Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 337–345 | Cite as

Gendered participation in water management: Issues and illustrations from water users‘ associations in South Asia

  • Ruth Meinzen-Dick
  • Margreet Zwarteveen


The widespread trend to transferirrigation management responsibility from the stateto “communities” or local user groups has byand large ignored the implications ofintra-community power differences for theeffectiveness and equity of water management. Genderis a recurrent source of such differences. Despitethe rhetoric on women‘s participation, a review ofevidence from South Asia shows that femaleparticipation is minimal in water users‘organizations. One reason for this is that theformal and informal membership criteria excludewomen. Moreover, the balance between costs andbenefits of participation is often negative forwomen because complying with the rules and practicesof the organization involves considerable time costsand social risks, whereas other ways to obtainirrigation services may be more effective for femalewater users. Although effective, these other andoften informal ways of obtaining irrigation servicesare also typically less secure. More formalparticipation of women can strengthen women‘sbargaining position as resource users withinhouseholds and communities. Greater involvement ofwomen can also strengthen the effectiveness of theorganization by improving women‘s compliance withrules and maintenance contributions. Furtherdetailed and comparative research is required toidentify the major factors that affect women‘sparticipation and control over resources, ifdevolution policies are to address the tensionbetween objectives of transferring control overresources to community institutions, and ensuringthe participation of all members of the community,especially women.

Gender Participation Water user associations 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Meinzen-Dick
    • 1
  • Margreet Zwarteveen
    • 2
  1. 1.International Food Policy Research InstituteWashington, DCUSA
  2. 2.IIMIColomboSri Lanka

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