BRIDGE Report 21: Water Resources Management: A Macro-level Analysis from a Gender Perspective

Author: S. Baden, C. Green
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Jan 1994
Does gender analysis have any impact on the effectiveness of water resource management' If so, have women's concerns been adequately recognised separately to men's' Managing water resources is currently a high priority for international policy makers and international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). However, little attention has been given to how gender differences affect water resource management (WRM), and supposed gender neutral approaches hide gender biases in implementation. Recent approaches have 'added-in' women as a category, but failed to examine women's varied uses of water, including commercial use of water for production. This report argues that new policy is urgently required to ensure that such gender-specific concerns are not overlooked in WRM.

Studies from the World Bank and UNCED identify two strands of thinking that have come together to create a new momentum in water resource management policy. First, communities are now thought willing to pay for improved provision of water and sanitation. Second, increasing emphasis has been given to the conservation of water for environmental protection. A major deficiency in this framework is that the pivotal role of women is largely ignored. This analysis excludes how women's relationship to the environment and water resources is influenced by the system of social relations and gender roles that subordinate women.

There are several areas in which the conceptual framework adopted by the World Bank and UNCED are inadequate, for example:
- Women have been 'added in' as a separate homogeneous category rather than integrated into the World Bank/UNCED approach and analysed in relation to men.
- Mention of women in current policy proposals is limited to their roles as providers of water for domestic consumption, disregarding their productive activities as agriculturists and users of irrigation systems.
- There is a tendency to overestimate the benefits to women of improved water supplies and underestimate the costs, as women do not always have access to cash resources to pay for water, and time saved may not be sufficient to put to productive use.
- The adoption of participatory approaches to WRM may be difficult for women because the sacrifice of their time and money are not fully accounted for in return. Multiple roles may restrict their participation.
- Consultative process may not fully ascertain women's priorities and interests if gender-sensitive methods are not used to facilitate women expressing their views.

In response to these weaknesses in WRM strategies, the following policy directions are suggested:
- Recognise women as water users for productive purposes, as well as managers of water for domestic purposes, and apply gender roles analysis to WRM approach.
- Fully account for the time and money costs to women of water supply and environmental protection measures.
- Make available supports such as credit to women, to lessen the opportunity costs (in terms of less time spent on other tasks) of participation in new WRM interventions. . Expand WRM policy to address conflicts of interest at the household level and between men and women, especially in relation to control of resources and expenditure.
- Apply gender-sensitive participatory approaches to help adequate involvement of and consultation with women.