Gender mainstreaming in water: relfections from Cali, Colombia

Written by Tatiana Acevedo Guerrero, on 6 December 2018

The research teams of all DUPC2 projects taking place in Colombia met within the context of “AGUA 2018: Water, environmental justice, and peace”, a Latin American conference gathering academics and decision makers from the region. Latin American and Dutch professors, research assistants, and students from the Program for Collaborative Research and Innovation (S-MultiStor), the Sanitation Learning Alliance (Golden Triangle Latin America), and the Evidence4Policy project, gathered in Cali to discuss the ways in which gender and diversity are being tackled and incorporated within each project.

Reflecting on norms and values

In the first part of this session we discussed the meanings of “gender”. Gender has to do with the socially constructed roles attributed to men and women and the social meanings given to the biological differences of sex. It is time and place specific and interacts with other social relationships (based on difference, such as socio-economic status, ethnicity, and age). We learned how “gender mainstreaming” entails more than "adding a component of women" or "increasing the participation of women" in a water project. It often involves reflecting on (and sometimes changing) norms and values, the "normal" ways of doing things, traditions and beliefs - and can even lead to questioning ideas and understandings about oneself and others. Because it can involve the challenge of our sense of normalcy or go against particular interests, the incorporation of a gender perspective and gender changes can be difficult, painful and provoke resistances. It thus goes beyond merely differentiating between men and women and ultimately strives to help transform gender inequities or gender-based exclusions.

How should gender be addressed?

In the second part of the session, participants intervened to identify where and how their projects can and should address questions of gender. It was concluded that a fundamental task is to read the contexts, since each context requires a different and customized inclusion plan. In this sense, it is essential to work with researchers not only from the engineering or hydrology fields, but also anthropologists, sociologists and communication professionals, who are trained to interpret different cultural contexts. In this sense, the work carried out by the Engineering and Environmental Management Group of Universidad de Antioquia that, being conformed by a mix between natural and social scientists, has embarked on interdisciplinary work.

Power laden relations existing within the research groups themselves were also discussed. Acknowledging these differences that might exist not only between genders, but also between Europeans and Colombians, teachers and students, can lead to a productive reflection about gender and diversity in the water profession and help understand some larger contexts of doing gender in a professional water environment.

The group concluded that gender mainstreaming activities require additional financial and human resources, and time (patience)! Most importantly, it is a process where context and interdisciplinary works matter and where different teams can learn from the accomplishments and challenges faced by each other.


Click on the links for more information on AGUA 2018, S-MultiStor, Golden Triangle Latin America and Evidence4Policy


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