Environmental Management (2014) 54:1320–1330 DOI 10.1007/s00267-014-0356-1
The Role of Women in Water Management and Conflict Resolution in Marsabit, Kenya Sarah Yerian • Monique Hennink • Leslie E. Greene • Daniel Kiptugen • Jared Buri • Matthew C. Freeman
Received: 16 December 2013 / Accepted: 14 August 2014 / Published online: 29 August 2014 Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Abstract We employed qualitative methods to explore how conflict over water collection and use impacts women, and the role that women play in water management and conflict resolution in Marsabit, Kenya. Conflicts between domestic and livestock water led to insufficient water for domestic use and intra-household conflict. Women’s contributions to water management were valued, especially through informal initiatives, though involvement in statutory water management committees was not culturally appropriate. Promoting culturally appropriate ways to involve women in water management, rather than merely increasing the percentage of women on water committee, may reduce conflicts and increase women’s access to domestic water supplies. Keywords Water conflict Water management Kenya Qualitative Women Water governance Gender
S. Yerian L. E. Greene M. C. Freeman Department of Environmental Health, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road NE, CNR 2027, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA S. Yerian M. Hennink L. E. Greene M. C. Freeman (&) Center for Global Safe Water, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA e-mail: [email protected]
M. Hennink Hubert Department of Global Health, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA, USA D. Kiptugen Millennium Water Alliance, PO BOX 14978-00800, Nairobi, Kenya J. Buri Food for the Hungry Kenya, PO BOX 14978-00800, Nairobi, Kenya
Introduction The world faces a water crisis due to rapid population growth and changes in global climate patterns that have increased pressure on finite freshwater supplies (Black et al. 2010). Scarcity of supply, inequities in access, and allocation and use of water among competing users and priorities have increasingly led to conflict over water at both the national and local level (Gehrig and Rogers 2009). The number and intensity of local water-related conflicts are expected to increase, particularly in areas affected by scarcity, drought, and climate variability (Ravnborg 2004; GoK 2002; Wolf et al. 2005). This challenge is especially acute in areas with existing water scarcity. At the community level, preventing and mitigating water-related conflict necessitates context-specific governance and a user-based approach to water management (Gehrig and Rogers 2009; Ravnborg 2004; Wolf et al. 2005). In Kenya, the Water Act of 2002 devolved management of water resources to communities in an effort to improve water management (GoK 2002). One presumed advantage of devolved management is that local users are most aware of their water needs and are therefore able to mitigate potential conflicts better than national-level governance (Bruns 2005; Ray 2007). Examples of local water management suggest that this can be an effective approach, though limitations exist. Marginalized groups such as women, the poor, ethnic minorities, non-elites, youth, and the elderly are frequently excluded from community water management schemes reinforcing societal inequalities through water access (Ravnborg 2004). The inclusion of women in community water management is of particular importance in the developing world where women are primarily responsible for domestic water collection (Ray 2007; van Wijk et al. 1996). In these cultural
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contexts, women’s traditional household roles include childcare, cooking, and cleaning, which necessitate the collection and handling of domestic water for consumption, hygiene, and agricultural production (e.g., home gardens and watering animals) (Howard and Bartram 2003; Ray 2007). Researchers and practitioners generally agree on the importance of including women in planning and management of community water initiatives (Ray 2007). However, the nature of women’s participation or the programmatic mechanisms necessary to increase participation, access, and control of water for women are less clear (Ray 2007). A frequent refrain from development organizations to including women is that the percentage of women on water committees is directly related to sustainability of water supply, yet this requirement is both unproven and overly general to the role that women can play in water management. For the purposes of this study, conflict was defined as a social situation in which a minimum of two actors or parties strive to acquire, at the same moment, an available set of scarce resources (Wallensteen 2002). Water-related conflicts were defined as conflicts arising between two or more parties holding competing claims over a water resource, its allocation, or use (Gehrig and Rogers 2009). Water management was defined as follows, based on the definition of water allocation within Integrated Water Resource Management approach, promoted in Marsabit by the Millennium Water Alliance: Allocating water to major water users and uses, maintaining minimum levels for social and environmental use while addressing equity and development needs of society (Water Resource Management 2014). The objectives of this study were to understand the types and nature of conflicts over scarce water resources, how these conflicts impact women, and the role that women can play in water management and water conflict resolution in Marsabit District, Kenya. We used qualitative research methods to collect data from women and men from different tribes to better understand the nature and context of water conflict. This study was a partnership between researchers at the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory University, Food for the Hungry Kenya (FHK), and the Millennium Water Program in Kenya. The results of this study will be used to inform FHK’s program implementation aimed to improve water access and management in Marsabit District.
