Empowering women in small, farmer-managed irrigation


Irrigation provides the ability for farmers to cultivate vegetable crops year-round, increasing both incomes and nutritious food supplies for household consumption, despite unpredictable weather patterns.

However, gender-related challenges of land and water access, labor, and group governance create several disadvantages for many farmers. Additionally, the impacts of climate change tend to disproportionately affect rural and resource-poor women, making it especially important that participatory development and research integrate gender equity into irrigation projects.

Our project, working within the social, cultural and environmental contexts of eastern Uganda, prioritizes the engagement of both men and women, from design to planning to implementation of irrigation systems. In order to ensure shared decision-making, equal leadership opportunities, and equitable access to irrigation benefits, we aim to address current gender norms and dynamics that inhibit meaningful participation for women and other marginalized farmers.

Our approach to gender equity includes both building women’s inclusion in project activities and addressing the norms and institutions that make it difficult for women and other marginalized farmers to benefit from irrigation systems.

Drawing on the diverse expertise of our project team and our four years of experience working alongside more than a hundred farmers in eastern Uganda, we have developed a set of tools and recommendations for groups seeking to integrate gender into small, farmer-managed irrigation projects. Our goal is that practitioners may discover new ways to support farmer-led innovations within irrigation and water management that meet the needs of farmers of all genders, within their local context.


Applied Gender in Irrigation and Agricultural Technology Learning Program

Through the project, "Towards Gender & Social Equity in the Design of Agricultural Technologies: Testing a Ugandan Student-Led Learning and Innovation Approach" our project’s partnership with Busitema University has expanded. Supported by the UC Davis HATCH: Feminist Arts & Science Shop, this project developed an experimental student-led learning program to encourage undergraduates in the agricultural mechanization and irrigation engineering program to practically address gender and social equity in technology design. From February to July 2018, Student Leaders Victoria Nakivumbi, Patrick Obina, and Gerald Twesigye organized and engaged fellow students in workshops, field visits, manufacturing facility visits, and other collective learning events, generating powerful discussions about gender in design. The Student Leaders, supported by mentors Hope Njuki Nakabuye, Victo Nabunya, and Julia Jordan, learned about the complexities of gender, its applications in agricultural design, and the significance of participatory processes of innovation, all of which will inform their future careers.

The Student Leaders also produced a report, which outlines the importance of these considerations and provides recommendations to incorporate gender and agricultural design more deeply into their university curriculum and experience. Their recommendations included forming a club that continues the activities of the learning program and advocates for university support, building new partnerships with gender advocacy organisations, and enhancing the current second-year Gender in Agriculture course unit requirement to delve deeper into particular issues.

Valuing the knowledge and initiative of Ugandan students, this project challenged traditional agricultural education spaces, centered social equity in the technical design processes, and directly applied a collaborative knowledge-making practice through student facilitation outside of the classroom.

The Student Leaders’ report is available here (PDF): Applied Gender in Irrigation and Agricultural Technology Learning Program

Gender Equity in Small-Scale Irrigation: Practical Opportunities and Constraints

Our project is currently developing a practical guidance toolkit on addressing gender equity constraints and opportunities in the process of designing and implementing small-scale irrigation projects, based on the successes and lessons learned over four years of our work in eastern Uganda.

The toolkit may assist development practitioners, non-governmental organizations, or agencies working directly with farmers on community and household-level implementation of irrigation projects, and does not intend to address policy-level constraints beyond local water user group institutions.

Women's Empowerment in Small-Scale Irrigation Index

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) is a survey-based index developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), and USAID Feed the Future. It is designed to measure the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agricultural sector.

Our project adapted the WEAI for application in small-scale, farmer-managed irrigation projects, and we are using it to understand women's challenges in participation in irrigation that persist between and among our project sites.

Our adapted survey is available for download here (PDF): Indicators for Women's Empowerment in Small-scale Irrigation in Uganda

Data from this survey is available to researchers, students, and others. Visit Data for access and to learn more.