Seema Kulkarni

Women reel under the dual onslaught of unprecedented drought and failed public policy in Marathwada. The government must wake up to this reality.

The image of a woman walking for miles with a pot of water on her head, another pot in one arm and a frail child clutching on to the other arm does not surprise anyone in Marathwada. These women are the most affected by the drought every year. The serpentine queues at a few functional wells in the villages are almost always dominated by women.

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Women work hard to get and use water every day but they lack easy access to it and are also not involved in decision making processes. How can we change this?

Images of women balancing pots of water on their heads and walking for miles are commonplace in rural areas. In urban slums, the image is slightly different - women can be seen queuing up before public stand-posts or tankers. In both situations, one thing is clear - women have little or no access to water. None of the hard work that they do around water translates into any significant gains for them whether it is access to the resource or to decision-making processes.

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These five papers on Women and Water published in the Economic and Political Weekly, examine the relationship of women to water.

It does this in the context of the new decentralised  governance structures that are based on the assumption that domestic water supply is the legitimate domain of women and thus power and authority needs to be granted to women to manage water resources.

However, there is a very little understanding of how this has benefited women and what are the challenges experienced during the process of implementation or the outcomes gained from these processes, in the context of the Indian society that continues to propogate patriarchal values and is based on structures that are inherently hierarchical and inequitable.

Some of the papers dwell on and explore the inherent biases in the literature and make an attempt to understand their implications for women in managing water resources, while some of the papers share case studies on the outcomes of the implementation of the decentralised water management policies at the village level.

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The focus of the report is on situating the watershed programme in context of larger developmental objective of sustainable and equitable livelihoods in rainfed areas

The report on “Watershed Development in Maharashtra” by Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM) ), on behalf of the Forum for Watershed Research and Policy Dialogue (ForWaRD), deals with the present scenario and issues for restructuring the programme. The concept of integrated and participatory watershed development and management has emerged as the cornerstone of rural development in the dry and semi-arid regions of India. Over the years the country has been making increasing investments in this area with the objective of enhancing the production potential of rainfed agriculture.

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