The strategies for increasing women’s participation in water resource development do not understand the power dynamics within rural households and the gendered labor of agricultural and domestic sectors. A lack of local knowledge and flawed field research leads to inaccurate assumptions about farming and water use that pervade development projects and policies. KJBF water development work is negatively affected by its own gender inequities and the gender of policy and the history of NGO work.
KJBF can improve women’s involvement within the organization by helping families with the transitions in family structure that accompany women’s involvement in the organization’s activities. Because KJBF is rooted in the social organization and culture of rural Wardha, its own infrastructure limits the participation of women. Educating men about the long-term benefits of their wives’ participation in VV and SHGs would help them better understand the long-term benefits of these programs. This training could also make it more acceptable for women to leave the home for these meetings. KJBF already takes small groups of women to cities for computer trainings, and more frequent weeklong excursions can encourage men to take on more domestic responsibilities. The ever-influential Gandhi advocated for gender equality within households and education for women. His historical legacy can be used to help sway men’s attitudes in the Wardha district by demonstrating that gender equality is a longstanding and widely accepted concept. KJBF needs to also more assertively prevent men from attending women’s SHG meetings and also make sure that both men and women can attend WRD project meetings. These precautions would allow women to have time to privately discuss sensitive topics without isolating them from KJBF WRD work.
Increasing the presence and power of women begins with their consistent involvement with WRD projects. Nearly all of the KJBF staff members are from Wardha District, so they are familiar with the nuances of Wardha’s social dynamics. KJBF needs to increase women’s attendance at VV, SHG and PRA meetings by providing logistical support. Transport to and from remote villages, meals and especially childcare are just a few of the many accommodations that would enable more women to come to meetings and other events. Another resolution is to create women’s irrigation and WRD cooperatives that can lead farming projects, which are usually directed by men. They could then establish a project schedule that complies with the domestic demands of women so they can more fully participate.
Women are underrepresented on KJBF staff and a more equal gender balance would increase women’s participation and undermine stereotypes about women’s leadership in water resource projects. Female staff members are also valuable intermediaries between KJBF and women in beneficiary villages. They foster communication and elicit more honest feedback about the performance of water resource projects because they are more approachable to local women. If KJBF wants to hire more women, they will have to provide greater support for female staff than men. Providing childcare and more flexible work hours will allow married women to become staff members, as well as less demanding work hours. KJBF will also have to make their work environment more open towards female staff members contributing to and leading organization meetings and events. They will also need to lead projects other than Women’s SHGs and become involved with water resource management. Male staff members could also initiate more programming about gender dynamics that target men in Wardha’s farming communities. These changes will be difficult to implement because gender roles are deeply held by rural communities, but women’s participation in KJBF projects has already begun to dismantle these hierarchies.
KJBF currently focuses on water resource development, but it needs to better advocate for the management of existing water projects. They educate farmers on how to effectively irrigate their crops, but KJBF should also give community members legal advice on how to protect their water rights from private companies or government agencies. The KJBF WRD program will be replaced as Wardha’s citizens become mobilized to both manage and defend their water resources. KJBF needs to strive for obsolescence because it transfers power from outside institutions to the Wardha community, and it also does not become a substitute for government agencies.
As this research (hopefully) continues in coming years, I plan to expand this project to investigate how gender shapes water sanitation issues in Wardha District. I could also examine how religious and ethnic differences affect rural water management within communities. More concrete evidence of how water inequality affects tribal and landless groups would give KJBF more incentive to create specific WRD programming for these communities.
I would also change several things about my interviewing methods to gain the trust of Wardha’s citizens. I would first plan to live in each village for at least one week in order to be more approachable to community members. People are more likely to be interviewed if they have first had casual conversations and established a basic sense of familiarity. I would also change my interview strategy by enlisting several researchers to simultaneously conduct separate interviews with KJBF staff, farmers, and women. This would help to resolve the problem of large groups forming around interview sessions that ask about sensitive and private issues. I would also try to follow the daily activity schedule of women from families of different social backgrounds to gain even greater comprehension of women’s water use.
KJBF is a very hospitable and generous organization, but its rigid work culture can make it difficult to openly voice criticism or feedback on KJBF projects. KJBF needs to become less formal and hierarchical as it continues to partner with Carnegie Mellon and other foreign institutions, just as those groups need to spend longer periods of time in Wardha to better identify local water needs. These changes will place greater value on personal merit than the gender or social ranking of employees and researchers, in turn making projects more collaborative.
KJBF is only four years old, and as a young organization it has already shown tremendous progress in water resource development and management. Its work has demonstrated that water equality is more dependent on social change rather than costly technological advances, and that much of this progress can be contributed to the participation of women. Although KJBF can work to improve gender equality within its organization, their projects present a rare opportunity for women to form a community, improve their leadership skills, and gain access to opportunities like microfinance. The women’s Self-Help Groups have been tremendously successful in this regard, but KJBF needs to stop considering women to be only a special interest group, and instead as powerful collaborators within agriculture and water resource management. The accomplishments of Wardha’s women are an example not just for communities in developing countries, but in industrialized nations like the United States that are facing their own water resource challenges.