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Mainstreaming gender in community irrigation management institutions

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Mainstreaming gender in community irrigation management institutions

Despite the growing recognition of the different needs of women irrigators, their participation in community water management associations is limited or lower than men’s for a variety of social and institutional reasons. Formal membership is often restricted to those who legally own irrigated land, or are household-heads, or sometimes a combination of both factors. Since these categories largely apply to men, women farmers are not considered eligible for membership although in many cases they are cultivating and managing land in the absence of men who have migrated. Policy changes in the context of irrigation devolution policies in India increasingly stipulate a quota for women’s membership on the executive committee of Water User Associations (WUAs), despite the fact that they may not be legally members. Although such nominal participation does not give women voting rights it does allow them to articulate the specific concerns of women farmers; such as the time and timeliness of water delivery. Single women, widows, and women from marginalized households find it easier to approach women committee members if they are facing water distribution problems, and women are more efficient in collecting water user fees and resolving WUA conflicts.

However, prevailing beliefs about appropriate male and female behaviour – for example, talking in public meetings in front of male elders – restricts active female participation in much of the South Asian agrarian context. In the Chhattis Mauja irrigation scheme in Nepal women claimed that they never attended meetings of the WUA because they were not able to raise their concerns and needs. Many of these women found it easier to ‘steal’ water (free-riders) than participate in formal institutional structures (Zwarteveen and Neupane 1996). Urban irrigators in several African cities prefer not to formalize their activities because for many it is an opportunistic activity and for some (many of them women), it is illegal. Poor urban women engaged in group gardens on landholdings without tenure (encroached river-beds) in the Gambia and Zambia have little access to water taps and are dependent on wastewater discharged from treatment plants.

While it is clear that access to irrigation is a source of power and conflict, the role of participatory and gender-sensitive external facilitators in capacity building and communication processes in order to encourage the articulation of socially inclusive rights and obligations is critical. Examples of the ‘social construction’ of irrigation in the Ecuadorian Andean community illustrate the importance of multi-stakeholder decision-making involving diverse social groups (Boelens and Appolin 1999). The Irrigation Sector tools developed by FAO (2001) provide irrigation engineers, government agencies and NGOs with participatory planning frameworks that can improve the performance of irrigation schemes while strengthening the position of rural women and disadvantaged groups. In addition, many civil society organizations are beginning to use ‘models’ of successful WUAs where the participation of women farmers and other marginalized groups has made a difference to the sustainable management of water for agriculture and to negotiations on changes in legislation that will essentially de-link access to water from land ownership.

Agarwal, B, 1994. A Field of One’s Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ahmed, S, 1999. “Changing gender roles in irrigation management: Sadguru’s lift-irrigation co-operatives, “Economic and Political Weekly, 34(51), pp. 3596-3606.

Boelens, R. and F. Appolin, 1999. Irrigation in the Andean Community: A Social Construction. An audio-visual resource published in English and Spanish by IWMI, Colombo. Available at:
Chancellor, F., Hasnip, N. and D. O’Neill, 1999. Gender-sensitive Irrigation Design (Part 1), OD143, HR Wallingford Ltd., OX10 8BA, UK.
Cleaver, F, 1998. “Incentives and informal institutions: Gender and the management of water,” Agriculture and Human Values, 15, pp. 347-360.
Deere, C.D. and M. Leon, 1998. “Gender, land and water: From reform to counter-reform in Latin America,” Agriculture and Human Values, 15, pp. 375-386.
FAO 2001. Irrigation Sector Guide Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis Programme (SEAGA), Available at:
Hide, J. and J. Kamani, 2000. Informal Irrigation in the Peri-Urban Zone of Nairobi, Kenya, OD/TN 98, HR Wallingford, OX10 8BA, UK.
van Hoeve, E. and B. van Koppen, 2005. Beyond fetching water for livestock: A gendered sustainable livelihood framework to assess livestock-water productivity. (
van Koppen, B, 1998. “Water rights, gender and poverty alleviation: Inclusion and exclusion of women and men smallholders in public irrigation infrastructure development,” Agriculture and Human Values, 15, pp. 361-374.

