Women and Water Management

January 4, 1998

Participation of women in water planning and management is an important issue. However, globally the discussions on women and water use and management have thus far been almost exclusively dominated by the gender specialists. Senior women water managers and decision-makers have generally refrained from participating in such discussions for a variety of reasons. As a part of an overall process to address this issue comprehensively, a forum for senior water decision-makers and professionals from the various Latin American countries was organised so that their collective views and experiences could be ascertained.

A workshop was organised in Mexico City earlier, on the “Contributions of women to the planning and management of water resources in Latin America.” Organised with the support of SIDA, GWP, IICA and IWMI, the workshop was primarily restricted to senior water decision-makers and professionals from the region, who were carefully selected and invited to participate in their personal capacities. Only about 10 percent of the participants were gender specialists. The workshop participants noted that in Latin America more women are currently working as decision-makers, managers, and researchers in water-related issues than in other regions of the world.

The main issue identified by the participants was not discrimination faced by women to become senior decision-makers, as is often repeated by the gender specialists in the past, but rather women had, for whatever reasons, decided not to enter the engineering profession, which is an essential prerequisite for attaining senior ranks in the water profession. The situation in many Latin American countries are likely to change significantly during the coming years, since the number of women undertaking engineering education has increased dramatically in many Latin American countries during the past decade.

For example, in Panama, the percentage of female engineering students has increased from 2% in early 1970s to 46% at present. Similarly, in Brazil, the number of women students studying water resources engineering has increased by 40% during the past decade alone. Current analyses indicate that this trend is likely to increase even further in the coming years. The Mexico City Forum was followed by a Workshop during the Stockholm Water Symposium in August 1998 on the “Contributions of women in the field of water management”.

During this Workshop, it was noted that water development and gender are two priority issues in the agendas of most international organisations. Unfortunately, however, the gender issues for the most part are receiving lip-service: concrete operational activities are mostly missing. GWP, a co-sponsor of both the Stockholm and Mexico Workshops, is interested not in dogmas, but in supporting the development and implementation of concrete project proposals on how to improve and increase the role of women in the water sector. In spite of the specific request made by Dr. Jonch Clausen at Stockholm, not even a single concrete proposal emerged on how to increase or improve the participation of women in the water sector.

The book based on the specially commissioned papers of the Mexico City Workshop and its results has been published by Oxford University Press, with Cecilia Tortajada as the Editor. The selected peer-reviewed papers from the Stockholm Workshop have also been published as a Special Issue (December 1998) of the International Journal of Water Resources Development. Together, they are likely to contribute significantly to the continuing debate in this important but complex area. The Centre also organised a special session on professional women and water management during the Second World Water Forum in The Hague in March 2000 With the support of InWEnt (Capacity Building International, Germany), the Centre carried out additional research on women and water management in the Middle East and North African countries, with main emphasis on Morocco. The results of the study on Morocco have been published in Water International: Professional Women and Water Management: Case study from Morocco, by Cecilia Tortajada (October 2003).