When Water Security Programmes Seek to Empower Women – A Case Study from Western Nepal
Women’s empowerment has been a key tenet of international water security programmes. Discourses on water envision that enhanced access to water resources can transform disempowered women into successful rural entrepreneurs. However, because such programmes often rely on simplistic representations of water, gender relations, and empowerment, they risk perpetuating and exacerbating gender inequalities.
Our study unpacks the storylines that drive water security interventions in the rural Global South, based on the case study of a donor-funded project in Nepal. The latter explicitly aimed at empowering women by improving their access to water for domestic and productive uses and by transforming women into rural entrepreneurs and grassroots leaders. We largely used qualitative methodologies, based on focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews with households and key informants. Fieldwork was conducted in two villages targeted by the programme located in two districts of Far-Western Nepal.
Our findings show that the gender myths and models that drive water security programmes, e.g. women as individual decision-makers and entrepreneurs, fail to adequately consider intra-household relationships and negotiations and the values that give meaning to women’s agency. Such programmes tend to perpetuate predominant gendered norms, practices and unequal power relationships within households and communities. We recommend that water security programmes rely on more nuanced and context-specific understandings of women’s empowerment that go beyond enhanced access to resources and agency to include knowledge, critical consciousness and values. It is also important that such initiatives involve men and women – rather than exclusively targeting women – and initiate critical reflections on gender roles and masculinities.
KeywordsWomen’s empowerment Water security programmes Development discourses Small-scale horticulture Nepal
The authors would like to thank the iDE team in Nepal and particularly Luke Colavito and Komal Pradhan in the Kathmandu office as well as Kalpana Dhital and Gambir Singh in the project regional office for their organisational and logistical support in conducting the study. A special thank you to Raj Kumar GC, a former member of the iDE team, for his help and the insightful discussions we had together.
The fieldwork in Kailali was greatly supported by Dhana Rawl and Sarita Kathayat in Kailali and Doti districts. We also acknowledge all the farmers who spent some of their time to provide us the core of the data used in this study.
We are also grateful to Barbara van Koppen, Stephanie Leder and two anonymous reviewers who provided insightful comments on the chapter.
- Batliwala S (2010) Chapter 10: Taking the power out of empowerment – an experiential account. In: Cornwall A, Eade D (eds) Deconstructing Development Discourse. Buzzwords and Fuzzwords. Practical Action Publishing in association with Oxfam GB, RugbyGoogle Scholar
- Clement F (2013) From water productivity to water security: a paradigm shift? In: Lankford BA, Bakker K, Zeitoun M, Conway D (eds) Water security: principles, perspectives and practices. Earthscan Publications, London, pp 148–165Google Scholar
- Coles A, Wallace T (2005) Gender, water and development. Berg, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- Cornwall A, Edström J (2014) Challenging patriarchy: unsettling men and masculinities. IDS Virtual Bulletin 5. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies. http://www.ids.ac.uk/publication/challenging-patriarchy-unsettling-men-and-masculinities. Accessed 27 Dec 2016
- Eco-Tech Consult (2004) Nepal smallholder market initiative (Nepal-SIMI). LalitpurGoogle Scholar
- Esplen E (2006) Engaging men in gender equality: positive strategies and approaches. Overview and Annotated Bibliography. Report prepared for Irish Aid. BRIDGE, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), BrightonGoogle Scholar
- Eyben R, Kabeer N, Cornwall A (2008) Conceptualising empowerment and the implications for pro poor growth: a paper for the DAC poverty network. Brighton, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)Google Scholar
- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) (2011) The state of food and agriculture: women in agriculture: closing the gender gap for development. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- Freire P (1970) Pedagogy of the opressed. Herder and Hered, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Freire P (1974) Education for critical consciousness. Seabury Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- GWA (Gender Water Alliance) and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) (2006). Resource guide: mainstreaming gender in water management. Version 2.1Google Scholar
- Hajer MJ (1995) The politics of environmental discourse: ecological modernization and the policy process. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) (2007) Gender and water. Securing water for improved rural livelihoods: the multiple-uses system approach. IFAD, RomeGoogle Scholar
- Joshi D (2005) Misunderstanding gender in water-addressing or reproducing exclusion. In: Coles A, Wallace T (eds) Gender, water and development. Berg Publishers, New York, pp 135–153Google Scholar
- Kabeer N (1994) Reversed realities: gender hierarchies in development, VersoGoogle Scholar
- Kabeer N, Subrahamanian R (1996) Institutions, Relations and Outcomes: Framework and tools for Gender Aware Planning. IDSGoogle Scholar
- Maharjan A, Bauer S, Knerr B (2012) Do rural women who stay behind benefit from male out-migration? A case study in the hills of Nepal. Gend Technol Dev 16:e249–e263Google Scholar
- Mikhail M, Yoder R (2008) Multiple use water service implementation in Nepal and India. experience and lessons for scale up. International Development Enterprises (IDE), the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), LakewoodGoogle Scholar
- O’Reilly K (2011) ‘They are not of this house’: the gendered costs of drinking water’s commodification. Econ Polit Wkly xlvi(18):49–55Google Scholar
- Sen A (1985) Well-being, agency and freedom: the Dewey lectures 1984. J Philos 82(4):169–221Google Scholar
- UNDP (2014) Human development report Nepal 2014Google Scholar
- UNFCO (2010) An overview of far western region of Nepal. United Nations Field Coordination Office, DadeldhuraGoogle Scholar
- UN-Water (2013) UN-Water factsheet on gender and water. http://www.unwater.org/fileadmin/user_upload/unwater_new/docs/water_and_gender.pdf. Accessed 26 Dec 2016
- World Bank (2012) World development report 2012: gender equality and development. World Bank, Washington, DC. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/4391. Accessed 17 May 2017Google Scholar
- WWAP (World Water Assessment Programme) (2012) The United Nations world water development report 4: managing water under uncertainty and risk. UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
- Zwarteveen MZ (2012) Gender, water and agrarian change: an introduction. In: Zwarteveen MZ, Ahmed S, Gautam SR (eds) Diverting the flow: gender equity and water in South Asia. Zubaan, New Delhi, pp 303–311Google Scholar