Prabhu, M, 1999. “Marketing Treadle Pumps to Women Farmers in India,” Gender and Development, 7(2), pp. 25-34.

Upton, M. 2004. The role of livestock in economic development in poverty reduction. Pro Poor Livestock Policy Initiative. Working Paper no. 10, FAO
World Bank, 1996. Toolkit on Gender in Agriculture, Washington DC: World Bank Gender Analysis, Poverty and Social Policy Department (
Zwarteveen, M, 1997. “Water: from basic need to commodity: A discussion on gender and water rights in the context of irrigation”, World Development, (25) 8.
Zwarteveen, M. and N. Neupane, 1996. ‘Free-riders or victims: women’s non-participation in irrigation management in Nepal’s Chhattis Mauja Irrigation Scheme’, Colombo: International Water Management Institute, Research Report no. 7.

Additional Resources

Adato, M. and Meinzen-Dick, R. 2002. Assessing the impact of agricultural research on poverty using the sustainable livelihoods framework. FCND Discussion Paper 128. APTD Discussion Paper 89. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

Ahlers, R. and S. Vlaar, 1995. Up to the Sky: A Study on Gender Issues in Irrigation in Cambodia in the Provinces of Takeo and Pre Veng, Ede (Netherlands): SAWA.
Babaker, B. and Abderrahmane, 1997. Gender and participation in agricultural development planning: Lessons from Tunisia, FAO.

Available at:

Bastidas, E.P, 1999. Gender Issues and Women’s Participation in Irrigated Agriculture: The Case of Two Private Irrigation Canals in Carchi, Ecuador. (

By considering women as a heterogeneous group among the different water user groups, this report seeks to understand the factors that influence the involvement of mestizo (mixed race) women in irrigated agriculture in two private irrigation canals in the province of Carchi, Ecuador. After an introduction to the study area, this report describes the users, their needs, and the different water uses of the two irrigation systems. Further, the degree of women’s involvement in irrigated agriculture is defined. Finally, factors that limit women’s involvement in irrigated agriculture and their participation in water user associations are identified. A typology based on “household life stage” and household composition is used to explain women’s involvement in irrigated agriculture. Water user’s relation to the resource and women’s previous rural/urban background are analyzed for the different types of households. Women’s participation in agriculture was higher in female-headed households. In households where the couple had small children, women’s participation in agriculture was limited by family obligations. In households where an old couple lived by themselves, women were either too old or too sick to participate as they used to in agricultural activities. Finally, in households where the couple had no small children, women preferred to engage in other activities where they could control their income. It was also found that women with a rural background are more likely to participate in agricultural activities than those with an urban background. The study suggests that it is only by taking a closer look at the intra-household dynamics and urban/rural background that affect women in each of the different types of households, that we can properly explain women’s involvement in irrigated agriculture.

Bell, C, 2002. Water for Production: An Overview of the Main Issues and Collection of Supporting Resources, BRIDGE Report No. 64, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

This report provides key considerations and recommendations for development organizations working on water management issues. Further areas of research are also outlined. It also provides supporting resources to help agencies increase gender awareness in this sector and related sectors, including best practices, lessons learned, check lists produced by a variety of development organisations to aid gender awareness in the water sector.

Available at:
Beyani, C, 2001. Key Issues; background papers. In: UNIFEM (eds.) Women’s land and property rights in situations of conflict and reconstruction. A reader based on the February 1998 Inter-Regional Consultation in Kigali, Rwanda, New York: UNIFEM.
Bernal, V, 1988. Losing ground: women and agriculture in Sudan’s irrigated schemes: Lessons from a Blue Nile village, in J. Davidson (ed.) Agriculture, Women and Land. The African Experience, pp 131-156, Boulder: Westview.
Boelens, R. and F. Appolin, 1999. Irrigation in the Andean Community: A Social Construction. An audio-visual resource published in English and Spanish by IWMI, Colombo.

