Yet women’s knowledge and role in water resource management is still largely unrecognized, and social and economic norms often reinforce unequal participation and decision-making in community organizations such as water users’ associations.
"It is essential to make use of the chance provided by water projects to empower women and promote gender equality instead of widening the existing gaps between women and men in terms of gender roles, participation and income," says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN's Senior Gender Advisor.
A study by the International Water and Sanitation Centre of community water supply and sanitation projects in 88 communities in 15 countries found that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those that do not involve women as full partners.
Neglecting women in project design can have negative impact on women’s lives and undermine the success of development programmes. Following a project in Nepal, for example, women complained that their water collection time significantly increased because the tap stands and tube wells were located along the roadside, where they could not bathe freely and wash their clothes. In order to avoid this, women did not make use of the new water equipment and carried water from other resources far from their homes or waited until dark to access them.
"As the traditional custodians of family health, women shoulder a huge burden in coping with the lack of basic sanitation services," says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN's Senior Gender Advisor. "Indeed, women and men for biological and social reasons have different needs and interest as regards sanitation."
Women in developing countries are most often the collectors, users, and managers of water in the household and on the farm. Some 30 percent of women in Egypt walk over an hour a day to meet water needs. In some parts of Africa, women and children spend eight hour per day collecting water. Many women suffer permanent skeletal damage from carrying heavy loads of water over long distances day after day.
"Considering women’s unique wealth of knowledge related to water management, programmes that neglect indigenous management and treat women as beneficiaries and users, rather than water managers and decision-makers, hamper project outcomes and diminish women’s position," says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN's Senior Gender Advisor.
Collecting sex-disaggregated information is a first step toward developing gender-responsive policies and programs. Data that provide information on women’s and men’s resources use, access to resources and participation in environmental decision-making contributes to sound policies.