Methods Research Setting Marsabit is an arid/semi-arid district in northern Kenya, inhabited mostly by semi-nomadic livestock herders from
the Borana, Gabra, Samburu, and Rendille ethnic groups. It is the second largest district in Kenya, with 75 % of land classified as rangeland and used for livestock grazing (Haro et al. 2005; Mwangi 2006). The main water sources in the district are boreholes, seasonal dams, and open pond-like catchments that fill with rainwater (Mwangi 2006). Access to microbiologically safe drinking water sources (defined as piped or tapped sources, rainwater, boreholes or deep wells, and protected wells and springs) is particularly challenging in the region (Greene et al. 2010). During the rainy season, only 28 % of households use a safe water source within one kilometer of their home, reducing to only 21 % in the dry season (Greene et al. 2010). Water collection during the dry season takes approximately 4 h, with each household collecting an average daily quantity of 9.8 L per person (Greene et al. 2010). Access to scarce water resources to meet domestic and livestock demands has historically been a factor for conflict within and between ethnic groups in the region. Boundary disputes, political disagreements, traditional practices of livestock raiding, historic ethnic tensions, and differences between traditional and modern approaches to resource management also contribute to ethnic conflict (Haro et al. 2005; Mwangi 2006). Periods of drought in East Africa have increased pressures on the already scarce water resources, escalating the potential for water-related conflict in Marsabit. Study Site This study was conducted at three sites (Loglogo, Walda, and Turbi) in Marsabit District, Kenya, which were purposively selected using four criteria. Sites were all (1) located within the program area of FHK; (2) had known conflict over access to water; (3) had known water conflict both between and within communities; and (4) were representative of the major ethnic groups in the region, a common contributor to conflict. Additional demographic data such as participant age and wealth status were not collected. At each site, local community members were elected for annual terms to a water management committee (WMC) that was responsible for overseeing water usage including operation and maintenance of borehole pumps. At Loglogo, the community composed of both Samburu and Rendille ethnic groups. Loglogo had three boreholes and several rain-fed catchments. Borehole water was used for domestic use, livestock watering, and supplying water trucks that transport water to nearby communities. Multiple uses of water sources at Loglogo contributed to periodic intra-community conflict. The second site, Walda was settled by the Borana ethnic group and had several rain-fed catchments and one borehole. Borehole water was the main water source for both the Borana and surrounding
communities comprises different ethnic groups, which led to inter-community conflict over water. The third study site, Turbi, comprises the Gabra ethnic group, who collect water from the Walda borehole, described above, especially during the dry season. Data Collection Qualitative data were collected using key informant interviews (KII), focus group discussions, (FGD), and semistructured observation of water points between May and August 2011. Ten KIIs were held with representatives from organizations that focused on water management and conflict resolution including FHK, the Pastoralist Shade Initiative, peace committees, water management committees, chiefs, and local government officials. The key informants were identified through recommendations by FHK and through a snowball recruitment approach in which interviewees were asked to recommend other relevant stakeholders to participate in the study. A semistructured interview guide was used and included the following topics: influences and consequences of general conflict and water-related conflict, statutory and traditional water policies, and current approaches to water management. Interviews were conducted by the first author in English or by bilingual research assistants in the local language. Data from the KIIs were used to structure and refine the topics in the FGD guides. Sixteen FGDs were held with women and men over 18 years of age to identify community experiences of water conflict. Focus groups were stratified by gender and ethnicity to facilitate a productive environment for discussion and enable comparisons to be made by gender and ethnic group. Three FGDs were held each with women and men at Loglogo and Walda and two each with women and men at Turbi. Each FGD was composed of six to ten participants, purposively recruited by FHK staff members who were familiar with the objectives of the study and trusted by the communities at study sites. The discussion guide included the following topics: experiences of water conflict between households, communities, and within communities; the current and potential role of women in water management and conflict resolution; and suggestions for addressing water conflict. All FGDs were moderated by FHK staff trained in focus group methodology (Hennink et al. 2011) and research ethics (Rivera and Borasky 2009), and conducted in the local language of each region, including Samburu, Rendille, and Borana languages. Local languages were not commonly written, so moderators discussed effective oral translations of each question to ensure consistency in questioning between groups. All FGDs were recorded digitally and by a trained note-taker. These notes were used
