Water Gender Policy in Practice in Uganda

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Corinne Schuster-Wallace
Women participating in a community meeting about water and health challenges in Kiyindi, Uganda.

As a country, Uganda has strived over the years to ensure that it has a gender-sensitive approach towards development. In 1997, the Ugandan government developed its first Uganda Gender Policy (UGP). Renewed in 2007, the UGP aims to establish a clear framework for identification, implementation, and coordination of interventions aimed at achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.1 The policy requires ministries to translate the UGP into sector-specific strategies and activities, build capacity, monitor and evaluate, and commit resources for implementing these activities. So, in 1999, when the government formulated a National Water Policy to promote a sustainable approach to manage water, the UGP was applied. The water policy specifies that both women and men should have equal opportunity in community management, including water and sanitation committees.2 One of the crucial steps in this process was collecting data on how water scarcity affects men and women differently—with the burden of water collection usually falling on the latter.

Over a decade later, the results of the national study on water have been utilized impressively, with ongoing work to integrate women into local decision-making processes on resource management.

Access to safe water in rural areas has been growing steadily, from 61.3 percent in 2004/5 to 65 percent in 20014/15. Yet, problems remain. There continues to be limited gender disaggregated data in the sector, which affects gender responsive planning and budgeting. In 2008, only 16 percent of districts had additional gender disaggregated data, besides the expected reporting on the gender indicator.3 Monitoring and reporting formats still exclude a provision for capturing in depth qualitative data.

Chris Stanley
A women’s meeting in Lyantonde District, Uganda.

At the same time, there are not enough women’s voices being heard in key decision-making forums. Women fill only 16 percent of the top management positions at the Ministry of Water and Environment.4 Additional work must be done by the Ministry of Public Service and by local governments to ensure that recruitment processes are more gender sensitive.

At the local level, while women now hold more positions on water committees, they often struggle to attend meetings due to other commitments. When women are able to vote on decisions, lack of land ownership means they have less influence compared to their male colleagues.

The answer to these issues is to broaden the focus on women’s participation beyond water in order to address the deeper causes of poverty. That means applying gendered lenses to health, energy, and food, and supporting women in small-scale enterprise projects that generate economic growth, and cannot be taken over by the formal sector to the detriment of women. For example, women’s capacity should be developed in fields, such as alternative energy technology, that could create income-generating opportunities for women while also protecting local environments.

Expanding a gendered perspective to other sectors will only make sense if the government redoubles its efforts to collect data so as to monitor the impacts of these policies. Improved data can demonstrate that women’s lives really are improving, or else point us in the direction of what further work is needed.

References

  1. Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Gender Policy. Government of Uganda (2007).
  2. Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment. National Water Policy. Government of Uganda (1997).
  3. Ministry of Wildlife and Environment. Water and Sanitation Sub-Sector Gender Strategy (2010-15). Government of Uganda (2010).
  4. Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. Gender and Equity Assessment for the Water and Sanitation Sector Final Report (Phase two). Government of Uganda (2014).