This training kit and video provide insights into participatory processes used in gender-balanced, community-based rural development. The kit documents detailed steps involved in the inclusive planning of a technical irrigation project, and highlights how initial investments in infrastructure determine water rights for both women and men. Although the documentation notes that there are no blanket prescriptions, it does point out that: “an irrigation system is much more than a physical facility; it is a social construction. Therefore it is indispensable to undertake processes of research, capacity building and communication that will make it possible to inter-relate the participatory construction of infrastructure with the creation and consolidation of their organization, and with the system of rights and obligations.”

Available at:
Boelens, R. and M. Zwarteveen, 2002. “Gender dimensions of water control in Andean irrigation,” in Boelens, R. and P. Hoogendam eds. (2002) Water Rights and Empowerment, Assen (the Netherlands): Koninklijke Van Gorcum.
Bravo-Baumann, H, 2000. Gender and livestock; Capitalisation of experiences on livestock projects and gender. Working document, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Berne.
Chancellor, F., Hasnip, N. and D. O’Neil, 2000. Gender Sensitive Irrigation Design. Oxford: H R Wallingford Consultants (for DFID).

These six reports detail the findings of a research project into smallholder irrigation in southern Africa. The objective was to improve smallholder irrigation through greater gender-sensitivity in design and operation. The approach employed was to identify the gender-based constraints and opportunities in existing irrigation developments, investigate their origins and formulate strategies to reduce negative impacts and increase positive ones.

Cipollini, E, 2005. Rapport d’évaluation sur la Performance de certains Groupements d’Intérêt Collectif d’irrigation en Tunisie, Projet de développement agricole et rural intégré Siliana – Tunisie, Fonds International de Développement Agricole (FIDA).
Easton, P, and R. Margaret, 2000. “Seeds of Life: Women and Agricultural Biodiversity in Africa,” in Indigenous Knowledge Notes, World Bank, August 23rd.
FAO, 1997. Gender and Participation in Agricultural Development Planning: Key Issues from Ten Case Studies.

Wide ranging case study examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America including national policy making, local level planning and projects focusing on livestock, forestry and conservation. The document covers entry points, tools and methods, capacity building, gender information, linkages and institutionalization. Summarizes key lessons learned and gives a list of best practice guidelines.

Available at:
FAO, 1999. Participation and Information: The Key to Gender Responsive Agricultural Policy.

This document is a synthesis of several documents (including 10 case studies) which gives an overview of issues including: types of agricultural planning; tools and methods to analyse diversity; social and economic trends - impact on rural women's livelihoods and work. This document can be considered as a good introduction to the debate around policy making and planning.

Available at:

FAO, 2001. Socio Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) Irrigation Sector Guide

The purpose of the guide is to support participatory planning of irrigation schemes and the integration of socio-economic and gender issues in the planning process. The ultimate aim is to improve irrigation scheme performance, while strengthening the position of rural women and disadvantaged groups. SEAGA is an approach to development based on an analysis of the socio-economic factors and participatory identification of women’s and men’s priorities and potentials. The objective of the SEAGA approach is to close the gaps between what people need and what development delivers.

The SEAGA approach has three guiding principles:

1) Gender roles are key;

2) Disadvantaged people are priority;

3) Participation is essential.

The Irrigation Sector Guide Irrigation is just one piece of the complete SEAGA Package. Three Handbooks are available that describe specific tools. The “Field-level Handbook” is written for development practitioners who work directly with local communities. The “Intermediate-level Handbook” is for those who work in institutions and organizations that link macro-level policies to the field level, including government ministries, trade associations, educational and research institutions and civil society groups. The “Macro-level Handbook” is for planners and policy makers, at both national and international levels. All three handbooks draw upon the concepts and linkages described in detail in the “SEAGA Framework and Users Reference”.

