Gender & Water: The Intersection

Webinar Series.

Gender & Water: The Intersection

Centre for Social Research firmly believes that all people should bear equal rights, privileges and opportunities. We believe that women can be catalysts for and agents of social change, and that change itself is a gradual process. And we recognize that restructuring gender relations requires participation from all actors: women and men, young and old, grassroots to national levels, private and public institutions alike.

In working towards the aim to achieve gender justice in all spheres, the Centre for Social Research pays special focus on the area of Climate Change and Environment. To enter into the discourse of climate change through the vantage point of gendered development, CSR seeks to present women as stakeholders, decision makers, educators, and experts in the area. Once women’s roles are acknowledged in the discussions about climate change, it paves way for a gendered approach to development.

We, at the Gender, Water, and Climate Change department of CSR believe that 70% of Climate Change manifestations occur through changes in water patterns. Since women are the main providers of the family, the onus of taking care of the family’s water needs also falls on them. Any changes in water patterns, thus, disproportionately affect women.

In these times, when the whole world is gripped in the fear of the pandemic, conversations around water conservation have diluted. The need of the hour calls for excessive cleaning and sanitation, and without measured use of water resources, we may come out of this pandemic with a water crisis. This webinar sought to create a discussion on the given issue in order to arrive at suggestions to deal with it.
The webinar and this report have been curated by Ms. Ritika Bhatia and Ms. Lakshita A. Iyer, from the Gender, Water & Climate Change Department of Centre for Social Research.


Dr. Fawzia Tarannum, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Regional Water Studies at TERI School of Advanced Studies (TERI SAS), is an interdisciplinary water professional with 20+ years of experience in project management, teaching and training. In 2013, she was awarded the University of Nairobi- IDRC Doctoral Research Grant for her PhD study. She was also awarded the Fulbright Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship by the US State Department in 2017. Her research interests are gender, equity and water resources management, integrated waterresources planning and management, water governance and food-water-energy nexus.

Dr K. Vijaya Lakshmi is Vice President of Development Alternatives Group, responsible for technology innovation and research at the Group. A chemist by training, Dr. Vijaya Lakshmi’s main focus and achievements are in the area of water quality management, associated with development and application of innovative technologies that address the problems of women. She has been the recipient of the National Award for Women’s Development through application of Science and Technology for the year 2007 granted by the President of India.

Dr. Yogesh Jadeja is the founder of ACT (Arid Communities and Technologies), a dedicated organisation for Participatory Ground Water Management Epitome. He is the member of International Association of Hydrologist and also has given his services as Working Group member of Ground Water in Planning Commission (GOI). He has guided in establishment of several Grass Root Service organisation Geo-Sciences, Parab and Jalsathi. His vision is to Make Ground Water Secure and Sustainable through Participatory approach and to create a model which can be emulated.

The webinar received participation from people from various sectors. The majority of the participants were NGO sector workers, followed by academicians and students.


1) Since our webinar is based on the intersection of gender and water, Dr. Fawzia could you please begin by explaining to our audience what intersectionality is?

(Ans) Dr.Fawzia mentioned that during the current times of COVID -19 pandemic spread it is very essential that intersectionality is discussed because these days we see a lot of differential impact on the society. Be it class, caste, gender or ethnicity; we can see the differential impact very vividly on all of these. Now when we look at it from water’s perspective we can observe that it has always been looked at with a very traditional- myopic approach where it was always looked at with civil engineering – masculine lens but in reality ‘water’ is a very complex issue which can be associated with various dimensions such as social, legal and governance issues. Rather, very rightly said that it can be seen that women are the ones who have to walk for miles to fetch water but people seldom take the gender dimension into consideration. In fact the caste and class dimension is also not taken into consideration when we discuss this theme. Similarly we need to understand that when we talk about gender over here we should refrain from limiting our definition of gender to women rather include the discussion on men and third gender which cannot be separated from the discussion on class, caste and ethnicity and how they interact & operate with each other. So this is a brief explanation on intersectionality.

2) We all know that there is a scarcity of water in the country, so much so that major cities are or will soon be in a state of water crisis. Dr. Vijaya Lakshmi, could you please elucidate on the current situation of water in India?

