Water security
without gender
equality will not work

For decades, IWMI’s research has shown that we will not be able to achieve key development goals unless water systems investments, innovations and interventions support gender equality and social inclusion (GESI), especially in rural areas. As the multiple challenges of food, land and water systems sustainability converge, combining innovation with gender equality is a must to ensure systems deliver key benefits over time.

Building up women’s collective decision-making power in Nepal

In a project supported by Water for Women and Australian Aid, IWMI has explored how gender relationships and power dynamics influence the sustainability and functionality of domestic water supply systems in Nepal.

Despite having the responsibility for ensuring household water supply, women usually do not have substantial decision-making power in the design, operation and maintenance of water supply systems.

Nepal has shifted to a decentralized framework of governance and has used a GESI approach to ensure 40% representation of women across federal, district and local governance levels. Nevertheless, IWMI’s research in Nepal shows that beyond their representation, much remains to be done to achieve effective engagement of women in water and sanitation governance. Attitudes and mindsets have not changed, and elected male leaders perceive women’s representation to be tokenistic. Women who have been elected as representatives are invited to attend meetings, but their voices are rarely heard.

Research conducted by IWMI in the rural municipality of Gurans in Dailekh district highlighted the challenges to transformative change. It revealed that before women can have greater representation, there must be stronger coalitions and coordination of women leaders to enable a more collective presence, voice and agency.

Building up women’s collective power over community water security will play a central role in ensuring future system sustainability and, ultimately, the resilience of rural communities affected by the climate emergency.

Supporting refugees’ nutrition in East Africa

More than 2.2 million South Sudanese have fled their homes in recent conflicts and live as refugees in Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. Many carried seeds, including okra, with them as they escaped their home areas. Okra is a nutritious part of their diets and culturally important in maintaining a sense of food and identity. However, settlements and camps where the refugees find sanctuary are frequently in areas where the soils are poor and water for cultivation is limited.

IWMI and World Agroforestry (ICRAF) are leading a resource recovery and reuse project to support households in the reuse of domestic wastewater on new home gardens in six refugee settlements and their surrounding host communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. In the Rhino Camp of northern Uganda, for example, refugee households can generate 14 liters per person per day of greywater, which is sufficient to keep a small okra patch thriving during the dry season.

This project underscores how water reuse has the potential to address the intimately connected issues of gender, food and nutrition in complex refugee situations. With these communities consisting largely of refugee women and children from many cultural backgrounds, our work pays particular attention to ensuring a gender-responsive approach across the project life cycle. Lessons learned on the dynamics of gender integration in displaced and vulnerable communities have resulted in a gender integration approach that can be applied across diverse programs.

Women’s roles in wastewater management

IWMI implements the ReWater MENA project in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to support safe water reuse practices that can improve food safety, health and livelihoods. As more farmers rely on water reuse for irrigation, there is an alarming inconsistency in the quality of treated drainage water. The gendered implications of these challenges remain poorly understood.

Gender-based social norms in the MENA region exclude women from water governance, management and decision-making processes. In collaboration with Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society, the project conducted focus group discussions in Iraq al-Amir, in the North Jordan Valley. These discussions assessed the attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and experiences of both women and men regarding treated wastewater reuse. During the dialogues, women expressed a clear need and interest to be more effectively engaged in wastewater access, use and decision-making.

Building on these findings, in Jordan, ReWater MENA is working with partners to improve women’s access to essential information, including procedures and protocols for wastewater reuse. The project is exploring new ways of employing women in the water reuse and sanitation sectors. This opens opportunities for women to be part of identifying and deciding on appropriate water reuse options, and ensuring full compliance with reuse rules in order to protect themselves, their households and the environment.

ReWater MENA, with support from the CGIAR GENDER Platform, also conducted research in Kafr El Sheikh, Egypt, to analyze the gender-power dynamics at the tail end of irrigation networks. Focus group discussions and in-depth case studies demonstrated how an increase in women’s work in irrigated agriculture enables persistence of patriarchal structures including control over access to resources. The case studies document how landless women use water reuse practices to irrigate fields through sharecropping arrangements. Yet, the women rarely make any profits, are excluded from water decision-making, and are exposed to multiple health risks.

The case studies recommend more inclusive irrigation practices, which put the health, social and well-being of the poorest groups of farmers at the heart of new investments, innovations and interventions. This recommendation aligns with the current national initiative Haya Karima, which recognizes the need to put human well-being, dignity and the rights of Egyptian citizens above all other goals.

IWMI places gender equality and the empowerment of women center stage in transforming lives and livelihoods. We see gender equality and long-term water security as intimately connected – one is not possible without the other. Working closely with local partners, the findings of our research will continue to push for actions that lead to truly gender transformative change.