Available at:

Hamdy A, 2002. Role of Gender Issues in Water Resources Management and Irrigated Agriculture, Proceedings of the CIHEAM/MAI.BARI Special Session in the First Regional Conference on Perspectives of Arab Water Cooperation: Challenges, Constraints and Opportunities, Cairo.

Jackson C, 1998. “Gender, irrigation and environment: Arguing for agency,” Agriculture and Human Values, 15, pp. 313-324.

Kabeer, N. and Tran Thi Van Anh, 2000. Leaving the Ricefields but not the Countryside:

Gender Livelihood Diversification and Pro-Poor Growth in Rural Vietnan, Occasional

Paper No. 13, Geneva: UNRISD.

Khadouja, M, 2005. Law, Gender and Irrigation Water Management, Faculté des Sciences Juridique, Politiques et Sociales, Ariana, Tunisia.

Van Koppen, B, 1998. More Jobs per Drop: Targeting Irrigation to Poor Women and Men. Amsterdam: The Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).

This book analyzes the role of governmental and non-governmental irrigation agencies in including or excluding poor men and especially poor women as right holders, using a review of literature from across the world plus two in-depth filed studies on irrigation support for rice cultivation. In Southwest Burkina Faso, where rice cultivation is a female cropping system, a state-financed rice valley development project is studied. In Bangladesh, where irrigated rice cultivation is a male cropping system, the focus is on NGO-supported ownership of private pumps by groups of functionally landless women who sell the water as well as using it to irrigate their own household land. This empirical basis is then used to identify factors that are critical to effective targeting of organizational, technical and financial support by agencies.

van Koppen, B, 1999. Sharing the Last Drop: Water Scarcity, Irrigation and Gendered Poverty Eradication, International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

van Koppen, B, 1999. “Targeting irrigation support to poor women and men,” International Journal of Water Resources Development, 15(1/2), pp.121-140.

van Koppen, B, 2002. A Gender Performance Indicator for Irrigation: Concepts Tools and Applications, IWMI Research Report 59, Colombo: IWMI.

van Koppen, B, 2003. Towards a Gender and Water Index, Colombo: IWMI, E-Conference Paper, Available at:

van Koppen, B. and S, Mahmud, 1996. Women and Water Pumps in Bangladesh: The impact of participation in irrigation groups on women’s status. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Koopman, J., Kweka, R., Mboya, M. and S.M. Wangwe, 2001. Community participation in traditional irrigation scheme rehabilitation projects in Tanzania: Report of a collaborative research project. Dar es Salaam: Irrigation Section, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

This report presents the results of a collaborative research project involving Irrigation Section staff, the Economic and Social Research Foundation of Dar es Salaam, and villagers in three research sites in Tanzania. The research aimed at learning how government and NGOs can better support community participation in the rehabilitation projects and in the formation of irrigators’ organizations. The research found compelling evidence that the participation of many different groups (men, women, owners, tenants) in the planning and implementation of rehabilitation projects and in the formation of irrigators’ organisations enhances the technical, social, economic and environmental sustainability of irrigation schemes. It also found that the costs and benefits of rehabilitation are very unevenly distributed among farmers, but village-led efforts to increase equity, especially by giving landless groups more secure access to land, can significantly increase participation in the rehabilitation and the operation of schemes, which in turns improves the prospects for their sustainability.

Lorenzo Cotula, 2002. Gender and Law: Women’s Rights in Agriculture, FAO Legislative Study No. 76.

This study analyses the gender dimension of agriculture-related legislation, examining the legal status of women in three key areas: rights to land and other natural resources; rights of women agricultural workers; and rights concerning women’s agricultural self-employment activities, ranging from women’s status in rural cooperatives to their access to credit, training and extension services.

Available at:
Lokur-Pangare, V, 1998. Gender Issues in Watershed Development and Management in India. Agricultural Research and Extension Network, Paper 38, London: Overseas Development Institute. Available at:

Merrey, D. and S. Baviskar, 1998. (eds.), Gender Analysis and Reform of Irrigation Management: Concepts, cases and gaps in knowledge, Colombo: IWMI.

