porque el Género Importa - Tutorial para gestores y gestoras del agua. Available online:


CIDA, 2008, Participatory Appraisal Techniques. Available online:


GEM 2012, Gender Evaluation Methodology. Available online:

GWP, 2012, Key IWRM concepts. Available online:

Hunt J.,2004, Introduction to gender analysis concepts and steps’, Development Bulletin, no. 64. Available online:


OECD,nd. Monitoring gender in programmes. Available online:

Solidarity Centre, Conducting a Gender Analysis. Available online:


Word Bank, 2001, Integrating a Gender Dimension into Monitoring & Evaluation of Rural Development Projects,


UN water 2009, Gender disaggregated data on water and sanitation, United Nations Department for Economics and Social Affairs, UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development. Available online:

Women in water supply and sanitation services (WS&S) and agriculture

Women in water supply and sanitation services (WS&S) and agriculture 


Photo credit: Natalia Lazarewicz (EuropeAid Library)

In the following chapter, the role of women will be described by illustrating the issues relating to access to WS&S and agriculture and the positive implications that derive from involving them in related water projects. Possible practical measures are given together with concrete examples.


Women and water supply and sanitation services[1]


Each year more than 2.2 million people in developing countries die from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. National governments need to implement specific strategies prepared for implementing water supply and sanitation (WS&S) services. However, the main operational responsibility for WS&S services schemes is likely to rest with local authorities, local councils, local NGOs and community groups (EC, 2011). 

Box 1.
In a research study conducted by NETWAS International in Kenya (2003), the results suggested that women’s educational level is related to hygiene practices. Women with some primary school education tended to have some hygienic behaviours, but better-educated women were more likely to have hand washing knowledge, skills and practice, as well as consistent latrine use. Educated women and girls can thus be used as agents of change. » ( GWP,2012)

Successful delivery of WS&S services programmes will depend on their relevance to local people’s existing beliefs and behaviours concerning water use and human waste disposal, gender roles in relation to water-collection and storage, and the establishment and/or use of community mechanisms for participation and decision-making. In order to maximise the benefits of improved access to water and sanitation services, hygiene promotion and health education components ( see box 1) must form an integral part of community-based management. 

The importance of involving women and men in water management has long been recognised in international forums, meetings and agendas. Reference was already made in 1977 at the United Nations Water Conference at Mar del Plata, and in 1992 at the International Conference on Water and the Environment in Dublin (January 1992). More recently, the resolution establishing the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Life’ (2005-2015), calls for women’s participation and involvement in water-related development efforts. However, “efforts geared towards improving the management of the world’s finite water resources and extending access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation often overlook the central role of women in water management” (UN Water, 2006:1).


At a local level in many societies, women play a central role in providing water supply and sanitation. They have primary responsibility for the management of household water supply, sanitation and health (UN Water, 2006). 



The most common issues regarding access to water and sanitation for women will be presented below. A case study will be presented to illustrate some of these issues, that describes the positive consequences of involving women in water projects and a list of possible practical measures that can be used to resolve these issues.


Box 2.

It is vital to take women’s needs into account in planning and implanting sanitation projects. For example in South Africa, the use of the Aqua Privy ignored the needs of women. The toilets faced the street, causing embarassement and harassment. When the latrine tank was full, it was a woman’s task to empty it and women performing this task were seen to be unmarriageable “ (GWP,2012).


Issues with access to water and sanitation services for women in developing countries:
  • Generally women are most vulnerable to poverty and have fewer chances to improve the economic conditions affecting their access to natural resources.
  • Women are more vulnerable to water-related diseases since they are more exposed as water carriers and their important role in carrying out domestic chores (preparing food, cleaning toilets, washing clothes, etc.).
  • Cultural biases affecting the installation and operation of sanitation services (see box 2).
  • Women lose a lot of time fetching water, which has a negative impact on their personal and family life and economic status (see figure 2).



Figure 2

Source: Gendered Innovations, 2012



  •  Women are mostly not involved in water infrastructure decisions, leading to unsustainable behaviours and negatively impacting supply infrastructures.
  •  Women and children have to walk long distances to get water or to defecate, exposing them to security risks.
  • Legally women often have no rights to water. This affects them especially in periods of droughts.
  • Products linked to personal hygiene and their disposal are often not considered in sanitation projects.

 Adapated from: CAP-Net and GWA, 2006



Case study


In the Est-Mono region of Togo, where only 10 percent of the population have access to drinkable water, a project aimed at improving access to water and sanitation facilities in schools did not adequately take a gender perspective into account. Thus, the facilities did not meet everyone’s needs and fell into disuse. A new project design encouraged the participation of all villagers, male and female students, teachers and administrators, and an action plan for hygiene promotion was approved by the schools and the villages. The project provided separate water and sanitation facilities for males and females, as well as educational resources, to each village school. Addressing gender imbalances among students and ensuring the participation of the entire community has led to impacts far beyond the immediate results. Girls have taken a leadership role and increased their self-esteem. Gender-balanced School Health Committees are responsible for the equipment and oversee the hygiene. 

