Gender and Water Alliance

Gender and social water management in the Custepec river basin, Chiapas, Mexico

By: Laura E. Ruiz M., GWA, México, Source Bulletin November 2006

" We have gained power and security, and the consciousness of women has increased. We became aware of our rights; as women we have the right to go out of the house. Now we are participating and we can decide; before we did not attend courses and we did not participate actively in the meetings." This is how Mrs Deifilia Ramírez, a female farmer expressed some of the gains of a project in the Custepec river basin, in the central region of Chiapas, Mexico.

In 2005, the NGO “Programa de Apoyo a la Mujer A.C.” (Women Support Programme) started a project to incorporate a gender focus into social water resources management. The aim is to contribute to a reduction in inequality between men and women in access to and control over water and land resources, and in the distribution of benefits derived from their use. The programme is financed by the provincial council of Huelva, Spain and will finish end 2007. Civil servants of the National Water Commission of the Southern Border Region (CONAGUA) are supporting the project.

Women’s invisible labour

Gender stereotypes and legislation on land and water property rights do not consider women as producers, as most land property titles are registered in the name of men. Irrigation is culturally considered as men’s work, even though women do irrigate, especially in the light of the increasing migration of men. By these means, women’s labour in agriculture is rendered invisible and they are not recognised as producers. As a result, women farmers are excluded from decision-making bodies and face obstacles in accessing financial services and training. This increases discrimination against and vulnerability of women.

To remedy this, the project promotes increased participation by women farmers in managing natural resources, by increasing their capacities and abilities to promote and defend their economic, social and political rights. In addition proposals have been developed to promote the incorporation of a gender perspective in government driven programmes related to the integrated management of river basins.

A range of activities have been carried out:

  • A participative socio-environmental diagnostic survey analysed the factors that were preventing equitable participation of women in the use and management of water and land. From the results, demands and proposals were formulated aimed at incorporating equitable management of natural resources on the agendas of communal and municipal authorities
  • Groups of women have been trained in leadership and negotiating skills to strengthen their capacities, support their organisational autonomy and increase their negotiating ability within family and community.
  • Technical staff and those working in the regional gender department of CONAGUA have had sensitivity increased on gender issues.
  • Action strategies and recommendations were made to promote gender equity in the local River Basin Committee and Irrigator’s Water Users Association, and to create space for changing earlier decisions in water resources management.


    Negotiation meeting

    In this context, 70 female farmers from six communities participated in a negotiation meeting with employees of CONAGUA, local authorities and the Water Users Association of Irrigators. Women explained the problems they were facing on water quality and quantity, and put forward the demands and proposals they had developed. Tripartite agreements were made to include their needs and interests in the work plans of the decision-making agencies, and to increase the equitable participation of women in these political arenas.

    Research is now taking place on the impact of reforms in the water and agrarian sector, on women’s property rights for water and land resources.

    Realisatie door Four Digits op basis van Plone.