What the is gender

Gender is a socially constructed definition of women and men. It is not the same as sex (biological characteristics of women and men) and it is not the same as women. Gender is determined by the conception of tasks, functions and roles attributed to women and men in society and in public and private life.

[Gender in practice.
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation]

The Gender approach s distinct in that it focuses on women and men and not on women in isolation. It highlights:

  • the differences between womenís and menís interest even within the same household and how these interact and are expressed.
  • the conventions and hierarchies which determine womenís and menís position in the family, community and society at large, whereby women are usually dominated by men
  • the differences among women and among men, based on age, wealth, ethnic background and other factors
  • the way gender roles and relations change, often quite rapidly, as a result of social, economic and technological trends

[Wijk and Francis, 1999]

Gender equity requires equal enjoyment by women and men of socially valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards. Gender equity does not mean that women and men become the same, but that their opportunities and life chances are equal.

Gender Analysis takes into account social and economical differences between women and men at each stage of policy development for the purpose of:

  • Revealing potential different impact of policy, program and law on women and men;
  • Ensuring equal results for women and men, boys and girls, in measures design and implementation


Gender mainstreaming in relation to water is defined by the World Water Vision as follows:

“It (the gender approach) includes addressing both practical and gender needs such as improving womenís conditions through the provision of water and sanitation closer to their houses as well as strategic gender needs: improving womenís position in society by increasing her awareness of her situation and her capacity to take decisions and influence change. A gender approach also seeks to prevent further overburdening of women and stresses the importance of not automatically reinforcing and perpetuating traditional roles. This implies the needs to address men as well as women, since men are required to change their attitude and behaviour to support this”.

[World Water Vision, 1999]

Women have primary roles in the collection, transport, use, and management of water and the promotion of sanitary practices, and yet are hardly involved in decision making in the sector.

[Asian Development Bank
ADB Gender Checklist: Water Supply and Sanitation]

In developing the full and effective participation of women at all levels of decision-making, consideration has to be given to the way different societies assign particular social, economic and cultural roles to men and women. There is a need to ensure that the water sector as a whole is gender aware, a process which should begin by the implementation of training programmes for water professional and community or grass root mobilizers.

[Global Water Partnership
Integrated Water Resources Management]

The implementation of a gender approach within institutions and organizations and the establishment of formal and informal networks are crucial.

[International Conference on Freshwater
Bonn, 2001]