Human rights and gender dimensions of water governance in Africa: Actors, norms and institutions (completed)

The primary aim of the project is to contribute to the development of a human rights based framework for water governance pertaining to women's rights as water users and decision makers.


The primary aim of the project is to contribute to the development of a human rights based framework for water governance pertaining to women's rights as water users and decision makers. Exploring interaction between international, national and local norms the aim is to lay a foundation for a rights based framework responding to two concerns:

1) gendered water needs, uses and norms and

2) gendered perceptions of women as decision makers and right holders

A related aim is to consider appropriate measures to implement the right to water and the right to participation in a way that strengthens women's formally and locally defined rights.

The secondary objective is to translate these interrelated dimensions of a rights based approach for gender equal water governance into strategies that are nationally and locally appropriate in each of the four countries, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and Zimbabwe. This includes dissemination of information on the right to water.


Democratization, good governance, sustainable use and broadened access to resources are concerns that have informed land and water reforms in Africa. Despite frequent references to rights-based approaches to development in general, empirical research identify a lacking appreciation of women's water needs and uses and their right to have a say in institutions governing access.

The aim of the project is to lay an empirical and legal foundation for appropriate frameworks and strategies for inclusion of the human rights and gender equality dimension in water governance.

It combines empirical research of water uses and management on the ground with the study of laws and policies developed at international and national level in four African countries. Within an interdisciplinary framework it seeks an understanding of the outcome of water governance processes with a view to how human rights are defined, mobilized, transformed or resisted by different actors, such as governments, donors and NGO's.

A key question is whether and under what conditions decentralized water governance systems facilitates the inclusion and protection of women's water rights. Cases from Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe sheds light on these processes through the lens of women's participation as both a tool to ensure that gendered uses of water are considered, and as part of the overall right to participation in decision-making.

The research teams will collect and synthesize field-evidence on three related themes: the gendered nature of access to and use of water, the effects of women's participation towards including these in decision/policy-making, and the conditions for women's participation in local institutions.

The case studies will reflect how women negotiate their position as water users and decision makers under differing political and legal contexts, the degree of government commitment through incorporation of human rights, scale of donor influence, strength of women's organizations.


The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council NORGLOBAL program.

Project partners

The project is a colaboration between 4 partner institutions:

  • International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
  • Strathmore University, Kenya
  • University of Malawi
  • University of Zimbabwe

The project cooperates with the the Institute of Womens Law, Child Law, Gender equality and anti-discrimination law (KVIBALD) at the University of Oslo.

Published Feb. 24, 2012 11:21 AM - Last modified Feb. 21, 2020 11:35 AM


Project leader:

Prof. Anne Hellum