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 Eiman Karar 
World Water Week launch of Gender and Water Policies in Africa:Synthesis Report

African countries are still lagging behind in the implementation of gender policies and women's participation in water management structures is still not valued.  A study that was verbally presented at the Gender Conference held in East London in 2014 has been published in a booklet launched during the Stockholm Water Week 2015.

The study was jointly funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) main office in Stockholm through the Southern Africa office. The study was conducted by the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Pretoria. The booklet was launched by Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the WRC, Mr Rudolph Cleveringa, GWP Acting Executive Secretary, Mr Bai Maas Taal, AMCOW’s Executive Secretary, Eiman Karar, WRC Executive Manager and the GWP Chair Ursula Schaefer-Preuss.

According to the AMCOW Secretary General, Bai Maas Taal, the purpose of this gender and water policy study was to examine the extent to which the AMCOW gender policy and strategy has been implemented in national states as well as in transboundary river basin agreements on the African continent. The study offers important insight to furthering the AMCOW gender strategy and member states are encouraged to review and seriously consider the findings.

A team of researchers under the leadership of Professor Elaine Salo (UP) conducted this investigation in seven African countries of West, North, Central, Southern and East Africa. The findings, however, showed that five countries (14%) out of the total sample of 35 countries had not initiated any gender mainstreaming in governance in general or in the water sector; 12 countries (34%) were in the first stage of gender mainstreaming implementation while 15 countries (43%) were in Stage Two. Only 2 countries (6%), South Africa and Seychelles, were in an advanced stage of gender mainstreaming and showed signs of institutionalizing the practice in the water governance sector.

While commenting on the research findings, Prof Salo said, “Our findings indicate that political stability, a strong commitment to economic growth with poverty reduction as well as the constitutional commitment to sex or gender equality and the endorsement of international and continental gender and gender-in-water protocols provide the necessary minimum requirements to initiate gender mainstreaming”. Prof Salo further noted that countries that are war torn, such as Somalia, the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali, with fragile and fractious state institutions, are unable to begin to address gender inequalities effectively. In Mali, for example, the initial progress in gender mainstreaming in the water sector, that had until 2012 included some gendering of monitoring and evaluation in water, was disrupted when a coup d’état was declared.  

Appreciating the study the South African Minister of Water and Sanitation, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane said, "As part of a sustainable programme to improve the participation of women in the water sector, the Department has put an effort in identifying projects of excellence that are driven by women within their communities to be recognised at the Annual Women in Water Awards. The purpose of the awards has helped in encouraging and involving women to come up with new innovative means to help save water”.

Mr Naidoo said, “It is important to view the three gender needs; equity, economic and practical needs, not in isolation to other sectors like access to land and security thereof and human rights. The right to food and water become meaningless if access to arable land coupled with access to water for productive purposes is not planned for and budgeted for adequately with women’s inputs into government’s programmes”.

The research team found that gender mainstreaming policy initiatives are in danger of being dropped from the national water agenda when states are faced with budget cuts or donor funding is discontinued. This happens when the benefits of such policy initiatives are not yet seen, because gender mainstreaming is poorly understood, or poorly articulated across the related water sectors. Gender is then considered to be an unaffordable policy non-essential.

In most of the countries investigated, women’s representation in decision-making processes is insufficient to ensure effective progress in gender mainstreaming unless accompanied by training and capacitation, especially of the relevant bureaucrats in the national WASH sector and the Women’s Ministry sector. In countries such as Djibouti, Republic of Congo and Senegal, women’s representation in national government is not effectively articulated with women’s participation in local water user associations.

The study further found that gender budget training and implementation are rare except in a few cases such as Egypt, Morocco and the Seychelles.  For example gender budgeting was discontinued in South Africa in the late 1990s as state expenditure was cut. In most countries capacity in gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting are dependent upon donor funding and occur sporadically. In cases such as South Africa gender budgets are associated with expanded social expenditure, and even antithetical to neoliberal economic policies. It is frequently not even considered as important in national water sector finances.

Dr Ursula Schaefer-Preuss noted, “This new information will allow us to build on existing efforts, share best practices, and assist us in focusing our efforts where gaps exist and where attention and action is needed.”

For more information on the study contact Ms Eiman Karar, Executive Manager: Water Resource Management by email: eimank@wrc.org.za or Tel: 012 330 0340.


Mr Rudolph Cleveringa, GWP Acting Executive Secretary and Eiman Karar, WRC Executive Manager  


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