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Women as Managers of the Public Space: a Participatory Experience in Gender and Water in El Hormiguero, Colombia

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S. Bastidas
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The dynamics of participation that develop in water projects to defend the collective interest are deeply affected by unequal gender relations. In the case of El Hormiguero, a rural area of Santiago de Cali, Colombia, the approach to participation highlighted the importance of the role played by women in creating and building up public spaces. Women's work in their communities is not limited to executing community tasks but is central to the creation of a sense of the public space as the place where the collective interest lies. Interviews, mixing with men in the community during their free time, and visiting households were key participatory approaches to understand gender roles and aspirations. It was found that men did not value community work and thought it was part of women's role. Strategies built on these findings enhanced men's perceptions of the importance of women's work and created opportunities for men to take an active role in the community. Acknowledging and recognising the real value of women's work in the community also helped women to gain a better sense of self-worth and self-esteem and to take more of a leadership role in public spaces. The paper takes the reader through the progress made in creating different awareness and dynamics between the genders and concludes by recommending that water projects are developed with a participatory approach, embrace a gender perspective, and include monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. It is also recommended that such projects are implemented over a long enough period of time to allow for adjustments and changes in perspectives and values, which often happen when a serious gender perspective is built in.

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