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to guide debriefing sessions after each discussion between the moderator, note-taker, and first author to review important issues raised before conducting the next group (Hennink et al. 2011). Non-participant, semi-structured observation was used to identify behaviors and interactions of users at the water sources to provide context to data collected in focus group discussions. A total of five 1 h observations were conducted. We conducted two observations at boreholes at each site in Loglogo and Walda, and one at a large tank for domestic water use in Turbi. Observations recorded the number of men and women at each water source, the number and type of livestock, interactions among different water users, and the nature of interactions between water users and any water management committee members present. Observations were conducted jointly by Sarah Yerian and between two and four additional research assistants conversant in the local language. Each research assistant took notes which were discussed during the debrief sessions and to triangulate with information shared by FGD participants. Data Management and Analysis Digital recordings of KIIs and FGDs were transcribed verbatim, simultaneously translated into English when necessary, and checked for accuracy and completeness by an independent source. Focus group data were analyzed using MAXQDA 10 (Marburg, Germany). Data were first read, and core themes were identified using inductive and deductive techniques, and listed in a codebook. Data were coded by the first author, and inter-coder agreement (Corbin and Strauss 2007) was conducted with an independent source. Analysis began with developing detailed descriptions of core themes, which were compared between men and women and among sites. Themes were then grouped into broader categories, including types of water interactions, influences on conflict, impacts of conflict, and women’s roles in water management and conflict. These categories were again compared between men and women and among sites. Relationships of the broader categories were represented visually in the conceptual diagram (Fig. 1). The diagram was reviewed and discussed by the first, second, and corresponding authors, and data were read again to ensure that the diagram was an accurate representation of the data.
Results Water-related interactions occurred among livestock herders, between livestock herders and domestic users, among domestic users, and within households. Most interactions were cooperative in nature, but each type of interaction had the potential to result in conflict.
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Fig. 1 Framework describing influences and potential solutions to different types of water conflict
Influences on Water Conflict Environmental conditions, water management, and cultural norms were reported as the three main influences on water conflict (Fig. 1). First, environmental conditions contributed to scarce water and convergence at the limited water sources available. During the rainy season, seasonal dams and pans filled with water providing herders with a range of water sources for their livestock; however, in the dry season, water was scarce, so livestock herders converged on the few permanent water sources, such as large boreholes, also used for domestic water. As a result, large numbers of livestock and domestic users often needed to share the same water sources. At the large boreholes, a diesel-powered generator pumped water from underground and directed it either to troughs for livestock and/or taps for collection for domestic use. There were several troughs at each borehole, designated for each type of livestock (Fig. 2). Camels drank from one trough, cows from another, and goats and sheep together from a third. Pipes led directly from the borehole to the trough to fill them with water. At the taps for domestic water collection, pipes filled a large storage tank with a tap on it. At any one point in time, water could be directed to either the livestock troughs or the domestic tanks but not to both. In Walda, the WMC charged a fixed amount per head of livestock to drink from the troughs. In Loglogo, livestock users brought their own diesel to fuel the generator, which pumped water into the troughs until the fuel was used up. At both sites, domestic users were charged per 20 L container. Borehole members, who paid monthly fees, were charged lower rates for all water collection (both livestock and domestic) than non-members.
