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Opposing Currents

Opposing Currents: The Politics of Water and Gender in Latin America

Vivienne Bennett
Sonia Dávila-Poblete
María Nieves Rico
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  • Book Info
    Opposing Currents
    Book Description:

    This volume focuses on women in Latin America as stakeholders in water resources management. It makes their contributions to grassroots efforts more visible, explains why doing so is essential for effective public policy and planning in the water sector, and provides guidelines for future planning and project implementation.

    After an in-depth review of gender and water management policies and issues in relation to domestic usage, irrigation, and sustainable development, the book provides a series of case studies prepared by an interdisciplinary group of scholars and activists. Covering countries throughout the hemisphere, and moving freely from impoverished neighborhoods to the conference rooms of international agencies, the book explores the various ways in which women are-and are not-involved in local water initiatives across Latin America. Insightful analyses reveal what these case studies imply for the success or failure of various regional efforts to improve water accessibility and usability, and suggest new ways of thinking about gender and the environment in the context of specific policies and practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7265-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. List of Tables and Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  2. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Vivienne Bennett

    The 1992 Dublin Conference on Water and the Environment was a watershed event in the world of water policy because of the adoption of the four “Dublin principles” that have guided decision making ever since. The principles state:

    1. Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development, and the environment.

    2. Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners, and policy makers at all levels.

    3. Women play a central role in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water.

    4. Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be...

  3. Part One: Understanding Water and Gender

    • 2 The Connection between Gender and Water Management
      (pp. 13-29)
      Margreet Zwarteveen and Vivienne Bennett

      What is the connection between gender and water? In the world of gender policies, water is almost never mentioned. Few cases of women organizing around water issues are known. And in the world of water policies, lip service is paid to gender, without depth or consequences for water management practices. Yet this book’s premise is that important connections exist between gender and water, and when these relationships are made explicit, more effective and equitable water resource management results. Within the contexts of household (domestic) water use and irrigation, we demonstrate how water and gender are linked.¹

      The worlds of domestic...

    • 3 Global Water and Gender Policies: Latin American Challenges
      (pp. 30-50)
      Sonia Dávila-Poblete and María Nieves Rico

      Gender equity and its relation to water policy is generally not central and, in many cases, is completely absent from the discourse of the government and international institutions that determine public policies in Latin America. Given that only a decade has passed since governments in the region have explicitly addressed gender as an issue and that only very recently has the connection between water and gender been made, to expect that substantial initiatives have begun is unrealistic. Nonetheless, examining the intersections between water and gender policies to date and exploring where these intersections might lead is worthwhile. To understand these...

  4. Part Two: Neoliberal Policies and Their Social Impact

    • 4 Gender Dimensions of Neoliberal Water Policy in Mexico and Bolivia: Empowering or Disempowering?
      (pp. 53-71)
      Rhodante Ahlers

      Decreasing quantity and deteriorating quality of fresh water sources encourage the water sector to anticipate severe water crises as demand from the domestic and industrial sectors steadily continue to grow. The international lending institutions, world water committees, and mainstream environmental actors argue that these crises are a result of the failure of state management and thus may only be deflected by introducing market mechanisms in resource management. Though they share a consensus that water rights must be clear, private, and individual for markets to work effectively, they simultaneously recognize that water is a basic human need (Briscoe 1997; Cosgrove and...

    • 5 Women in the “Water War” in the Cochabamba Valleys
      (pp. 72-90)
      Rocío Bustamante, Elizabeth Peredo and María Esther Udaeta

      Telling the story of women’s participation in the “Water War” in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2000, establishes the degree and form of women’s involvement in the Cochabamba mobilizations and deepens the analysis of the role of women in the management and use of water in daily life. Identifying what women’s participation contributed during the conflict, as well as how the active role women played affected their positions in their organizations, as water users, and as members of cooperatives is also important for understanding Bolivia’s social movements.

      What has come to be known as the Cochabamba Water War was a transformative...

    • 6 To Make Waves: Water and Privatization in Tucumán, Argentina
      (pp. 91-106)
      Norma Giarracca and Norma Del Pozo

      In 1998, in Tucumán, Argentina’s smallest province, a singular event occurred, one celebrated by a local population who had not yet grasped the extent of what they had achieved. “The French Want Out” read the headline in the province’s most important newspaper, which went on to explain that “[t]he Compagnie Générale des Eaux, which currently operates Tucumán’s water and sewerage services through [its subsidiary] Agua del Aconquija, announced that it will initiate a national and international process to leave the province” (La Gaceta1998). What happened in Tucumán to convince a powerful European corporation to abandon operations after just five...

