Reflections on Gender Mainstreaming in Development

women water

As development practice practitioners, I think that it is extremely important to always reevaluate what we have learned in order to challenge certain traditional ways of thinking. I believe that many of us have refreshed our previous experiences these past two terms with the hopes that we can integrate our knowledge into our internships. For instance, I began rethinking about the role of gender in development and the allocation of natural resources specifically water.

When we look at water as a resource, it is important to reflect on who is involved in the monitoring of resources, in various capacities and levels. I began to be interested in gender and the intersection of water in our Indev 607 Water & Security course with Larry Swatuk. In one of our lectures, we discussed whether gender is an important characteristic to the story of accessibility and governance of water. How does it differ between genders? What is the significance of gender in water management? What are some ways to think about this in our practice on internships?

As MDP program students we have had the opportunity to have a better understanding of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and the importance of capacity building and inclusivity as a way of creating a fair, equitable use of this fluid resource. IWRM is also focused on gender mainstreaming within its framework approach to be gender inclusive and have a better understanding of the experiences and barriers that women face in accessing water. According to the UNDP (2006), Gender mainstreaming is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies, and programmes in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men can benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated (undp.org).

When I initially read about gender mainstreaming as it pertains to water management (or for other development fields) I was intrigued to know more. I knew that we could not deny that the integration of gender inclusivity in development programs is extremely important, however, it needs to be critically examined. Implementing ways in which women can partake in decisions and programs at all delivery levels should be a priority, yet I feel that we need to rethink how development swiftly mandates women’s programs and legislation. As practitioners, we need to be aware that just because a woman is at the ‘decision-making table’ does not necessarily ensure that her voice is being heard. Why is this?

In our future work, we need to remember that firstly, women are not a homogenous group. This is particularly relevant to women’s participation levels in water management and governance. For example in India, women’s roles vary according to their caste, ethnic or generational positions within their households or communities. When women’s leadership in water management is analyzed, women potentially lack involvement due to a direct outcome of socially structured gender norms that structure their existence.

Secondly, we also need to always be aware that women’s decision-making is often shaped by social and cultural constraints. Much of women’s involvement may be related to a society’s social norms, which deem certain behaviours as acceptable. For example, if women’s participation in community water meetings is accounted for as a success of women’s gender equality, it is important to recognize and be aware of the fact that community perceptions of the socially appropriate behaviour of a “good” woman discredit women who are vocal, especially in public spheres. This, in fact, may discourage women from actively participating in resource management as decisions are often being made without their input, which affects their daily lives.

Thirdly, we need to remember that women are typically part of the informal and domestic sphere. Women traditionally do not have a relationship with formalized participation in many communities; instead, women’s involvement is focused on informal relationships with other women as well as prioritizing their homes and families. Women’s interests and ability to participate in formalized decision-making may be influenced by a prescribed social institution that is not recognized in the context of their lives.

The refresher for me is that with all of this in mind, I think that as MDP students we have to remain critical in order to carry forward goals of the SDGs. As we try to implement the SDGs into our local practices, we must continue to evaluate if the goals of the projects that we are working on are doing what they set out do. Are gender equality at all levels of governance and localized programming being prioritized? Are these three realities of women’s lives being acknowledged in the design and implementation of programs? It is important if we remain critical and always ask the difficult questions, who benefits and who is neglected from the conversation? How can we improve? I think that if continue to challenge ourselves with this introspection we can truly reinvent how we look at inclusivity in our professional practice.

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Romy is a student in the 5th Cohort of the Master’s of Development Practice Program. Her research interests are in maternal health, child nutrition, gender equality, poverty alleviation, water security and sanitation

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