(Ans.) Dr.Vijaya Lakshmi extended her greetings to the audience and after extending her thanks to CSR for hosting this webinar and for including her as a Development Alternatives team member she expressed her gratitude. With this she went on to explain that in the coming times due to water scarcity and with the given situation of pandemic spread there will be a huge gap between demand and supply of water. The gap between water demand and supply will lead to a crisis situation and as per Niti Aayog’s 2018 report it was predicted that there will be water scarcity in 21 states of our country leading to ground zero situation which means no water available at ground level due to its over-exploitation. She also mentioned that this will also lead to incapability in making the current sanitation needs meet. Dr.Vijaya also mentioned that this situation has occurred due to our own negligence where we did not lay emphasis on policies focusing on ensuring recycling and re-using of waste water which could have largely helped us in avoiding this kind of situation. Also due to our negligence this is going to double up the crisis by 2030. It will also lead to GDP loss and with the current times the GDP loss has only grown. Our own actions have brought us into this situation especially the lack of planning for land use for example the forest land was taken up for agricultural use similarly agricultural land was taken up for urban use which has led to this crisis. Similarly we neglected the existing water bodies which were life-lines of both rural and urban areas. Furthermore, we stand low on our rain water harvesting measures based initiatives result of which is that we are able to capture only 8% of the rainwater result of which is that water is neither percolating in the land or recharging the existing available water sources. So we have to understand that 25 liters of water per capita- per day should be recharged or made available to meet the growing needs especially of the basic drinking and sanitation water. She also added that Development Alternatives had undertaken a research study in 4 cities i.e. Udaipur, Dehradun, Vijayanagar and Bhubaneshwar where they understood that there exists a huge lack of management and understanding on water conservation and its importance due to which there have been 40% of water loss due to leakages. Hence it is very important for all of us to build our understanding in this regard.

3) How does this crisis disproportionately affect women? (Dr. Fawzia)

(Ans.) Dr.Fawzia began the discussion by explaining the Jal Jeevan Mission which talks about giving water to around 14 Cr. rural households with 55 liters per capita it will be providing so what we are looking at is only 18% of the beneficiaries and as per the statistics the burden of fetching water is on women and here in 8 out of 10 households; fetching of water occurs outside the premises of the village and this is done by women. And based on statistics of rural India there is a loss of 150 million work days lost because women are busy with fetching of water which they could have used for some other economic activity. At the same-time it has been seen that these women are accompanied by their girl children which also leads to their loss of education as they don’t go to school. Now looking at the Urban set up especially in cities like Delhi especially during summers you notice long stand posts and there are long queues and upon discussing with them they share that they have been in those since 3 AM in the morning or in certain areas there are water tankers that visit on daily basis also here you notice that at times the males and females are fighting for their turns and you get to see the power dynamics here. Furthermore in the light of climate change, in the Himalayan regions we used to have perennial water sources which now have become seasonal hence adding on to the helplessness of women who are majorly impacted by it as they are the ones who have to fetch water. Similarly there are stories from Marathwada of water wives where people marry more than once so that they can have more number of women in the house to fetch water. Similarly there have been an increase in the stories of farmer suicides due to drought and here the women are pushed to become the bread-earners of the family. Alongside this there are stories of migration and feminization of farming and because the land is not in the name of the woman then due to that she does not get credit facilities easily leading to less or no access to seeds and other important agricultural schemes and benefits hence gets disproportionately affected. Similarly like Dr.Vijaya was mentioning about the various ways in which women are highly affected by the limited or no access to water. Also in context of lack of proper sanitation facilities due to open defecation practices there is a huge number of women who get infections which also lead to deaths leading to a huge gap; So an in 2020 in the global gender gap index in which India stands at 112 out of 153 countries. So here my main point is that we need to focus on improving the situation but let’s not just focus on women specific issues but also look at gender with a holistic lens. So, looking at intersectionality with a considerable amount of attention given to its interconnectedness with caste, class and other issues needs to be considered.

4) What kinds of policies are available to conserve water? Are these policies gender-neutral or gender-responsive? (Dr. Vijaya Lakshmi)

(Ans.) Dr.Vijaya Lakshmi discussed the Indian National Water Policy which was first formulated in 1987 and then relooked at in 2002 and it was revised in 2012. This policy has moved from supply side to demand side management. This policy has a lot of components that support participation, water user associations looking and managing water, infrastructural needs and its interlinkages along with emphasis on water harvesting. Though this policy does not mention much about women participation in water management but still is quiet comprehensive as a policy. But as per Niti Aayog’s report which says that water scarcity is going to hit us and they have also identified 256 districts which would cover a huge number of blocks so this when this policy started looking under the new leadership formed as Jal Shakti mission in which it started the most ambitious program called Jal Jeevan Abhyaan because it aimed at doing water harvesting, water reuse and rainwater harvesting in these water stressed blocks. Similarly they also plan to provide water at the doorsteps of people who live in these water stressed areas. But the point is where is the supply/ catchment that they are trying to ensure. So in terms of idea, infrastructure –wise these plans are very good but they are not great in terms of management, sustainability plan and that is the key to any project implementation. And an add on to this is the provision of subsidies to water intensive crops which means that the demand side is not looked into properly. Coming to the gender aspect of these policies; they are neither gender-neutral nor gender-explicit. They don’t talk about women’s participation in planning, implementation and management so it is very limited in this way. So as an NGO representative I think that the programs that we have women participate in training and workshops that focus on imparting knowledge on gender, water budgeting and management is where we see successful water management examples. Hence it is necessary to involve women in water management planning rather than just focusing on infrastructural investments.

