The Gendered Effects of Water Policies

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

The UN Water Policy Brief emphasizes the importance of including women with lived experiences in the development of policies that aim to protect women’s water rights in rural and urban regions. Because “women have primary responsibility for management of household water supply, sanitation, and health”, (2015, UN, p. 1) their presence in the formation of these policies is even more important. Rhodante Ahlersa and Margreet Zwarteveenb’s article about the implications of current neo-liberal practices and the gendered effects that it has on women in specifically Latin America emphasizes “feminist strategy of enhancing women’s control over resources by opening up possibilities of private ownership to them, too.”(2009, Ahlersa and Zwarteveenb, p. 410) Both articles understand the importance and value of genuinely involving women in the creation of water policies, but approach the topic and issue in a very different way.

The UN Water Policy Brief gives reference to case studies that they have conducted in South Africa, Guatemala, India, Nigeria, and more, speaking about the changes that the UN has inducted with the equitable access to water and land rights for men and women projects. Their use of the word ‘equity’ versus ‘equality’ is noted, as it represents the acknowledgement of the fact that improvements can happen at the same rate for men and women, but that women start at a lesser privilege to land and water rights.

The song Stadium Pow Wow by A Tribe Called Red is linked loosely to this idea of reclaiming land rights. Although the circumstances between women in rural third world countries and local First Nations people are different, colonialism and its forms of oppression in racialized and gendered effects are present in both cases. In this video, we see Indigenous youth in two kinds of environments. The first, a wide open field adorned with birds, tall grasses, and water in the distance, and second, a modern city landscape, filled with tall concrete buildings, skate parks, boxing rings, and fossil fuel energy pipeline protests. In both environments, the people are mirrored, and the spaces are being reclaimed as lost and unceded territory through the empowerment of cultural reclamation and reconciliation. This addresses the difference in equity and equality policies and shows the effects of both. With equitable policies, people receive the amount of help that they require to thrive. With equality-driven policies, people receive the same amount of help, regardless of their current standing.

Ahlersa and Zwarteveenb’s study recognizes the intersectionality of oppression that stands in the path of women, and especially women of colour, in obtaining land and water rights. Ahlersa and Zwarteveenb also recognize that there is a difference between state-centric water security policies and an a-political feminist approach to this, and that water rights are an expression of people relations. By recognizing this acute difference in approaches, Ahlersa and Zwarteveenb are theoretically able to apply well-worked anti-neo-liberal tactics to solve these issues. This can be applied in a situation wherein “‘local’ water struggles [can be linked] to larger historical and economic trends and forces, and a critical awareness of how struggles over resources are shaped by, and partly occur through, struggles over meanings and discourses.” (2009, Ahlersa and Zwarteveenb, p. 419) With the example of water and land rights in Latin America, a place where most land and water rights are prohibited to women, both articles understand and recognize that only two percent of women hold title to the world’s private land (2015, UN, p. 4), as well as the need to start enforcing equitable land and water rights policies to girls and boys. This has concrete effects in women’s lives, in the form of better education as a result of shared water retrieval and household task responsibilities, better sanitation, purification of water, and health in rural villages for women and men, better food cultivation technology literacy, and more.

Water is integral in establishing a thriving community, and policies to secure the equitable management of it for all races, genders, and ages is an ongoing battle that affects us everywhere we go, including especially in parts of British Columbia, regardless of our larger-than-usual annual rainfall. We do not need to look far to understand the significance of equitable water policies, because they affect us all. (For example:

+ I vlogged about this informally for another project but thought that this related. You can find my vlog at the link below:

Word Count: 707 words


Ahlers, R., & Zwarteveen, M. (2009). The water question in feminism: water control and gender inequities in a neo-liberal era. Gender, Place & Culture, 16(4), 409-426.

Kevan Funk. (2016). A Tribe Called Red feat. Black Bear, Stadium Pow Wow. MuchFACT & Bell Media Inc.

Inter-agency Task Force on Gender and Water, UN-Water and the Interagency Network on Women and Gender Equality. (2005-2015). Gender, Water and Sanitation: A Policy Brief. Water For life, 1-16.

Liam Massaubi. (2016). Who Can We Hold Accountable For The First Nations Water Crisis?. Huffington Post.


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