Listening to the stories of women in the South African rural water services sector to understand how their traditional roles intersect with government gender mainstreaming initiatives

Hanise, Bantu Edgar (2008-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Sustainable Development Planning and Management))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


Cultural dynamics bring an added dimension to development projects. The Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG) recognizes the need to engage with power relations at different levels between men and women, and that traditional beliefs and practices are important here. However, the most recent strategy of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) fails to address the impact of cultural dynamics on gender mainstreaming. This study was conducted to increase the understanding of how this might be dealt with. To yield personal information on how individuals are affected by traditional culture, narratology was used. Five women were engaged in three in-depth interviews of approximately two hours each. The purpose was to discuss their life stories and their involvement in the water projects, and then to integrate the life stories with the projects to highlight complexities around specific roles such as that of daughter, wife and development facilitator. The researcher therefore conducted the study from the point of view of the women, rather than from the traditional perspective of the development practitioner or government official. The empirical results were related to literature reviewed on topics such as complexity, feminism and sustainability. Thus, it was possible to highlight underlying complexities related to culture that might impact on gender mainstreaming in the following areas: (1) Women’s time and labour (2) Women’s power within African societies (3) The Butterfly effect in women’s lives (4) Fundamental human desires in women’s lives (5) Utilising social capital (6) The approach of funding and donor organizations (7) Society as a complex system (8) The effects of migration on women’s lives Some aspects highlighted by the study are the following. Development and funding organizations often use a one-size-fits-all individualistic approach whereas the societies they work in have a more collective mindset. Furthermore, women’s time and labour are exploited by the developmental organizations as rural women offer their services voluntarily. And in African society mothering boys is a source of power for women, which influences resource allocation. In terms of a recommended approach to addressing the impact of traditional culture on gender mainstreaming, it was found that a practitioner does not have to tackle traditional culture head-on by for instance proposing defiance against certain norms. Rather, the practitioner should obtain information about the wider system (the society, the prevailing culture and the project context) to provide insight into how women are affected and how the system might be manipulated to eventually bring about the desired changes for the specific context. The processes of change in culture and gender relations must be viewed as on-going and exact time-frames are usually not appropriate in measuring such. As the study emphasized the importance of both men and women working together on projects, a limitation of the current study is that it focused only on the stories of women. A follow-up study should include the views and stories of how gender mainstreaming and traditional culture impact on men.

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