Global Resources

Gender and water policies in Africa: synthesis report

Author: E. Salo
Publisher: Global Water Partnership
Publication Date: Jan 2015

The purpose of this study by the Global Water Partnership and others is to examine the extent to which the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) gender policy and strategy has been implemented in national states and transboundary river basin agreements across Africa. Launched in May 2011, the Policy and Strategy for Mainstreaming Gender in Africa’s Water Sector emerged following three years of consultation which identified three core types of need: women’s equity, and economic and practical needs. The gender policy serves as a framework for all AMWOC member states, and provides stakeholders with support on actions and approaches that advances toward the equitable access, use and management of water resources in Africa.

To assess the implementation of the gender policy, five research teams studied seven countries in each of North, South, East, West, and Central Africa through desktop reviews of policy and decision-making in the water sector, together with limited interviews. Countries were grouped into five categories, from stage 0 (an absence of supportive political and institutional environment) to stage 4 (normalised gender mainstreaming). While none of the countries analysed fell into the latter category, Seychelles and South Africa were judged to be at stage 3, while Libya, Mali, Somalia, Djibouti, and the Central African Republic were deemed to be at stage 0.

The findings indicate that political stability, a strong commitment to economic growth and poverty reduction, sex or gender equality, and the endorsement of international and continental gender in water protocols provide the necessary minimum requirements to initiate gender mainstreaming. Women’s participation and representation in governance and decision-making within the water sector is severely limited in a number of countries, while resource allocation for gender mainstreaming is highly uneven across regions. The findings further indicate that gender is recognised, albeit unevenly, as a central aspect in transboundary river basin protocols, Strong commitments to gender mainstreaming in regional economic communities, as well as collaboration with international agencies such as Global Water Project in West Africa to implement IWRM, do exert influence on the recognition of gender in these riparian agreements.

A number of recommendations are presented:

  • The AMCOW should pay special attention to gender mainstreaming in national water ministries, possibly initiated by an initial gender audit across the WASH sectors.
  • Countries presently in stage two of gender mainstreaming need to be supported to continue and strengthen monitoring and evaluation processes, including the collection of sex- and age-disaggregated data.
  • Knowledge gaps related to the WASH sector should be identified and addressed through national and international collaboration with universities and research institutes, and regional gender research centres.
  • Customary authorities and members of local water user associations should be capacitated in the importance and skills of gender mainstreaming, with local leaders identified and supported in their advocacy. Articulation between local and national levels of management should be strengthened to mitigate women’s marginalisation.
  • Countries in advanced stages of gender mainstreaming are and should be encouraged to periodically assess policies and implementation, to ensure the mainstreaming becomes normalised.
  • Stronger influence should be exerted on members of transboundary river basin agreements to adhere to the gender protocols already contained in regional development communities and in the AMCOW gender strategy, and protocols should be harmonized with national water policies that include gender mainstreaming as a key process.


The authors conclude by noting that the incorporation of gender mainstreaming as a cross-cutting process within a cross-sectoral water management arena is highly complex. Commendable progress toward this end has being made in West, Southern, and East Africa, but more needs to be done in North and Central Africa. Harmonisation between water sectors and all levels of governance, and political and economic stability, are key ingredients for successful gender mainstreaming, while governments should commit sufficient resources for international and regional collaboration to help institutionalise geneder mainstreaming across the entire continent.