Gender and Water Resources in the Mediterranean
Juan Antonia Sagardoy, GEWAMED project manager

Gender mainstreaming and water resources: The problems - The actions of the project of gender mainstreaming in the development and management of water resources in the Mediterranena (GEWAMED)

The exploitation and management of water resources has been a constant challenge since the beginning of human civilization. In the last decades, all activities related to water resources (planning, development and management) have been the subject of great attention and a large body of knowledge has been developed. As part of this knowledge the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach was developed and has been widely promoted by international and national organizations for more than 15 years now. More recently, the notion that gender issues should be mainstreamed in IWRM has developed but for many people, including water professionals, this concept is not clear.

Gender mainstreaming and water resources: The problems
What does gender mainstreaming in water resources mean in practice? The most common perception of this problem is probably the image of a woman carrying a jar of water on her head. This is of course perceived as something that should be avoided. Although this image is a reality in some countries, there is much more than this in gender mainstreaming in water resources. Let us review some of the problems that are closely connected:

  • Access to land and water resources. Irrigated land is the main source of living for many rural populations. In some of the Mediterranean countries the inheritance laws discriminate women against men (women receive half of the land or no land at all). This is widely documented by a survey on “Law and Practice related to Women’s Inheritance Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region” carried out by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and other documents of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
  • Access to work in agriculture. There is a variety of connected problems in this area. It is also widely documented that women contribute as much as 50% of the work needed in farms (irrigated and not) and are rarely compensated for the work done. When women are paid, their wages are considerably lower than those of men. In some countries, or regions of a country, women are not allowed to do work in the field. Irrigation by women at the farm is often not permitted by traditions.
  • Access to domestic water supply. In most of the Mediterranean countries the access to domestic water supply is not a problem as coverage of domestic networks are close to 100% but there are still 3 countries where the coverage is less than 80% and therefore important pockets remain in the rural areas where the image of the woman carrying water is still a reality. Moreover, even when the access to domestic water is provided by watering points at the village level there are important problems related to how these watering points are managed and maintained.
  • Access to information and technologies. It is a sad reality that still many rural women in the Mediterranean region are illiterate. This in itself is a strong limitation for accessing information. But even when women are literate the modalities for providing information are not suitable (most of the extension workers are men) or the information is not addressed to the needs and possibilities of women.
  • Very limited representation of women in the participatory management of water resources. One of the pillars of IWRM is a more participative management of the water resource. The progress made in achieving this objective is modest in most of the MENA countries but even where water user associations are established women are hardly represented. In part, the problem arises from the inheritance laws but also due to traditions and lack of recognition of women’s work.
  • Scarce representation of women in the water institutions. Where the public sector is responsible for the development and management of water resources the presence of women at the decision making level is very low or absent although at the administrative and support services level this presence can be more substantial.

Unfortunately the list of problems does not end here but it is not the intention to make an exhaustive list but to show that there are important reasons justifying the need for making some substantial efforts to redress or correct some of the above mentioned situations.

The dimensions of some of the problems outlined before are very large and no single effort is in the position of tackling them simultaneously in an efficient manner. Therefore, there is a need to concentrate on some lines of action that, with the limited resources available, may provide higher returns.

The actions of the project of gender mainstreaming in the development and management of water resources in the Mediterranena (GEWAMED)
The GEWAMED (Gender Mainstreaming in Water Resources Development and Management in the Mediterranean Region) project is trying to contribute to the solution of some of the outlined issues. In effect it is engaged in three strategic lines of action:

1. Create a greater awareness about some of these problems and identify others that have not been so clear or obvious so far.

2. Establish cooperation networks at regional and national level that allow a more fluid exchange of information to identify positive experiences and possible actions addressed to disseminate them.

3. Contribute to the adoption of policies and other decision making instruments that will correct some of the above mentioned situations.

In one way or another all the three lines of action try to promote a greater dialogue among the concerned stakeholders in order to promote actions that may change the existing unsatisfactory situation.

The GEWAMED project is a consortium of 18 organizations from 14 Mediterranean countries: 5 EU countries and 11 from South East Mediterranean Region (SEMR). The consortium itself represents a network of government, universities, research and NGOs institutions with different backgrounds and experiences. To strengthen the linkages among partners and to develop common knowledge annual regional workshops are organized. The exchange of experiences and increased collaboration already represents an important step towards the construction of a body of common knowledge.

In addition, every country of the SEMR is establishing national networks where the main stakeholders are represented. These national committees are not only an important vehicle for exchanging information but promoting actions connected to the project objectives.

To create greater awareness and disseminate project results the project uses several communications means that include:

* Participation in international and national conferences
* Organization of national seminars and workshops
* Field days
* Development of Regional and National websites
* Publications, brochures, posters and others

To contribute to the adoption of more gender oriented policies, in the third year of implementation the project will undertake several national policy seminars presenting the project activities and results to stimulate decision makers to take specific actions identified during the working session of the seminars. Other institutional changes are promoted through the established cooperation. For instance, the establishment of a National Observatory for Rural Women Entrepreneurs in Lebanon is under promotion with the support of the Italian Government.

For further information about the GEWAMED project consult the Regional website:

Adaptation of the article “Promoting gender mainstreaming in Water Resources Management in the Mediterranean Region: The GEWAMED project” by Juan Antonio Sagardoy, GEWAMED Project Manager.

Credit: Barbara Tomassini