Second, two types of water management systems (customary and statutory) operated in parallel, which caused misunderstandings about access and use of the water sources. In customary systems, traditional leaders such as chiefs and elders from different communities and ethnic groups regulated the utilization of water sources to prolong the availability of seasonal sources. When water was shared between communities, leaders from both communities agreed on sharing rights. Statutory WMCs, elected by the community, simultaneously managed water sources, according to specific government by-laws. The WMC was mandated to assist in resolving any water-related conflicts at boreholes. In Loglogo and Walda, committee members received conflict resolution training from the government and NGO organizations. Peace committees, also elected by the community, advised WMCs on conflict resolution techniques. Variations in understanding of the mandate and powers of each type of management, and actual or perceived corruption in management, influenced potentially cooperative interactions to become conflict interactions. Third, cultural and gender norms provided challenges in women’s participation in WMCs. All water management occurred within a cultural context that placed a high value on livestock and in which traditional gender norms dictated that women should not speak in front of men or manage community level affairs. Both the customary and statutory water management systems were dominated by men, and the needs of women as domestic water users were often overlooked. In this context, when different users converged at water points, especially during the dry season, livestock herders were prioritized over domestic water users, leading to increased risk of conflict.
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Fig. 2 Livestock troughs in Walda
Types and Impacts of Water Conflict Four distinct types of water conflict were described (as shown in Fig. 1), including conflict among livestock herders users, between domestic water users and livestock herders, among domestic water users, and conflicts within households. Despite variation in the characteristics of each study site, the types of water conflict identified were similar across all sites. The sections below outline each type of conflict and their impacts, shown in Fig. 1. Conflict among livestock herders was influenced by a range of situations including: the competition for access to the limited number of water troughs, bribing of the management committee, and misunderstandings about water sharing agreements between communities. Livestock herders, all males, are traditionally responsible for moving livestock to available pasture and water. Conflicts typically occurred both between livestock herders from the same ethnic group or with herders from different ethnic groups. Participants explained that when herders brought their livestock to water points, the greatest demand for water occurred in the morning to allow time to move livestock to pastures during the day. This competition often caused conflict, as explained below: …people are overcrowded in one point leading to fights because of priorities. One wants to be ahead of the other one [in the queue] because the animals are coming from far so you wish to take water earlier so that you will go earlier. [Male FGD, Loglogo]
Participants described instances where livestock herders bribed the WMC to access the water trough without queuing, leading to verbal arguments and physical fights, regardless of ethnicity. Conflicts between herders from different ethnic groups occurred when herders from another community used the water trough without following agreed rules on water access. Men from the same ethnic group tended to support each other when conflict between individuals from different ethnic groups occurred: If a person from a particular clan [ethnic group] brings conflict, he gets supported by the members of his clan and vice versa. [Male FGD, Turbi] Existing conflicts between ethnic groups sometimes led to men disregarding agreed rules of water sharing, leading to conflict between men from different ethnic groups. Conflict among domestic water users was influenced by the competition for priority access to the domestic water tap, bribery of WMC overseer, and favoritism toward specific women in the queue. Domestic water users were predominantly women, who were responsible for domestic water collection. Women also collected water for young calves and small goats, which were too young to travel with adult livestock and kept at home. This activity was considered part of domestic water collection, and the researchers did neither explicitly ask about additional productive uses nor did participants mention them. Disputes occurred when overcrowding at water points forced women to wait in long queues. Women usually placed their
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Fig. 3 Women in Turbi queue to collect water from a water tank
