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

By Caizhen, Lu | Rural Society, December 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

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


Caizhen, Lu, Rural Society


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., in villages; (2) discussions and interviews with provincial, municipal, county, township and administrative village or community level officials and staff, WUA director or deputy director; (3) focus group discussions with village or community men's groups and women's groups, WUA executive members and representatives; (4) household and individual interviews; and (5) non-participant observation. The gender and water use assessments were done in Village Z and Village X, in September, 2005 and Village Z and Village W in August 2007, all in Mingtian County, Tianma Municipality, Gansu Province, China. Qualitative content analysis was used to deconstruct the data source.

The research area

The research area, Mingtian County, is located northeast of Hexi Corridor in Tianma Municipality, Gansu Province. The population was 307,200 in 2004, and 48.9% were women. The male to female ratio is 1.06:1. Water shortage, overuse of groundwater and desertification are threatening people's way of living in Mingtian County, where the water table now drops 0.5-1 meter each year. The water table has decreased by 20 meters in Mingtian in the last 20 years.

The government has encouraged migration and resettlement elsewhere, to reduce the pressure of population on the environment, and more and more people are migrating. Mingtian County Government plans to resettle 100,000-150,000 people in the 20 years from 2006-2026, but the people themselves are in a dilemma over whether to stay or to migrate. …

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