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Livelihood processes of gender roles and relations in water governance: a comparative study in Ethiopia and Argentina

Imburgia, L. (2019) Livelihood processes of gender roles and relations in water governance: a comparative study in Ethiopia and Argentina. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00094859


It is generally agreed that irrigation agriculture has become indispensable for securing the food supply of humankind, and as a way out of poverty for millions of small farmers. Gender asymmetries and inequalities in access to irrigation schemes and participation in their management remain serious. Particularly problematic is the low participation of women in the leadership of the self-governance of irrigation systems. This study sought to explore the livelihood processes of gender roles and relations in irrigation water governance within communal, self-governed small-scale irrigated schemes. The underlying hypothesis of this study is that gender differences and inequalities in irrigation agriculture management transcend even massive cultural differences. The study developed a novel integrative conceptual framework, informed by feminist, ecological and sociological theories, to provide better conceptualisation but also operationalise the analysis of complex interactions between technical and social dimensions of water governance. Fieldwork was conducted in Argentina and Ethiopia, culturally widely divergent locations. In-depth interviews with key informants, focus group discussions and surveys were combined in a mixed-methods research approach. Key findings are: Irrespective of the cultural setting, many women in irrigation agriculture remain constrained by structural inequalities driven primarily by entrenched power dynamics, social relations and wealth handicaps. These issues compound intrinsic disadvantages traditionally attributed to women, for example in meeting the physical demands of irrigation agriculture. Hence, technical aspects of irrigation agriculture and social relations interact in complex ways conditioning a set of constraints that seriously limit the ability of women to equitably participate in self-governance of irrigation schemes. It is essential to view these findings juxtaposed to decades of donor- and government-driven efforts to devise agricultural development policies aimed at reducing gender asymmetries and strengthening the role of women in agriculture. While there are undoubtedly positive effects of these policies (greater visibility of women, much stronger legal protection), women still do not exercise their corresponding role in water governance. Low participation in governance translates into inferior decision-making power. There is strong evidence that inequitable participation in governance of water management has negative effects on its sustainability. In other words, there is a strong case for strengthening the inclusion of women and their decision-making power in irrigation self-governance. However, corresponding policies must explicitly recognise and respond to the complex interactions between the technical and social dimensions of irrigation agriculture, and how gender shapes these irrigation dimensions.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Cardey, S. and Osbahr, H.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Agriculture, Policy & Development
Identification Number/DOI:
ID Code:94859


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