When Water Security Programmes Seek to Empower Women – A Case Study from Western Nepal

  • Floriane ClementEmail author
  • Emma Karki
Part of the Water Security in a New World book series (WSEC)


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.


Women’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.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Nepal officeKathmanduNepal

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