Women Working on the Water Front

By Haggart, Kelly | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Women Working on the Water Front


Haggart, Kelly, Women & Environments International Magazine


© International Development Research Centre 2010

BELOW, SEEMA KULKARNI REFLECTS ON A RECENT SURVEY SHE HELPED COORDINATE OF FEMALE PROFESSIONALS EMPLOYED IN THE WATER SECTOR IN SOUTH ASIA. THE RESEARCHERS IN BANGLADESH, INDIA, NEPAL, PAKISTAN, AND SRI LANKA FOUND THAT, IN MOST CASES, WOMEN HELD ABOUT 5% OF TECHNICAL JOBS IN GOVERNMENT WATER DEPARTMENTS.

The idea behind the survey was to look at the composition and organizational culture of the water bureaucracy in South Asia, and the constraints women face to be part of it. For a start, few women opt to study civil engineering, hydrology, or geology. The association of "hard sciences" with men is still strong, and the social aspects related to water are not considered "water knowledge." This in itself determines the composition of the bureaucracy, which tends to be made up of male civil engineers who are hard-core believers in hard facts.

The study was an eye-opener in many ways, and the findings were clear. Very few women work as engineers in South Asian water departments. Most are in administrative jobs. Those women who do work as engineers are low down in the hierarchy. In Maharashtra, for example, we found only two or three women in high-level roles. The situation could change to some extent, at least in Maharashtra, where a quota has recently been introduced stipulating that 30% of new government hires should be women.

However, the internal culture of the water sector is not conducive to women entering it or functioning effectively within it. Forget about daycare centers in the office - even basic amenities, such as a toilet, were lacking for women in most of these water departments.

Social Side of Water

The point is that water knowledge should not be seen as revolving only around engineering - there is a social side as well. …

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