Gender Issues in Water User Associations in China: A Case Study in Gansu Province

By Caizhen, Lu | Rural Society, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Gender Issues in Water User Associations in China: A Case Study in Gansu Province


Caizhen, Lu, Rural Society


Abstract

The World Bank imported the concept of Water User Association (WUA) to China in 1994, promoting participatory irrigation management in China to address the increasing scarcity of water resources. The purpose was to involve rural communities in water use and management in a more equitable, fair, effective and sustainable way. This has led to the widespread transfer of irrigation management responsibility from the state to the villages and local water groups; Water User Associations have been set up in many places as autonomous organizations through which villagers manage water. As of the end of 2006, 30,000 Water User Associations had been established in China.

Women in rural areas have increasing responsibilities both in agriculture and domestic water use because men are migrating for work. Case studies for several villages in Gansu Province show that women's participation in the new Water User Associations is minimal. The implications of this gender difference for effective and equitable water management have been largely ignored.

The main objective of the study is to examine gender issues in water management and WUA and to recommend changes of attitude and behaviour. Gender-sensitive policies are required to achieve more effective, efficient and equitable water resources management.

Keywords

Rural, gender, water, Water user associations, Asia, China

Received 5 March 2008 Accepted 6 May 2008

Introduction

Women's status has improved greatly since the establishment of the New China. Chairman Mao advocated equality between men and women, 'woman holds half of the sky', 'woman can do what man can do', and 'man and woman are equal in the new era'. 'Women and men have equal rights' was also put into the Constitution. In these changes, the emphasis was more on the physical side and the masculine side, i.e. meaning that women could do the same jobs as men. Women were encouraged to behave like men and the biological differences between women and men were ignored. This was a period that presumed the disappearance of gender roles. Nevertheless, women still had (and have) fewer opportunities than men to participate in decision-making processes. Gender issues still exist in China. Thus the promotion of gender equality and empowerment women, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals signed in Millennium Declaration in September, 2000, is very relevant in China. Realizing gender equality and women's empowerment is viewed by the United Nations Development Programme as one of the biggest challenges facing China.

It is widely recognized that women are playing increasingly important roles in Chinese agriculture and in rural areas, both in production and non-production work. With men leaving rural areas for work in the cities, women are playing increasing roles as water users, both in irrigation and domestically, though they have neither equitable access to water nor a fair influence on the management of water. There is inequitable division of power between and women and men in decision-making, work, access to and control of water as a scarce natural resource.

The roles women play and the gender issues in Chinese irrigated agriculture generally have been ignored. There is much research on gender and natural resources management elsewhere, but this has not been the subject of much study in China. This paper seeks to fill this gap, especially by investigating the links between gender and water in decision-making in the Water User Associations (WUA), and in particular the gender issues in irrigation in Mingtian County, Tianma Municipality, Gansu Province, China (Figure 1).

Research methodology

A multilevel approach was used which comprised: (1) a review of water management laws, regulations and documents relevant to social issues, economic development and water management of the pilot areas and international practice; WUA Constitutions, the election method of farmer's WUA, meetings records, etc. …

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