Key gender issues in water and agriculture

Technology, capacity and productivity

The role of women in farming has long been neglected in many parts of the world. In global terms, women outnumber men as food producers, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa where food security remains a serious concern. Female-run farming systems have been shown to be as productive as those run by men. In some instances, when given access to the same resources, training and capital, the productivity of women-managed farm plots can outperform others. IWMI research explores how improving women’s access to small-scale AWM technologies can boost incomes, particularly when women are involved in major decisions on irrigation and cultivation.

Food security

As the main providers of food for families, there is an important link between gender and food security. For smallholder farmers, homestead farming provides a safety net for the family. Women often manage home gardens or keep livestock, largely supported through domestic water supply. A relatively small increase to reliable water supplies could amount to a large benefit for household food security. Women often use water for a range of home-based income generating tasks. Planners, therefore, need to take this into account and provide water access that reflects its multiple uses by women.

Water governance and institutions

The Dublin principles of Water Management, established in 1992, put gender issues at the heart of the global water debate. Since then, women’s roles in the provision, management and safeguarding of water have become almost obligatory to international mandates and plans for water. This has helped greatly to draw out the links between gender equity, poverty alleviation and sustainable water management. However, in practice, most water management initiatives fail to recognize or effectively address gender inequalities in their design and implementation. The participation of women in water user associations is one way in which these issues have been addressed. Advocating for the participation of women farmers in these organizations to ensure that they can have a voice in water management decisions is a key area for IWMI’s research.


Nearly 1 billion people looking for work are on the move in Asia, and the impact on rural economies is unprecedented. Men in particular are migrating from rural areas in search of better employment and opportunity. When men migrate, however, women are left to deal with increased workload and responsibilities, but without equal or direct access to financial, social, and technological resources. Left in charge of households, women are expected to continue to perform their traditional roles as well as take on men’s responsibilities. IWMI’s research seeks to better understand the impact of migration on livelihoods, rural development, and water resources.