Engaging with Gender in Water Governance and Practice in Kenya

  • Chinwe Ifejika SperanzaEmail author
  • Edward Bikketi
Part of the Water Security in a New World book series (WSEC)


How water is distributed, who has access and can make decisions on its use depends on various social, structural and institutional factors, among them gender. This paper examines the extent to which water–related policies and plans of the Kenyan government engage with gender. It analyses how the framing conditions set by the policies and plans affect the management of community water groups in Laikipia, and assesses whether the community water groups through their activities reduce gender inequality in access to water and in decision making about water-use. It uses a gender analytical framework that identifies three levels of engagement, whereby engagement occurs in a continuum: (1) gender mainstreaming, (2) the experience of gender in terms of addressing practical and strategic gender needs, and (3) the degrees of action to reduce gender inequality. We find that the Kenyan public policy has institutionalised various measures to reduce gender inequality, a major strategy being to limit the representation of either men or women to two-thirds in any governance arrangement. This means a 30% minimum representation of women. This top-down structural measure has permeated government ministries, departments and agencies and has become a precondition for government practice and interventions, including the water sector. By being an obligation, it is transformative in that it changes the way governance has been conducted prior to the policy change and serves as a benchmark for practice within and outside government. Bound by the water governance arrangements of the government, most community water groups have had to adopt the “two-thirds gender rule”. This policy measure has thus trickled down to local water governance. However, achieving strategic gender goals remains a challenge, highlighting how gender mainstreaming is inadequate to completely reduce gender inequality. Additional efforts are needed to change socio-cultural beliefs and norms to support a more gender-equitable access to water. Furthermore, an analysis of the community water groups highlight that financial capability may be a stronger factor than gender in determining men and women’s access to water in Laikipia, Kenya. Thus in addition to addressing socio-cultural beliefs and norms, there is a need to explore the intersections of gender and capabilities, and the roles they play in reducing gender inequality in water use and governance.


Water governance Kenya Community water groups Inequality Gender mainstreaming 



The authors are grateful to the Volkswagen Foundation for funding this study in the framework of the research project on ‘Semi-Arid Areas in Transition’ under the programme ‘Knowledge for Tomorrow – Cooperative Research Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa’ [grant number I/83732]. We would also like to thank CETRAD staff for the support and logistics, especially during data collection. We thank Roger Cremades, Timothy Adams and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of GeographyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT-Nairobi)NairobiKenya

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