water containers in the queue to secure their position, but they sometimes disagreed about who arrived first and the order of the containers (Fig. 3). The WMCs often employed a woman to oversee the domestic water tap and collect payments from people for each container of water they filled. Women described times when the overseer favored certain women in the queue, allowing them to collect water without waiting. This led to verbal disagreements and sometimes physical fights between women. Women noted that conflicts at the domestic tap did not continue once they left the water source, and they often forgave each other afterward, stating that the conflict was ‘‘just about water.’’ Conflict between livestock and domestic users occurred when management institutions, generally led by men, prioritized access to some users over others. Participants explained that filling livestock troughs was often prioritized over supplying the domestic taps at boreholes. Men stated that although this was the case in practice, domestic water should be given priority. So what we usually do when livestock are there waiting, we give them the first priority because everyone has his livestock to take water first, but what should be done is to give first human beings. [Male FGD, Loglogo] Men explained that livestock were often given priority access to the water because they had a greater distance to travel and that women could collect water for domestic use after the livestock left. Women stated that men on the water
committee were not involved in domestic water collection, they did not understand the effects of water collection on women’s’ daily lives. When there is no water, men are not even aware. Women are the ones who know all the problems of water. Men only know when livestock need water, they do not care about domestic use. [Female FGD, Loglogo] Prioritization of livestock users at the water points, led to increased time for domestic water collection, traveling greater distances to seek water from alternative sources and higher cost for water at these alternative sources. When the queue was long or they had to wait for the livestock to be given water, women described alternative strategies for getting water that included collecting less water than they preferred or using alternative water sources that were further away or more costly to avoid the long waits. Women contributed to conflict when they tried to fill their 20 L containers with water from the troughs, while livestock were drinking. Participants recounted stories where women were beaten for collecting free water pumped with another person’s diesel (Fig. 4). This example was cited again by FHK staff members in the Marsabit office during the presentation of preliminary results. Wives, husbands, and children were all engaged in household conflict over how to use limited domestic water. Women at all sites stated that men and children did not understand the hardships women endured to collect household water and did not respect women’s intended use
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Fig. 4 Women stealing water from livestock troughs in Loglogo
of domestic water. Women rationed water in the home to fulfill drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing needs for the entire family. Household disputes resulted when husbands used more than the intended amount of water for bathing or when children spilled water on the floor. Women explained that when they scolded their children, their husband often defended the child leading to a dispute with their wife. Women reported that the extra time devoted to water collection represented an opportunity cost for them. The quantity of water in the household was reduced, and the quality of the water was potentially compromised as women sometimes collect water from alternative sources, not preferred for domestic use. Conflict Mitigation and Resolution Opportunities for conflict mitigation and resolution reported by participants are shown in Fig. 1 by dotted lines. WMCs and customary leaders were responsible for both conflict mitigation and resolution, but the strategies for each were different. Conflict resolution involved discussions with the individuals or groups involved in the conflict and a fee or punishment for those found guilty. Water management committees, peace committees, chiefs, and elders often mediated the meetings. The WMC for each borehole was mandated to assist in resolving conflicts that arose at the borehole, and the customary leaders were responsible for dealing with conflict in the community as a whole. The WMCs primarily resolved
conflicts among livestock herders because they were most likely to become violent at the borehole. When individuals broke the rules of the borehole, such as jumping the queue, the committee was responsible for enforcing pre-set penalties, including fines or restrictions on water usage. One participant explained the standard punishment for jumping the queue: There are standard fines for any sort of crime committed. For example, there are rules that punish the guilty by accessing the water point after everyone’s animals have drunk. So the guilty is kept waiting till the end. [Male FGD, Turbi] The WMC sometimes engaged customary leaders, though there was often confusion and misunderstandings about who should address conflict at water points. One participant explained her understanding of conflict resolution this way: …we do not know much about the government rule, we know more of our traditional rule. We go to the chief. Then the chief takes it to the next level. People have different opinion. (Female FGD, Walda) Suggested strategies to mitigate potential conflicts targeted the causes of conflict by reducing bribery, increasing understanding and clarity in water sharing agreements, and better representing both livestock and domestic water needs in management. Participants said that in particular, when women were involved in management, they were able to voice and prioritize their needs as domestic users.
