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Eiman Karar 
Women’s voices still not heard in water management structures

While the South African national water policy and legislative framework emphasises the principle of equity with reference to race and gender, there is still a challenge to implement the policy at various levels of water management. A study conducted to assess gender equity in six Water User Associations (WUAs) based in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces found that there was poor representation of women in these key water decision-making structures.

Although the study commissioned by the WRC in 2009 only covered two provinces, the findings on the participation of women in the management committees of Water User Associations, i.e. Mutale, Mutshimbwe, Nzhelele, Middle Letaba (Limpopo), Bushmans River and Imfunda YoPhongola (KZN), confirmed the common experiences of many rural women.

According to Dr Mjoli most women were recruited to join the management committees of WUAs to meet the 50% gender quotas set by the political leadership. WUAs that failed to meet gender quotas could not be approved for establishment.

The South African national water policy and legislative framework is under-pinned by the principle of equity. This puts an obligation on Government to ensure that the past imbalances in the access and control of water resources are redressed as a priority. It recognizes the importance of women’s voices in water management structures.

To put this to effect, the National Water Act of 1998 makes provision for the establishment of Water User Associations (WUAs) as vehicles for achieving poverty reduction and gender equity. It is believed that the participation of women in water management could improve their status by giving them a voice in decisions on use and allocation of water resources.

According to Ms Eiman Karar, Executive Manager at the WRC, this should be demonstrated by enhancing women’s access to land and water rights since these natural resources are essential for productive use of water and improvement in livelihoods of the poor, both men and women. The voting power within the WUAs is still determined by the ownership of water rights, therefore, members who do not own any water rights could not influence decisions on water use and allocation.

The study showed that women were not getting any economic benefits from their involvement in WUAs because they did not own land and water rights in their individual capacity. Men who owned land and water rights had the power to influence the decisions on the allocation of water resources. Women interviewed for the study indicated that their participation in Management Committees (MANCO) of WUAs had provided them with an opportunity to learn about water resource management and also to learn from the experience of other members of MANCO.

Even though the democratic Government of South Africa has put in place very well thought out policies and legislation for creating a gender equitable society, there is a problem in understanding and translating these policies into practice. Amongst the findings of the study was that the top-down approach of establishing WUAs for poor Black farmers was not in line with the vision of the National Water Act, which envisaged  a bottom-up process driven by water users for their mutual benefit

In addition, there was a general lack of understanding of the concept of gender equality and gender mainstreaming within government departments which led to a narrow focus on gender quotas without creating the enabling environment for women to succeed. “The historical racial and gender inequalities have led to a situation where poor rural Black women are the most disadvantaged groups in our society. Their low education levels, poor access to information and lack of knowledge prevent them from participating meaningfully in democratic processes,” says Karar. “Therefore any initiative that aims to promote gender equality must ensure that these constraints are removed, otherwise poor rural women will continue to be passive members of committees recruited to meet gender quotas”.

 For more information on the press release contact:  Hlengiwe Cele   012 330 9006, Cell: 083 266 9781 or email hlengiwec@wrc.org.za. The WRC Report no: KV 219/09 can be downloaded from the WRC website www.wrc.org.za .



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