Source: Alouka S.,  2006.



Positive implications in involving women:



When women are involved in meaningful ways in water management decisions, solutions that are appropriate and sustainable for the community are found (GWP, 2006). Because of their wide knowledge on water resources, female participation is said to enhance the efficiency of water use. Furthermore, when appropriate technologies are chosen for both men and women, the sustainability of the structure is increased.

Female participation is also fundamental for better water services when they are involved in financing decisions. Studies on micro loans have proven that women have generally higher loan repayment rates than men, they better manage their income and tend to invest it in better family welfare (Womenaid, nd). As main water resources stakeholders, it is therefore essential that financial decisions should involve women for their empowerment and for the sustainability of the service.

For better water supply infrastructures, it is essential to develop women’s capacity to manage and follow construction works. It is necessary to involve all users in order to identify potential contaminating sources and misuse of land management that can contaminate water. Finally, this full community participation can also avoid potential conflicts in periods of drought.



Possible practical measures:
  •  Include specific assistance/conditions to promote female participation
  • Employ experts with proven expertise in gender analysis and include gender issues in training for agency staff
  •  Consult with both male and female consumers to establish their differing needs, roles, opinions and experiences and incorporate these into the project design 
  • Ensure that women are consulted about technological options and their suitability 
  • Ensure that appropriate education and awareness-raising campaigns and health awareness and hygiene issues are developed particularly for women 
  • Ensure that staff with training in gender analysis and/or experience in gender mainstreaming participate in the project formulation 
  • Include training for women and men (for example, understanding and managing different water sources (drinking vs washing), management and maintenance of infrastructures, awareness raising on handwashing and handling of faeces, etc.) 
  • Building the capacity of local NGOs to provide ongoing support to women in communities 
  • Identify current water sources and sanitation areas used by men and women 
  • Identify male and female preferences for the design and siting of WSS facilities.


List adapted from: CAP-Net and GWA, 2006



References and further reading:


Alouka S.,  2006. Integrating Gender into the Promotion of Hygiene in Schools. In: Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Gender, water and sanitation: case studies on best practices. New York, United Nations (in press).

CAP-Net and GWA, 2006, Porque el Género Importa - Tutorial para gestores y gestoras del agua. Available online:

European Commission (EC), 2011, Water Project Toolkit: Water resources management for sustainable development. Available online:


Gendered Innovations, 2012, Water: participatory research and design. Full case study.  Available online:

GWP, 2012, Gender sanitation and hygiene. Available online:

GWP, 2006, Gender mainstreaming: An essential component of sustainable water  management- Policy Brief 3. Available online:


UN Water, 2006, Gender, Water and Sanitation: A Policy Brief. Available online:

Women Aid, nd, Microcredit: briefing paper MC/BP.01. Available online:


Case studies for gender sanitation and hygiene :


[1] Basic Services and Municipal services section of the Water Project Toolkit



Women, water and Agriculture

Women, water and Agriculture

Photo credit: EuropeAid Photo Library



Women carry out economic activities while pursuing multiple livelihood strategies. They represent a big share of rural economic activity in developing countries. They account for about 70% of household production in sub Saharan Africa, 65% in Asia and 45% in Latin America (GWP, 2006). However, their work is often not recognised as they are often not recognised as farmers. In most developing countries women have no access to land rights, and are subject to institutional arrangements and social norms which negatively impact gender equality (World Bank, 2009) and agricultural production (CAP-NET and GWA, 2006).



Figure 3

Source: FAO b., 2012



Water management in agriculture is fundamental. It includes irrigation and drainage, water management in rain-fed agriculture, recycled water reuse, water and land conservation, and watershed management (World Bank, 2009). Women and men have important roles in decisions regarding the type of crop that will be planted, which technology to use, water conservation methods, use of pesticides and fertilisers, etc.


Figure 4

Source: FAO b, 2012



Issues regarding women and agriculture


-          In some societies women have no access to land rights, which are often linked to water rights because of access to property rights (inheritance) issues. Discriminatory registration and titling have an impact on women’s livelihood strategies, food security and social status.

-          On average, women work more hours than men in producing food, and enjoy fewer benefits as, for example, women’s salaries are much lower than men’s.

-          Cultural norms and prejudices undermine women’s potential to cultivate. Often women have to irrigate their fields at night, exposing them to security risks or cultural stigmatisation, and obliging them to hire male extra labour.

-          Recently, agricultural services are being commercialised with the result that land tenure issues arise where good land available for small farmers is allocated to cash crops managed by big foreign businesses or large-scale farmers. Land is fundamental to the lives of poor people, especially women, so insecure land tenure combined with the increasing competition for land reduces the incentive to invest in land improvements, good land husbandry and permanent crops. Women are particularly vulnerable because their land rights are often linked to those of their husbands who, if they are small scale producers, can risk losing their lands to more powerful settlers.