5) As someone who has worked with the Government of India as a working member of the planning commission, what has been your experience in gauging the state’s receptiveness in integrating women in development? (Dr. Jadeja)

(Ans) Mr. Jadega very clearly mentioned that while he was working with the government he saw that firstly there were very few women in the committee and these members belonged to the central board committees of the areas. Secondly,  participation word was highly ignored as there was very limited participation & representation of Ngos and other stakeholders which otherwise if we think on the lines of planning play a very important role. Despite this we were able to convince them to work towards building the capacity of the stakeholders such that they understand what is aquifer and can undertake aquifer mapping. With this initiative at least people understood the importance of aquifer mapping before planning for resource management. Also involvement of women in water management especially in building their understanding on Aquifer management we are still lacking behind in bringing women in the frontline.

6)What are the ways in which we can make policies on water conservation gender-responsive? (Dr. Fawzia)

(Ans.) Dr.Fawzia agreed with Mr.Jadeja’s points and mentioned that there is a huge gap between the rhetoric and the field. She further went on to explain how the word ‘gender’ is treated at water policy level. In order to explain this she went on to explain few lines from the National water policy 2012 i.e.-  In the section on ‘planning and implementation’ there is point no 9.6 where it clearly states that – ‘Local governing bodies like Panchayats, Municipalities, Corporations, etc., and Water Users Associations, wherever applicable, should be involved in planning of the projects. The unique needs and aspirations of the Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes, women and other weaker sections of the society should be given due consideration.’ Here ‘women’ word is used only once and in fact they are listed alongside weaker sections of the society. So this very well explains whether our gender policies are gender neutral or they are gender blind. And it also depicts our limitations in understanding that there exist differences which need to be acknowledged rather than bundling them up together as they all are unique in their own ways and need to be addressed separately. Similarly as Mr.Jadeja mentioned that even if we are planning to make changes to the India National Water Policy in 2019 and for the same a team of 11 members are appointed out of which there is only 1 woman member and the voices of other important stakeholders such as grass-root level ngos are not included then the whole effort has gone in vain. So it is very important to look into gender dissegregated data and look from a gender lens on the distribution of budgets, water budget and water as  a resource so that we have a holistic approach and picture in front of us before planning and implementation of programs. I would also like to share that USAID’s gender monitoring tool for agriculture i.e. Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) tools must be referred to while water conservation and sustainability planning as it is interrelated with so many more aspects such as production, aceess to resources, leadership with actual representation of women and  hiring policies.

7) Looking at the current times, how should civil society organizations build their project plans and ideas such that they include the gender, water and hygiene issues together?  (Dr. Vijaya Lakshmi)

(Ans.) Dr.Vijayalakshmi mentioned about the importance of civil society organizations huge role to play, she mentioned that there is a lot of investment happening on aquifer mapping on a technical level and there are participatory level committees being formed but what we need to understand is that rather than doing all this on a surface level we should rather ensure that actual solid ground level work is carried out and this is where civil society organisations can play an important role in  terms of ensuring women’s participation and presence. The civil society organisations would also ensure that the voices of women are heard and their perspectives are taken into account because there cannot happen one sided planning and implementation. Also looking at the current times of COVID-19 pandemic spread we need to ensure that the needs and perspectives of women are also included and considered for any kind of planning for hygiene and sanitation. Also project planning from the sponsor agency’s perspective, needs to focus on replicability and sustainability approach for the projects. Here the role of implementation/ local partners is very important as they need to ensure that proper information or ground reality is presented before project planning so that a suitable project plan can be prepared and presented. So unless we understand the whole ecosystem locally we cannot do any kind of effective planning.

8) What are the various ways in which women can be involved through a bottoms-up approach in developing methods of water conservation? (Dr. Jadeja)

(Ans.) Mr.Jadeja discussed two examples from his organisation’s field work to explain the bottom’s up approach with women’s active participation. He shared that in Madhya Pradesh his organisation is implementing a project with support of UNDP in which their main focus is to include women sarpanches (Elected women representatives) and help them learn the process of collecting ground level data on water availability. And here we had selected two different villages with a female sarpanch and male sarpanch each and we were more than happy to see that till date we receive communication from those areas that the village with female sarpanch has maximum development.