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Women in Water Management Both women and men believed women to have valuable contributions to water management, but women’s attendance at WMC meetings did not guarantee their participation in decision-making. Culturally, it was considered disrespectful for women to speak in front of men, so if and when women spoke at meetings, what they said was not necessarily acknowledged. Usually, women are not given the first positions, even if it is talking or giving out points in a meeting. They do not even contribute because they know that their contributions are not even considered. [Male FGD, Loglogo] Women in some FGDs expressed concern about attending meetings because culturally it was not viewed as part of women’s role in the community and led to gossip about them. Women were also concerned about being employed as waterfee collectors to collect monies from domestic collectors, as they felt other women may perceive they are stealing the money. Men explained that government policies and NGOs required women to be part of the water management committees. They believed that women utilized limited resources well, such as food and water in the household, and were especially good at managing money. They described women as ‘‘faithful’’ and diligent in record keeping. Additionally, the role of the WMCs was seen as primarily mitigating conflict among livestock users (men), not other types of conflict between domestic users (women). While women’s potential contributions were appreciated, men and women did not view women’s membership on WMCs as the most appropriate or particularly effective way to increase their involvement. Women were engaged in water management outside of the official WMCs through projects that provided domestic water collection at sites far from the main borehole. These projects reduced walking and waiting time for domestic water collection, and were viewed as conflict mitigation. One site, Loglogo, was made up of several small villages. Women’s groups secured funding to install pipes from the main borehole to the tanks in each village. They made contributions to fuel the generator at the borehole and pump water to their tanks sufficient for several days of domestic use. These groups also sold the water at a reduced rate to other women in the village who were not members of the group. In addition to saving time for water collection, this system also helped poorer women in the village access domestic water at a reduced price. In Turbi, women often relied on rain-fed ponds for domestic water that dried up during the dry season. A women’s group secured funding from a private NGO to install a rock catchment system, with a large, covered, cement holding tank at the bottom of a rocky hillside to
collect rainwater. A tap on the tank was locked, and the water was reserved for domestic collection during the dry season. Women said the project helped them secure domestic water in dry seasons, during which they previously had to walk long distances to collect domestic water. The women’s groups in both Loglogo and Turbi were established generally for women’s empowerment, not specifically to address water issues. Each group engaged in other activities such as bead-work and operating guest houses for travelers, which served as sources of income. Women used group earnings to offer loans to group members and partially or fully fund new projects, when possible. Both groups were officially registered with the government and group leaders were either elected or appointed by members. The ethnic composition of the group paralleled that of the community, predominantly Samburu and Rendille in Loglogo and Gabra in Turbi.
Discussion We found that neither water scarcity itself nor ethnicity alone were key influences on water-related conflicts in Marsabit. Water scarcity influenced specific types of interactions at water points, but conflict within these interactions stemmed from prevailing gender norms that gave preference to livestock water needs, and local level management of water sharing among users. There has not been a systematic overview of local level water conflict, and little is known about the context and influences on water conflict or on local conflict mitigation strategies (Ravnborg 2004). Where conflict occurred, it increased time, distance traveled, and cost of water collection, which resulted in reduced quantity and quality of water in the household. Both men and women perceived women to have a unique role in conflict mitigation, though these roles were not frequently exploited in practice. A recent study by Adano et al. examined whether there was a connection between water scarcity and violent conflict in Marsabit. The results showed that more casualties occur during the rains than during times of drought (Adano et al. 2012). Similar results were found in two additional studies that examined the relationship between water scarcity and conflict over water resources in Marsabit (Tapela 2013; Adano 2009). Tapela found greater cooperation over water during the dry season and suggests that watering points are the location where conflicts occur, but water itself is not the reason for conflict. Although we did not look exclusively at violent conflict, our results were consistent with these recent studies; water scarcity alone was not an influence on conflict. We expected ethnicity to have a larger influence on conflict than we found. Participants did explain that