-          Women often have limited access to agricultural services such as credit and training courses because of legal restrictions, lack of information and lack of small-scale services.

-          Leadership positions are often held by men. Female participation in active associations or cooperatives is often low, for example female participation in water users associations (WUA) is normally linked to the ownership of the land which automatically reduces female participation and disadvantages them in water allocation decisions in irrigation schemes.

-          Women for cultural (prohibited to speak to strangers) or security reasons cannot walk to marketplaces in order to sell their products.

-          Rural people living in remote areas do not have access to markets.

(list  adapted from: GWP, 2006; Commonwealth secretariat 2001; Word Bank, 2009  and FAO 2011)


Case study

The creation of a Women Facilitator Group (WFG) with formal linkages to the water users association (WUA) in Panchakanya Irrigation System  improved women‟s participation in WUA decision making and strategic planning. After one year of project implementation, the number of women in WUA rose from 20 to 60%. There were increases in collection of irrigation service fee. Further, water supply increased with the construction of an additional canal  in a process that featured  active participation and management  by  women. There was a decrease in water theft and canal cutting as both women and men were more active in taking actions against these acts. A professional association of women in land use sector facilitated  the  process and helped create linkages for women farmers with other support services  and  government institutions. Mobilizing women professionals from the start helped  smooth inclusive practices in the project.


Sources: World Bank 2008


Implications in involving women:


Female involvement in water management in agriculture is valuable because of their experiences and responsibilities in crop production and the collection of water for domestic uses. Rural women have deep knowledge about traditional ways of conserving water, the cleanest sources of water and traditional ways of growing crops. If considered in agricultural projects, this knowledge can be a precious source of sustainable practices that can help to increase the efficiency of water use and food production while also spreading environmentally friendly practices.

Female participation in the construction, management and maintenance of water supply services can help to reduce water losses and increase productivity. Giving the same opportunities to women would contribute to boosting food and nutrition security globally (FAO, 2011). A gender analysis of inequalities in agricultural production systems can reveal gender inequalities in access to natural and economic resources.


Finally, respecting gender equality in decision making processes (the choice of technology, financing methods and the choice of water management practices) can have positive impacts in the reduction of conflicts over access to water resources.



Figure 5

Source: FAO b., 2012


Possible practical measures:

  • Understand how authority and responsibilities are distributed among men and women in order to carry out appropriate interventions that seek to target specific members of the community with services such as training and technologies. 

  • Credit facilities should be accompanied by agricultural technical skills and human development training both for women and community leaders, to enable them to utilise and receive the full benefit of loans. 

  • Facilitate equal access to credit (economic policies, banking regulations, access to commercial credit etc.) and make sure that there are no implicit or explicit barriers to gender equality and equity. 

  • Use gender-disaggregated data related to the agriculture sector. 

  • Involve men and women in the planning, formulation and implementation of the project in order to ensure the maintenance and the sustainability of the service. 

  • Evaluate the gender dimension in agricultural and water policies at national level and include it in the project planning. This analysis will help understand how legal requirements affect the gender dimension in agriculture (land and water rights, for example). 

  • Carry out a process in which men and women articulate their priority needs which should then be translated into an optimal technical solution. Try keeping technological costs to a minimum. 

  • Stimulate productive activities in the community so that the productive and domestic spheres combine and women do not lose time on one at the expense of the other. 

  • While implementing a project, make sure that the implementing team took local and women’s knowledge about water and land resources into consideration. 

  • Make sure that women’s productive role (income-generating market and subsistence production), reproductive role (child-bearing) and community management role (activities undertaken for the community wellbeing) (FAO a., 2012 ) are taken into consideration in project planning. 



List adapted from: CAP-Net and GWA, 2006, GWA, 2006, FAO a., 2012 and World Bank, 2009

References and further readings:


CAP-Net and GWA, 2006, Porque el Género Importa - Tutorial para gestores y gestoras del agua. Available online:


Commonwealth Secretariat, 2001, Gender Mainstreaming in Agriculture and Rural Development - A Reference Manual for Governments and Other Stakeholders.  Available online:


FAO, 2011,Women  in Agriculture: closing the gender gap in for development. Available online:


FAO, 2012, Men and women in agriculture: closing  the gap. Available online:

FAO a., 2012, Training guide: Gender and climate change research in agriculture and food security for rural development. Available online:


GWA, 2006, Gender, water and agriculture. Available online:

World Bank 2008, Gender-sensitive planning, monitoring and evaluation in agricultural water management. Investment Note 10.4. Available online:


World Bank, 2009, Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook. Available online:



FAO b., 2012, gender and agriculture infographics:

QUIZ Gender, Water and Sanitation

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