9.) Please explain what Participatory Groundwater Management means? Is it a gender-responsive approach or a gender-neutral one?

(Ans.) Dr. Jadega began his answer with a thankyou for such an interesting and relevant question. He explained that participatory groundwater management is basically an understanding on management of the Aquifer which is the main resource of groundwater. Here we cannot talk about demand and supply of water separately rather we discuss both of them together as they are interdependent. So in order to reap best benefits of the existing water we need to engage with the various communities that are dependent on the direct sources of water so that they build clear understanding on their available resources and how they can utilise them effectively and efficiently and all this together comes under building understanding on geo-hydrology subject.So to make any project and its implementation a success we must try to involve women’s perspective and voices as that helps us in planning & implementation with an integrated  yet comprehensive approach.


Q.1. Do you think that female bureaucrats are better equipped in formulating gender and water specific policies?  Please share a few good examples?

(Ans.)Mr.Jadeja answered this question where he explained that both men and women bureaucrats can play an important role in good policy formulation when they both are gender sensitive. He gave specific examples from the fields where his organization carries out the projects. He mentioned that the collector of that area was a woman who gave good insights on project planning and implementation and also supported them in taking the work forward.

Q.2. How does inadequate water supply affect menstrual health and hygiene management?

(Ans.) Dr. Fawzia explained that both inadequate water supply and women’s menstrual health and hygiene are directly related. She begins with explaining that due to inadequate water facilities there are a large number of young girls dropping out of government schools. Similarly she also mentioned earlier about the negative effects of open defecation because of lack of proper sanitation facilities leading to negative impact on women’s reproductive health leading to rise in infant mortality rate.

Q.3. The introduction of water pipelines lead to degradation of local level water bodies. How can this problem be addressed and we can bring a gender nexus?

(Ans.) Dr.Vijayalakshmi mentioned clearly that water pipelines, if they are secured from contamination then they are a good source of water transport and supply as they help in making lives simpler for women who otherwise would have to walk for miles to fetch water. But here the whole purpose is lost if the pipelines are laid near a contaminated water body or sewage area. So looking at this the whole project cycle has to be understood and very carefully designed keeping in mind the well-being of communities.

Q .4. Explain with examples on how do you deal with gender discrimination during project planning and implementation?

(Ans) Ms.Lakshita began answering this question by explaining that through capacity building trainings at grass-root level we try to explain them about what exactly gender means and further Dr.Fawzia added to it by stating that strategic project planning and participant selection both at rural and urban level can lead to an effective gender mainstreaming in results of the project implementation.


The webinar was successfully able to create an effervescent discussion on water conservation through a gendered lens. The discussion was able to shed light upon policy initiatives, grassroots involvement, development approaches, and how women’s participation at all these levels is of utmost importance. This webinar has paved way for many more such dialogues on the intersection of gender and water. If you missed out on the webinar, you can still watch it on our YouTube channel. The link to the video is –


  1. Indian National Water Policy – The first National Water Policy was adopted in September, 1987. The National Water Policy was formulated to govern the planning and development of water resources and their optimum utilisation.
  2. Niti Aayog: NITI Aayog is the premier policy ‘Think Tank’ of the Government of India, providing both directional and policy inputs. While designing strategic and long term policies and programmes for the Government of India, NITI Aayog also provides relevant technical advice to the Centre and States.
  3. Jal Shakti Mission: The Jal Shakti Mission ensures integrated water resource management helping to conserve water, minimize wastage and ensure more equitable distribution both across and within states. It also seeks to ensure that considerable shares of the water needs of urban areas are met through recycling of waste water, and that the water requirements of coastal cities with inadequate alternative sources of water are met through adoption of new and appropriate technologies.
  4. Jal Jeevan Abhyaan: Jal Jeevan Mission, is envisioned to provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections by 2024 to all households in rural India. The programme will also implement source sustainability measures as mandatory elements, such as recharge and reuse through grey water management, water conservation, rain water harvesting.
  5. Gender: Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.
  6. Aquifer: An Aquifer is a porous soil or rock that holds groundwater and is sufficiently permeable to yield significant volumes of water. It is a rock layer that contains water and releases it in appreciable amounts.
  7. Geo-hydrology: A branch of geology that studies water on the Earth and in the atmosphere, its distribution, uses and conservation. “Hydro” comes from the Greek word for water, thus Hydrology is the study of water and hydrologists are scientists who study water. Hydrology has evolved as a science in response to the need to understand the complex water system of the earth and help solve water problems.
  8. WEAI Tool: