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Women Empowerment and Water Conservation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

By: Kasvi Singh | Date: 29th November 2020

Over the last few decades, researchers across the world have emphasized on the role of gender equality in achieving development outcomes. Women empowerment has emerged as a leading path towards socio-economic upliftment of households and communities.

While on the surface of feminist movements lies the wellbeing of women, these movements may deeply transform the way in which societies and economies function as a whole.

As we talk about giving voice to women’s opinion, it is essential to highlight their role as decision makers in the management of natural resources such as water. Recent studies highlight the positive impact that women participation can play on conservation of natural resources.

While Joint Forest Management (JFM) efforts have witnessed greater participation of women over the past few years, water governance and conservation lack a similar response.

A simple question that one may ask is, why do water governing associations necessarily need more women representatives? It is safe to assume that women, especially in the rural areas, are more affected by matters pertaining to water.

Women in rural areas form a significant part of the agricultural labor force, a sector that captures a major proportion of water consumption. Women in villages also spend substantial time on fetching water from wells and water bodies.

This not only affects adult women, but also young girls who are forced to walk long distances to get access to clean drinking water, affecting their education and social development.

However, despite the direct link between gender and water, women continue to be under-represented in local water management institutions. Even when they do belong these organizations, their participation in actual decision making may be limited due to social restrictions such as male-dominated households and lower literacy levels of women.

Members of the rural communities often do not perceive women as leaders and influencers. Lack of formal property rights for women may also translate into lack of their rights on other natural resources such as water.

These factors hinder women from utilizing their expertise and experience in water related matters to pursue more effective and efficient conservation strategies.

Recommendations for the way ahead:

  • Recognize the relevance of improving women’s involvement in local decision making bodies.
  • Bring gender at the forefront of water policies, both at local and national levels.
  • Strengthen formal and institutional property rights to ensure security of access to women.
  • Invest in the social development of youth and future generations to rectify traditional, age-old biases against women.
  • Promote capacity building of women engaged in agriculture to encourage efficient utilization of water resources in irrigation and farming activities.
  • Remove institutional barriers which restrict the role of women to administrative and non-decision making tasks.

Thus, policies and programs must emphasize on gender concerns and improving gender ratios in local governance bodies to encourage an equitable role of women in the conservation of water.