Access to water: a woman’s right? | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
April 2005
Resource Language: 
ISBN / Resource ID: 

Having enough water for food production is a key issue in many countries. As water becomes scarce and food requirements increase, there will be a need to produce more food using less water, to protect the quality of water and the environment, particularly in Africa. To achieve this, it will be necessary to improve women’s access rights to water.Research from
the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations looks at the
issues facing poor communities, and especially women, trying to ensure access
to water. Water is a scarce resource in many countries and water-use
decisions are difficult. However, access to water for poor communities is
necessary if countries are going to meet the first Millennium Development Goal
of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.
There are many demands for water
in developing countries.
Irrigation schemes can increase crop production
and enable farmers to diversify into higher value crops.
Rain-fed agriculture relies on moisture
preservation measures and water harvesting.
Aquaculture provides both income and food. Coastal
and lake fisheries are sustainable because they do not reduce the water supply
and can be combined with other activities.
Food processing and marketing require water for
cooking. These activities provide income in rural and urban areas.
Using water for cooking and washing places a
major burden on supplies and often requires women and children to travel long
distances to fetch supplies.
In most parts of the world, women
play in key role in these activities. Their knowledge of water conditions and
the environment is a vital factor in their ability to provide enough food for
their families. However, very few women own land. Only ten percent of female
farmers own land in India, Nepal and Thailand (even less in other countries)
making it difficult for women to gain access water which is often on other people’s land.
Water shortages can also cause
problems. With so competing demands on limited water supplies, many regions
need tighter controls over use. One solution would be to raise water prices,
which, in theory, encourage more efficient use, but this is unfair on poor
people and in fact reduces their access to water.
Policies need to increase poor
people’s access to water, especially landless women. This will require strong
measures such as:

Governments must promote the participation of women
in water resource management. South Africa has already successfully
achieved this.
Women must become active members of water users
associations, including leadership positions.
Women must have more influence in the planning and
management of farm activities.
Water is needed to restore degraded land. The local
knowledge of both men and women can assist this process, along with an
understanding of the ways poor people use land.

In many places, customs and laws
determine women’s access to water and their role in water-related activities.
These can be hard to overcome, but women must have more influence in determining
patterns of water use and access. This is very important if this increasingly
scarce resource is to be used in the most efficient and productive ways.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

FAO Gender
Development Service


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