ethnicity was sometimes a component of conflict between livestock users but not regarding domestic users. Male livestock herders tend to travel far distances with their animals and are therefore more likely to share water sources with herders from different ethnic groups. However, women tend to collect domestic water from sources close to their homes and are less likely to encounter women from other ethnic groups, which may explain why ethnicity was not a key influence on overall conflict. In Kenya, customary approaches to natural resources management and conflict resolution often operate in parallel to statutory approaches but employ different strategies (Robinson et al. 2010; Scott-Villiers et al. 2011). In our study, the overlapping mandates of each system of conflict resolution was a key contributor to conflict. Customary approaches focus on a deliberation process—by which people ‘‘confer, ponder, exchange views, consider evidence, reflect on matters of mutual interest, negotiate, and attempt to persuade each other’’ (Robinson et al. 2010). The WMCs use a process of participation, which focuses more on formal structures and meetings led by leaders (Robinson et al. 2010), rather than the deliberation process of discussion among equals, traditionally employed by pastoralists in Marsabit (Scott-Villiers et al. 2011). While community members value women’s unique knowledge as domestic water collectors and believe it should be integrated into management decisions, involvement in WMCs may not provide an appropriate forum for women to participate in decision-making regarding community water resources. In Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, women’s participation in WMCs was hindered by time constraints due to their other domestic tasks and the opportunity costs related to taking time to attend meetings (Cleaver 1998; Meinzen-Dick and Zwarteveen 1998). In our study, the key challenge to women’s involvement was not their ability to attend meetings but their ability to participate in decision-making at meetings due to gendered expectations about women’s participation at such meetings. Cultural norms dictate that women are not supposed to speak in front of men or lead a discussion with groups of men. As such, the typical conflict mitigation strategy employed to increase involvement of women on committees may not actually provide more agency without discrete activities to overcome social norms. Although it is a common NGO and government policy to mandate that 50 % of the membership in water committee be reserved for women, the women in our study expressed concern about the social risks of committee membership. They were specifically concerned about social stigma from other women in the community for fulfilling a role meant for men. Similar social risks were reported in Zimbabwe where younger, unmarried women were concerned about speaking at a meeting in the
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presence of older women (Cleaver 1998). In Ghana, fear and shyness as well as criticisms from other women were identified as barriers to women’s participation in rural water and sanitation programs (Boateng et al. 2013). These factors were again identified in Namibia where women cited inadequate chances to participate, lack of confidence, and lack of women in leadership roles as reasons they did not participate in community conservation groups (Lendelvo et al. 2012). Understanding communication networks among women and which women from the community can best integrate concerns in committee meetings is an important component of enhancing women’s contributions. Agarwal (2010) defines six distinct types of participation in her study of the impact of women’s proportional numbers on their effective participation within community forestry institutions in India and Nepal. The most basic level of participation, nominal, is defined as ‘‘membership in the group,’’ whereas the highest level of participation, interactive (empowering) is defined as, ‘‘having voice and influence in the group’s decisions; holding positions as office bearers’’ (p. 101). Agarwal concluded that although a number of factors affect women’s participation, higher numbers of women in attendance at meetings did enhance women’s effective participation through both attendance at meetings and speaking up at meetings. If women are to effectively participate in decisionmaking on the WMCs in Marsabit, an important first step would be to ensure that the women who are already members actually attend the meetings, rather than hold token membership. Secondly, we should consider which women from the community have the potential to be the most effective on the committee both in participation as well as understanding and representing the needs of other women. Older women from well-off families may feel most comfortable speaking up at meetings, but including younger and poorer women should also be considered. In her study of women fieldworkers’ participation in NGO community projects, O’Reilly (2008) found that women who are already leaders are more likely to speak at meetings but do not necessarily represent the interests of all women, reflecting existing social, ethnic, or power dynamics within the community. In fact, Agarwal suggests that disadvantaged women may be more inclined to speak up at meetings since they will be most affected by change if their voices are heard and may feel less social risk than well-off women (Agarwal 2010). The results of our study support previous work on the challenges of women’s participation, though few have offered tangible solutions. O’Reilly (2008) suggests that a single definition of participation will not be meaningful in all situations. In Marsabit, cultural appropriateness remains a fundamental challenge to effective mixed gender WMCs. Management of water resources is closely tied to livestock
