Women and Agricultural Water Resource Management a Pathway towards Obtaining Gender Equality

By Njie, Ndey-Isatou; Ndiaye, Tacko | UN Chronicle, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Women and Agricultural Water Resource Management a Pathway towards Obtaining Gender Equality


Njie, Ndey-Isatou, Ndiaye, Tacko, UN Chronicle


Women are important stakeholders in agriculture water management--they play a key role in water and land conservation, rainwater harvesting, and watershed management. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 925 million people are undernourished and food production would have to increase by 70 per cent to feed a population of 9 billion people by 2050. Of the 1.5 billion hectares of cropland worldwide, a mere 277 million hectares is irrigated land, with the remaining 82 per cent being rain-fed land. (1) Women play an important role in both irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture, and a larger number of women than men are engaged in rain-fed agriculture producing two thirds of the food in most developing countries. (2) According to the latest FAO estimates, (3) women account for an average of 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries but in spite of this, water policies related to agriculture continue to wrongly assume that farmers are men, thus marginalizing women in water resource management.

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The importance of involving both men and women in the management of water including agricultural water and ensuring equitable access to and control over water resources have been overwhelmingly recognized by the international community. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action called for governments to promote knowledge and research on the role of women, particularly rural and indigenous women, in irrigation and watershed management and sanitation. The Political Declaration and Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, adopted in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, highlighted the vital role played by women in environmental management, their equal participation in decision-making related to water resources management and the reduction in women's and girls' workloads. Recently, the Rio+20 outcome document further stressed the commitment to the progressive realization of access to safe and affordable drinking water for all as necessary for poverty eradication, women's empowerment and the protection of human health. The document highlighted the need to significantly improve the implementation of integrated water resource management at all levels as appropriate.

Other key policy processes that have stressed the centrality of women in water resources management include the 1977 United Nations Water Conference at Mar del Plata, the 1981-1990 International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade, the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment in Dublin and the 2002 Johannesburg Plan for Implementation. The resolution establishing the International Decade for Action, Water for Life (2005-2015), also calls for women's participation and involvement in water-related development efforts. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ratified by 187 countries emphasized the right of women to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to water supply, housing and sanitation. The Platform for Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development also underlined the linkages among women's low status, water deprivation and poverty. The General Assembly resolution, "The improvement of the situation of women in rural areas", adopted in November 2011, urged Member States to promote access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation to improve the health of rural women and children.

It is generally perceived that the gender gap in agricultural water resource management arises from the gender division of labour and gender norms in society, which allocate many water-related responsibilities to women while conferring most water-related powers and rights to men. Indeed, studies from 45 developing countries show that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in 76 per cent of households. In 12 per cent of households children carry the main responsibility for collecting water, with girls under 15 years of age twice as likely to carry this responsibility as boys under the same age. …

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