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Men, masculinities and water powers in irrigation

Margreet Zwarteveen
Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: The aim of this article is to provide an informed plea for more explicitly identifying, naming and unravelling the linkages between water control and gender in irrigation. The fact that power, expertise and status in irrigation tend to have a strong masculine connotation is by now quite well established, and underlies calls for more women in water decision making, engineering education and professions. Yet, the questions of how and why water control, status and expertise are linked to masculinity, and of whether and how such links work to legitimize the exercise of power, are seldom asked. To date, associations between masculinity and professional water performance have largely been taken for granted and remained unexamined. The resulting perceived normalcy makes mechanisms of (gendered) power and politics in water appear self-evident, unchangeable, and indeed gender-neutral. The article reviews examples of the masculinity of irrigation in different domains to argue that exposing and challenging such hitherto hidden dimensions of (gendered) power is important for the identification of new avenues of gender progressive change, and for shedding a new and interesting light on the workings of power in water.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, water, gender, politics, masculinities, engineers