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management, the main livelihood in Marsabit. Management of water, pasture, and other natural resources are considered to be community level decisions and the responsibility of men. Although women are also members of the peace committees that are mandated to advise WMCs, our study did not explore their participation or influence on peace committees. Projects by women’s groups, such as building domestic water tanks and rock catchments systems, enhanced access to domestic water, mitigated conflict between livestock and domestic users, and were viewed favorable, culturally appropriate examples where women could become engaged in water management. Increasing women’s involvement in management may reduce conflicts and increase access to domestic water. However, simply providing a seat on the WMC was unlikely to yield participation by those women. These projects accomplish both objectives outside of formal management structures. Given their acceptance within the community, enhancing these efforts could also offer a complementary approach to involving women in formal WMCs. Women’s groups could be engaged to work with the WMCs and customary leaders specifically related to water issues and water conflict mitigation. Women’s groups could serve as separate entities, similar to the peace committees, that are engaged as consultants or advisors on relevant issues, specifically, management of domestic water supplies. This approach avoids the cultural barriers and social stigma associated with women representatives on WMCs but may provide an avenue for women to express their water needs. If women are more involved in decision-making around water resources, they may also be less likely to contribute to water conflict. During the presentation of preliminary results to FHK staff in Marsabit, several staff credited women’s involvement in creating conflict with livestock users to their lack of knowledge of the by-laws of the WMCs. Not only would participating in decision-making allow women to represent their unique domestic needs, but also to create and understand agreed upon by-laws to govern water usage. Our study offers some insight into the perceptions of women’s inputs into water management and the current challenges to women’s effective participation in existing management schemes. Future work should more carefully consider the specific social and cultural dynamics among women in the community including age, ethnicity, and wealth, as these factors may influence women’s participation in management. Existing dynamics among women in the community may also be factors in the conflict created by women both between livestock and domestic users and among domestic users. Further work should also explore more thoroughly the role of customary water management systems and specifically, the current and potential role of women in these systems.
Conclusion While there is general agreement that women should be included in water management, there are no clear guidelines on how to include women in this role. This study showed that participation in water management committees did not frequently confer influence or result in more effective conflict mitigation. Female members of the committee were not invited to meetings and were culturally restricted in how they could voice their opinions. WMCs are able to mediate conflict at the water point but predominantly for livestock use, not domestic use. Effective management of water resources in Marsabit is important in preventing conflicts that occur when users with different priorities are unable to access enough water to meet their needs. Ethnic differences were not shown to be strong influences on conflict. Women can play an important role in the community structures that govern water management by offering a unique perspective as domestic water users. Although gender norms make attendance and active participation particularly challenging for women, men and women highlighted the importance of exploring ways to better facilitate women’s participation in these community structures. Whether participation alone is sufficient to increase women’s voices remains to be seen. Women’s groups mitigated overcrowding and competition between livestock and domestic users at shared water points, key influences of water-related conflicts. Engagement of existing women’s groups or formation of new groups with a specific mandate for water management may present a more culturally appropriate mechanism for women’s involvement. Acknowledgments This research was conducted under the Millennium Water Program Kenya. Financial support was provided by the United States Agency for International Development and the Emory University Global Field Experience Fund. The authors wish to thank the women and men who participated in this study. The authors would like to acknowledge Susan Aleya, Elizabeth Diko Boru, Peter Durito, Paul Forole, Joseph Iya Galgallo, Malich Galgallo, Ruth Moga, Samuel Moga, Pinto Ortoya, and Boru Andrew Roba, for their skill and dedication in data collection as well as Food for the Hungry Kenya staff—Simeon Ogamba, Richard Roba, and Alidiba—whose expertise in water, sanitation, and hygiene issues in Marsabit communities was instrumental to the success of the research. Conflict of interest of interest.
The authors declare that they have no conflict
Ethical Standards This study was deemed exempt by Emory University’s Institutional Review Board and was approved by the National Steering Committee on Peace building and Conflict Management in Kenya. Informed consent was obtained orally from all KII and FGD study participants.
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