  5. Part Three: Technology Transfer and Social Organization

    • [Part Three: Introduction]
      (pp. 107-108)

      A common water project consists of technology transfer to local communities. Myriad organizations are engaged in transferring appropriate domestic water and sanitation technology to urban and rural areas, as well as in bringing irrigation technology to farming communities. Time and time again, technology transfer focuses heavily on the technology and ignores crucial community dynamics. Project planners and technicians are very often blind to local needs and priorities and ignore local knowledge, skills, and understanding. The heterogeneity of communities often escapes them, as does the fact that technology use is intricately interwoven with social organization.

      The two case studies in this...

    • 7 Irrigation Management, the Participatory Approach, and Equity in an Andean Community
      (pp. 109-122)
      Juana Rosa Vera Delgado

      These testimonies confirm the now well known differentiated impact that external projects have on gender relations, that is, on the knowledge, abilities, and self-esteem of both men and women. They also reveal the shortsightedness of planners in incorporating the complex and contradictory manner in which external intervention shaped intrahousehold dynamics—and thus gender relations. This disregard of gender as a variable often results from generally accepted assumptions that conceive the contemporary rural household in the Andes as a dualistic, harmonious arena, where men equitably direct all benefits from irrigation projects to their families, and women fulfill their reproductive role while...

    • 8 Water as a Source of Equity and Empowerment in Costa Rica
      (pp. 123-134)
      Lorena Aguilar

      Guaranteeing community access to potable water and basic sanitation requires more than technologically and financially affordable infrastructure. This was the main lesson from the “Handpump Technology” project in rural Costa Rica, implemented during two phases, between 1986 and 1991, and which I worked on as an anthropologist.¹ The project’s initial objective was to test the adequate functioning of a hand pump but was broadened to include a focus on people’s relationship to water that we recognized had to change if the project was to have a real impact.

      Besides supporting the construction of hand-dug and drilled wells and related sanitation...

  6. Part Four: Participation and Cultural Change

    • 9 Women, Equity, and Household Water Management in the Valley of Mexico
      (pp. 137-153)
      Michael C. Ennis-McMillan

      During everyday conversations and public meetings in the community of La Purificación Tepetitla, people commonly say that “el agua es la vida del pueblo” (“water is the life of thepueblo”).¹ La Purificación Tepetitla consists of approximately 6,000 residents living in the northeastern foothills of the Valley of Mexico, just outside Mexico City. Over the last few decades, the foothills region has developed stronger ties to Mexico City, and as a result, La Purificación Tepetitla and most other formerly small,campesinocommunities have grown rapidly and become more urbanized. In this periurban context, the management of piped water supplies for...

    • 10 Women and Water in the Northern Ecuadorean Andes
      (pp. 154-169)
      Elena P. Bastidas

      In the past decade, research findings have led governments and local agencies to recognize the important roles women play in providing water for domestic use as well as in broader water management (Johnson and Krogman 1993; Rodda 1991; Schaefer-Davis 1996). Though the third Dublin principle highlights women’s central role in water provision and management, research on the specific roles, tasks, and functions of women in irrigated agriculture, especially in Latin America, is lacking. Most information on women and irrigation comes from Africa (Carney 1988; Jones 1986; Zwarteveen 1994, 1997) and Asia (Hart 1992; Zwarteveen and Neupane 1996), which, although valuable,...

    • 11 Women at the Helm of Irrigated Agriculture in Mexico: The Other Side of Male Migration
      (pp. 170-189)
      Stephanie Buechler

      How do women manage groundwater for agriculture in the absence of men? All over Latin America, they take important roles as water managers during the increasingly protracted periods of migration when husbands, fathers, and/or brothers are absent. Despite this role, groundwater use by women has not received as much attention as large-scale surface water system use. This chapter addresses this deficiency and shows that contrary to the prevailing gender stereotypes that women are ignorant of how to manage water for irrigation until they are trained by “experts,” they, in fact, have considerable knowledge because of their experience in agriculture since...

    • 12 Toward a Broader Perspective
      (pp. 190-208)
      Vivienne Bennett, Sonia Dávila-Poblete and María Nieves Rico

      The preceding chapters have built a picture of the water sector in Latin America under stress, as it is in most regions of the world. Top-down management has failed to consider the community impacts of national policies and has ignored effective local forms of organization. This has led to rejection, confrontation, and conflict as seen in Bolivia and Argentina, and at the regional and local levels, fragmented management has contributed to inadequate water services and systems (Global Water Partnership 2000, 9).

      Dávila-Poblete and Rico (chapter three) described how over the past ten years, as water has come to be seen...