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Women and rural water management: Token representatives or paving the way to power?

Christina Geoffrey Mandara
Environmental Planning Department, Institute of Rural Development Planning, Dodoma, Tanzania; tinagm_2004@yahoo.com

Anke Niehof
Sociology of Consumption and Households Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands; anke.niehof@wur.nl

Hilje van der Horst
Sociology of Consumption and Households Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands; hilje.vanderhorst@wur.nl

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses how informal structures intersect with women’s participation in formally created decision-making spaces for managing domestic water at the village level in Tanzania. The results reveal the influence of the informal context on women’s access to and performance in the formal decision-making spaces. Overall, there is low community involvement in local governance structures, and in most village assemblies that of women is even less. Only in the Social Welfare Committee women are fairly well represented, presumably because of its linkage with the traditional division of labour and women’s practical gender needs. In the Village Water Committees, women’s representation is regulated by a quota system but women rarely occupy leadership positions. Even when husbands are supportive, patriarchal culture, scepticism and negative stereotypical assumptions on female leadership frustrate the government’s effort to enlarge women’s representation in the local decision-making spaces. Three entry points for change were identified: successful women leaders as role models; women’s passive participation in village meetings that could develop into active participation; and women’s membership of social and economic groups which strengthens their skills and bargaining position.

KEYWORDS: Women participation, domestic water management, Tanzania