Nerina Muzurovic and Audrey Nepveu de Villemarceau
Women and water governance was the topic of the well-attended panel discussion "Water governance in the Near East and North Africa (NENA): A policy debate on tenure, equity and gender."
Held as part of the 42nd meeting of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome on 14 October 2015, the side event explored the impacts of water scarcity in NENA region, and the role institutions can play in giving women more rights to key natural resources (land and water) as well as opportunities to exercise these rights.
NENA is the most water-stressed region in the world with 609 m3 of water available per capita per year. By 2045, this area will experience an expected water deficit of 60 per cent, owing to the combined effect of rapid population growth and climate change. What will the region look like by 2050? How can society and communities be prepared to adapt to this change? What present practices do we need to change? These were some of the key questions that emerged at the panel discussion.
Why look at water governance through a gender lense?
Many factors make women well-adapted to play a role in water management. As men increasingly leave degraded rural areas to look for jobs in urban centers, women are left behind. The percentage of women in the agriculture labour force has risen sharply, faster than in any other region in the world. As a result, women are affected first — and most — by water scarcity and flooding, and tend to be gravely impacted by poor water management. But women also increasingly hold the decision-making positions that were traditionally occupied by men.
However, the specific needs and priorities of women as farmers and agricultural water users are still not reflected enough in sector policies, legal frameworks and programmes. If women could participate on an equal basis in decision-making processes about water use and management, women's contribution to agricultural production would ultimately increase. Ultimately, we believe this would lead to better food security and nutrition as well as more sustainable management of water resources.
Because rural women have local ecological, social and political knowledge, they can both inform and contribute significantly to solving water-scarcity problems. Hence maximizing the role of rural women in water governance and food security is essential.
Work by FAO and others demonstrates that water access and use are not only influenced by infrastructure, rainfall and geography. In fact, social, political and economic power relations within and among countries are just as important. "For women, access to water is always mediated, either by technology or by society", said Nicoline de Haan, Senior Researcher, CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. In the context of water scarcity, women's capacity to access water depends on a system of power relations, and existing access rights. Interventions should look into enabling women to fully engage in local development processes.
"Strengthening water governance for agriculture and food security for women" means adopting an effective problem-solving approach to develop policies and strengthen institutions that are accepted by all relevant stakeholders.
Tarek Kotb, Country Programme Manager, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division, IFAD, presented some experiences from the field that have had a positive impact on women's empowerment, when it comes to tackling the issue of water governance and food security in the region. These projects illustrate ways in which women are taking on new roles to tackle water-related issues, including adequate management of natural resources (WSRMP, Sudan); rain-water harvesting (ACRMP, Yemen); drip irrigation (WNRDP, Egypt); and grey water management (ARMP-II, Jordan).
Overall, exchanges with the audience allowed the panel to identify the following challenges for the coming years:
- Documentation is generally missing to understand the challenges women face, and which tools and approaches would be the most appropriate to address these. Here, research has a definite role to play.
- Currently "women" tend to be considered as a homogenous group. Research can play an important role in correcting this idea. In fact, women constitute a diverse group. Thus they are also diverse water users, who face diverse challenges.
- Institutional changes, including the corresponding regulatory mechanisms, are required for local institutions to include greater gender equality, so that women can better engage in multi-stakeholder processes.
- Implementing meaningful participation processes will be essential to empower women to take on decision-making positions.
- Climate change will create additional social tensions and imbalances for women. In particular, the increased climate variability may negatively impact their resilience capacity.
- Responsible investments are needed to bring about sustainable changes. Elements of success that were identified relate to: building on political willingness and adequate incentives; mobilizing local champions; reaching out to the private sector; and empowering civil society to play its role.
Pictures from the event
Transforming desert land into a profitable fruit oasis
Improving Food Security in Arab Countries - WB, IFAD, FAO 2009
FAO - THE STATE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 2010-2011 - WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE: Closing the gender gap for development
Near East and North Africa's Water Scarcity Initiative
Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries - A Case for Adaptation Governance in Building Climate Resilience - WB 2012
Blog on water rights: Taking the lead or imposing inequity?
Reinforcing gender equity
Blog on why women need indicators: Spotlight on measuring women's empowerment at the Milan Expo
FAO Committee on Agriculture - 2014 Report on Water Governance for Food Security and Nutrition
2015 Report of the High Level Panel of Experts on "Water for Food Security"