REPORT NO: 1021/1/02

March 2003



Research on the gender dimension of the national water policy and its impact on water and sanitation supply in the Eastern Cape was a project undertaken by the Department of Development Studies at the University of Fort Hare. The aim of the research was to undertake an analysis of the external aspect of the gender policy of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and the impact it has on water and sanitation provision and management in the Peddie district in the Eastern Cape. The DWAF gender policy is based on the National Water Act 36 of 1998 which emphasizes the principles of equity, access and sustainability. According to the gender policy equity encompasses identifying major gender issues and setting out goals and objectives to address them as well as establishing evaluation systems that will ensure continuing capacity to recognise and manage these issues.

It is often the case that development projects identify recipients of development assistance in collective terms such as "the community" or "the poor". This manner of reference translates into project conceptualization and planning that obfuscates the fact that roles and responsibilities between men and women in the communities are culturally stratified. In such instances the role of women is viewed as additional resources for projects to be more efficient and successful. Also, legislation and protocol in development programmes have often downplayed the different roles that women play in any given society. Therefore, this study has undertaken an analysis on the conceptualization of the gender dimension of the national water policy and the manner in which it addresses itself to the different factors which affect men and women in water supply, such as literacy, financial resources, time constraints, cultural values, decision-making, and effective and meaningful participation in the implementation of water and sanitation projects in the rural communities.


The original objectives of this research are as follows:

The findings of this study are based on the first two objectives mentioned above. This is due to the decision of the project steering committee which advised the research team to focus of the first two objectives. The argument of the steering committee was that the last three objectives were outside the scope, time frame and budget of the study. The study was done in the Peddie district in which the Peddie Regional Water Supply Scheme was established and is operating. The water project under the scheme covers four villages which are the target areas of the study. The water project is the first of its kind in the Eastern Cape which has been implemented along the guidelines of the external gender policy of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF). The information gathering for the study was done through discussions and interviews with various institutions, consultancy groups, the project steering committee of Peddie and its sub-committees and the village people.


The information gathering process included information from the literature on policy pronouncements, various documents on case studies from other countries as well as semi structured interviews held with different role players in the water scheme in Peddie.

Information from the literature on water and sanitation policy pronouncements and on case studies was assessed and synthesised in terms of identifying the differences between policy objectives and achievements resulting from policy implementation. Interviews with communities took the form of semi-structured discussions where the research team was playing more of a facilitatory role to elicit information from the respondents through the following activities:

Discussions with the male-only focus group were guided and facilitated by male researchers and discussions with the women's focus group were guided and facilitated by women researchers. Discussions with all groups were guided by a short questionnaire which was used to help the facilitator to focus the discussions.

Evaluation of the Policy Framework

The White Paper on Water Supply and Sanitation (1994)

The White Paper on Water Supply and Sanitation (1994) is the agenda-setting document for water law development in South Africa. In its elaborate discussion on the history of inequitable water resource and sanitation development and supply the White Paper points out that a sustainable development strategy must address the problem of inequitable allocation of resources in order to address the problems of poverty and misery. While the policy places the question of equity at the centre of the analysis it makes no mention of gender as a historical question of equity and social justice. Instead gender is mentioned as a supplementary policy in three paragraphs at the end of the document. The main principles forming the cornerstone of the policy make no mention of gender and yet the policy claims to have adopted a developmental approach in addressing water resources and sanitation allocation. The historical analysis of the policy seems to overlook the fact that the gender question is a class question as well and that studies have shown that it is poor women who often have to fight for such basic and practical needs as water.

A developmental approach needs to place gender as a central focus and to integrate a gendered perspective in its analysis as a heuristic tool for the assessment of social reality. Placing the gender question as a peripheral issue in processes of major policy formulation helps to marginalise the issue and does not bode well for effective service delivery. It thwarts creative thinking and deeper analysis on the problem.

The DWAF Gender Policy (1997)

For addressing the gender question at the sectoral level DWAF developed a policy which is premised upon the pronouncements of Article 9 of the constitution which prohibits discrimination. The policy encourages visible representation of women in water and sanitation projects. While the DWAF effort is commendable the policy faces challenges in implementation as well as contradictions in content as follows:

In Peddie much effort has been made to include women in the different committees of the project. All the sub-committees of the PSG met the 30 percent quota requirement of the RDP. The PSG itself surpassed the requirement to 49 percent representation of women. At the VWG level only two committees met the requirements, in Mgwangqa and Nqwenerana. Cisira and Ncala had only 20 percent representation of women thus falling below the requirements.

The Draft National Sanitation Policy (1996)

The National Sanitation Policy stipulates that rural household qualifies for only one subsidy between sanitation services or an access to grant to purchase land. The policy overlooks the fact that gender composition of rural population is dominated by women and that effective sanitation focuses on peoples behaviour rather than infrastructure.

