International Women’s Day: How a water system may empower women in Nepal

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International Women’s Day: How a water system may empower women in Nepal

What does gender have to do with agricultural water management? This International Women’s Day, IWMI looks at how multiple-use water services in Nepal are helping women to become decision makers and agents of change in their communities, as well as their challenges and obstacles as we all strive toward achieving sustainable development goals and parity for the genders.



“Considering multiple uses when designing a water systems allows better responding to the diversity of needs of both men and women. The MUS approach has emerged as a promising way to enhance the social and gender equity and productivity of water systems.”

Dr. Floriane Clement, Sub-Theme Leader (Gender and Poverty), IWMI


Multiple-use water services (MUS) are water delivery approaches that consider people and their multiple water needs as the starting point for designing and implementing water services. Unlike single-use water systems that are only designed for irrigation, or only for domestic uses, MUS systems are planned and implemented for multiple uses. In Kaski district, Nepal, Debhu Pariyar helps her son Rajan clean his feet at a fountain. Behind them, water taken from the same source and system is being used to irrigate tomato seedlings. MUS systems are also built with multiple needs and multiple users in mind. Lumle community member Ghita Devkota and MUS project coordinator Puspa Nepali explain how a double-sided fountain works. Since water runs to both sides of the fountain, one fountain can be shared. All 42 households in Lumle District 5, Nepal are supported by a single MUS system, making two taps per fountain a practical necessity. In other cases, users can choose to use one side of the fountain for drinking water, and attach a hose on the other side to be used for watering crops. In Nepal alone, more than 280 MUS systems serving 60,000 people have been implemented in the last decade. Research shows that MUS are overall more sustainable than single-use systems according to IWMI researcher Floriane Clement. The MUS approach has greatly benefited community livelihoods and agricultural productivity. “People who used to borrow or trade for their neighbor’s crops are now able to grow and sell their own,” says trader Mina, taking crops from Lumle District 5’s collection center to the bigger market in Pokhara. Since implementing MUS in 2012, Lumle has been able to expand its vegetable production from basic staples to tomatoes, cucumbers, gourds, cauliflower, cabbage, chilies, beans and chayote. But perhaps one of the biggest impacts of MUS systems are its benefits for women. Although water is widely available in the mountains of Nepal, access is often a different story. “Before, the women spent a lot of time fetching water,” says Sirjana. “Now we can spend more time with our families.” Since MUS systems simultaneously aid productive and domestic uses, implementing MUS means that women no longer have to walk long distances for water for chores such as washing, cooking, cleaning, and even for feeding and cleaning livestock. Ghandi Gurunge waters the garden while her daughter plays nearby. Time saved in fetching water also means that women can expand their energies into agricultural activities. Many women like Ghandi have found that they can sell surplus vegetables to the market and are even able to save money. As women are the main caretakers of children, this money returns to and benefits the family and community. “We use the money to buy stationary for children and pay for education,” the Lumle women explain. As a result, children are going to school on time and spend more time studying. Women are able to use their agency and make decisions to further improve their community. IWMI, iDE-Nepal, Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems Promotion Trust and partners attend a meeting with Lumle MUS network and community members. Despite women’s gains, women’s newfound roles occupy a complex place in their communities. Although women are empowered in some ways, they remain silenced in others. For example, although women are often the top agricultural producers of the community as well as household decision-makers, men are largely the ones to speak out and give presentations during meetings. The women of Kaski district are able to find their voices in other ways. iDE-Nepal MUS project coordinator from Raj GC holds up a phone playing a recording of a poem that Sita, a woman of the community, wrote and read aloud. Sita talks about how MUS has changed her and her community. Although Sita’s voice is filtered through a recording, she is able to make herself heard in a way that may be more comfortable for her. Seeing power in the context of gendered cultural norms is complex; IWMI researcher Stephanie Leder explores the nuances of women’s empowerment on Thrive Blog. Raj Kumari Pariyar attends the International Workshop on MUS for Climate Resilience in Kathmandu, organized by iDE, FMIST, global MUS Group, IWMI and the government of Nepal. Part of the Kaski MUS network, Raj Kumari speaks at the workshop about her community’s experience with MUS. She affirms MUS systems’ benefits for women, especially highlighting the MUS impacts on sanitation, nutrition, agriculture, and education. Donors, organizations, community members, and governments are currently working together to further expand and upscale MUS in Nepal and beyond. The MUS approach is indispensable in our steps towards climate resilience, food security, improved nutrition, sustainable agriculture and gender parity. MUS is a powerful approach to community-based water governance that not only implements multiple services but also multiple solutions as we work toward sustainable development goals SDG 1 (end poverty), SDG 2 (achieve food security, promote sustainable agriculture), SDG 13 (climate resilience), and SDG 5 (gender equality).

Photos: Shaoyu Liu

For more on MUS:


Thanks to Kalika Lumle 5 User Group, Nagdanda Gravity MUS, The Farmer Managed Irrigation System Promotion Trust (FMIST), International Development Enterprises (iDE), the global MUS Group, and the International Workshop on Multiple Use Water Systems for Climate Resilience.

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How a water system may empower women – DESERTIFICATION

March 15, 2016at 7:35 pm

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