Nirundon, Tapachai, 1990. Women’s participation in irrigation management: A case study of housewives in Huay Aeng Tank Irrigation Project, Thailand. (unpublished thesis)

Housewives have played important role in the irrigation management particularly in vegetable and dry season cropping. Housewives have an opportunity to manage irrigation water only when their husbands were absent. Recommendations were: To provide education and information to the farmer housewives on objectives of the irrigation project and importance of the role of farmers. The RID official should encourage the farmer housewives to participate more in the meeting on irrigation water use. Opportunity should be given to housewives to participate in decision making on irrigation management.

Available at: (Wageningen UR Library)

Patcharin, Laphanum, 1992. “Role of women in Northeast Thailand on water management: A case study at Banphua, Tambon Phralap, Amphoe Muang, Khon Kaen province, Khon Kaen University Journal, pp. 3-4. Available at: (Wageningen UR Library)
Razavi, S. (ed.) 2003. Agrarian Change, Gender and Land Rights, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing and Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

Sarkar, S, 2001. “Water Women” NewsReach, the in-house journal of PRADAN. Available from: PRADAN: 3, Community Centre, Niti Bagh, New Delhi 110 049, India,

E-mail: [also revised version in Ahmed, S. (ed.) 2005, Flowing Upstream: Empowering Women through Water Management Initiatives in India, Delhi: Foundation Books and Ahmedabad: Centre for Environment Education.
Schenk-Sandbergen, L. and O. Choulamany-Khamphoui, 1995. Women in Rice Fields and Offices: Irrigation in Laos – Gender-specific case studies in four villages, Heiloo.
Shah, A, 1998. “Developing Rainfed Agriculture: Implications for Women,’ in C. Datar (ed.) Nurturing Nature: Women at the Centre of Natural and Social Regeneration, Bombay: Earthcare Books.
Pulley, T.A., Lateef, S. and A. Shrestha, 2003. Building Gender Responsive Water User Associations in Nepal. Manila: ADB. Available at:
Sims-Feldstein, H. and Jiggins, J, 1994. (eds.), Tools for the Field: Methodologies Handbook for Gender Analysis in Agriculture. West Hartford: Kumarian Press.
Svendsen, M., Merrey, D.J. and T. Shah, no date. Hydro-politics in the developing world: A Southern Africa perspective.

Available online at: and

Zwarteveen, M. 1997. A Plot of One’s Own: Gender Relations and Irrigated Land Allocation Policies in Burkina Faso. Available at:

Zwarteveen, M. and R. Meinzen-Dick, 2001. “Gender and property rights in the commons: examples of water rights in South Asia,” Agriculture and Human Values, vol. 18, pp. 11-25.

van der Vleuten, N, 2001. “(Up)lifting water and women or lip service only? The gender dimension of a lift irrigation programme,” in R. K. Murthy (ed.) Building Women’s Capacities: Interventions in Gender Transformation, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Wilde V., 1999. “The Responsive Planner: A Framework for Participatory Gender Responsive Agricultural Development.

This document is part of FAO work based on analysis of lessons learned and the key weaknesses identified - that gender responsive agricultural planning is still limited to short term pilot projects with a strong focus on field level staff and methods. Policy makers and planners at macro levels have been neglected on the whole. The framework (draft) is based on best practices from public and private sectors.

Available at: or
Woroniuk, B. and J. Schalkwyk, 1998. Irrigation and Equality between Women and Men. Stockholm: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

This short ‘tip sheet’ or ‘briefing note’ highlights issues to look for when bringing a gender perspective to irrigation initiatives. It points out that a gender equality perspective is important in irrigation initiatives for at least three reasons:

1) Ensuring success of the initiative;

2) Ensuring environmental sustainability;

3) Ensuring that women benefit as well as men.

It documents a series of false, yet common, assumptions in irrigation planning and provides two concrete examples that demonstrate why attention to gender equality issues in important.

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