Also according to the policy, the grant for land purchasing in the rural areas and the sanitation grant are mutually exclusive. That is, if a household has received a grant for purchasing a piece of land they would not qualify for a grant to erect a toilet structure and vise versa. The Draft National Sanitation Policy ignores the fact that land ownership in the rural areas excludes women. Women are not allowed to own land and therefore they continue to be landless. Also sanitation is not just about building toilets, it is also about improving the health of the household and the community. This is a responsibility of women since an unhealthy household places a burden on the women.

The Water Services Act 108 of (1997)

The Water Services Act has gone a long way towards addressing racial inequalities in terms of access to water and sanitation services, however, it has failed to raise gender as a critical question and as part of the pressing needs. Gender has been left out of the main objectives for addressing water and sanitation provision in the Water Services Act. The Act categorises the needs and rights of women under the category of the "poor", thereby failing to recognize the fact that a gender dimension needs to transcend universal categories such as "the poor" and ascertain different needs, roles and responsibilities of men and women in their respective communities and to acknowledge other variables such as geographic background, income, literacy levels and history.

Factors Affecting Women's Participation in Policy Implementation

Participation in decision making

It comes out clearly that the meaningful participation of the critical mass of women is not an outstanding feature of the water project in Peddie. Gender education in the project helped to add numbers of women to the project structures to meet the legal quota requirements. Their meaningful contribution has however remained minimal. The obstacles to participation of women in decision-making included the following:-

  1. The planning cycle of the project was done without an input from the women. Decisions about their involvement to take part and to benefit from the project were complete and finalized when they were informed about the project.
  2. The times at which community meetings were held did not take into consideration domestic responsibilities and other cultural engagements of women.
  3. There was a lack of proper information concerning opportunities of employment which were created by the project. The processes governing recruitment for employment raised dissatisfaction for the majority of women.
  4. The problem of timidity of women resulting from a lack of self-confidence and fear of expressing themselves in public was not taken into account. Women were expected to take part in public meetings without any processes of preparing them to be able to assert themselves in public gatherings.

Role of culture and tradition

The study showed that the low participation of women in the water supply project was due to cultural constraints which prohibits women from freely expressing themselves and engaging in discussions in public gatherings of men and women.

Married women, unlike their unmarried counterparts, have to ask for permission from the elders of the family or from their husbands to attend public meetings. Also married women are forbidden to say their names in public. They can only do so through a proxy lest they show disrespect for their husbands.

Attitudes and awareness

Gender questions often challenge established cultural norms and customs. Cultural norms and customs are difficult to change and this cannot be adequately addressed within contractual time frames allocated to consultants working on a project.

Therefore, a process of gender education that begins with the analysis of gender relations and that in turn informs the configuration of project roles would go a long way towards empowering consultants with an enabling understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the gender question. It would also inform recruitment and training processes. The need to have an understanding of gender issues seems to have been ignored by DWAF officials who operate under the assumption that the consultants possess adequate understanding and sensitivity to gender issues.

Training and skills development

The lack of transfer of skills in the form of skills development has robbed both men and women an opportunity for meaningful participation and contribution to the project. Technical training and adequate participation are some of the key objectives of the External Gender Policy (1997) of DWAF. The water project has not succeeded in addressing these needs.

Barriers to the empowerment of women

The study revealed that, while DWAF is addressing women's involvement through legislation, women's participation and exposure to information is still limited. Some of the barriers to involving women include high levels of illiteracy, which makes written information inaccessible. Other factors are, restricted mobility beyond the work area, holding planning meetings during the day when daycare and household chores make it difficult for women to attend. lack of clean and accessible water dooms women to poverty and sickness. Research shows that class and gender are crucial elements in the analysis of the struggle for better public services. While it is the practical gender interests that are acutely felt in low-income groups, participation in collective action will lead to an awareness of strategic gender needs.

Discrimination in recruitment and placement

There was insufficient account of the special needs of women arising from their biological and gender roles. This was evident in the fact that posts requiring skilled labour and physical strength such as trench digging and concrete making for the building of the reservoir were mainly filled by men.

Other discriminatory barriers were that in cases where the digging of trenches passed near kraals women were told that Xhosa culture forbids women to enter or pass near a cattle kraal.

Additionally, women who were receiving welfare grants for their children were denied employment on the basis that they could not earn two incomes.

Operations and maintenance

Maintenance was a responsibility of the VWC. However, this function was carried out by a contracting company in East London, a distance of 110km from Peddie. Community members were promised that members of the VWC would be trained to carry out maintenance and operation requirements and to identify problems in order for them to become Water Service Providers.

The project has no monitoring and evaluation procedures to measure progress and to detect problems.


Further Research

Capacity building

A benefit resulting from the research has been capacity building for the communities involved in the study which has led to ordinary men and women in the focus groups being afforded an opportunity to voice their feelings about the project outside the formal meetings in which they usually listen to the members of the village water committees informing them about the project.

The project provided an opportunity for the student assistant researchers to apply their theoretical knowledge and to sharpen their research acumen. Some students have used some of the information gathered during the research process for their own dissertations thus enriching their own work and avoiding costs which would have been difficult to cover. One of the student researchers has completed a Master of Philosophy degree in Environmental Science and Geography with a dissertation entitled "Alternative Models for Water Supply Services.