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The integration role model: gender equality, disability, and social inclusion in water modelling

Integrating GEDSI into water management can contribute to improving access to water irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or social status.
Published: 23 Feb, 2024
⏲ 5 minutes Read

Water is life. However, decisions about how it is used and accessed have not been inclusive, especially for those who are the most affected by the lack of it. Water modelling is carried out using data from a range of sources at various timescales – past, current, and future – to provide information related to various aspects of water. A variety of modelling software are used to simulate real-world situations to understand processes and to formulate potential outcomes in order to plan and manage water now and for the future. Historically, water modelling or other modelling processes have overlooked aspects related to Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI), ultimately leading to decisions that lack GEDSI needs and considerations.

These models help us better understand water issues and inform decision makers across a range of water policy, planning, and management issues. Professionals in the water sector use these models to develop a shared understanding of water challenges, interventions and policies among scientists, planners, decision-makers, and stakeholders, ensuring clarity and consensus. Given the critical role of these models, it becomes increasingly imperative to consider and incorporate gender, disability status, and socio-economic marginalisation in water management.

Beyond numbers, water models represent various social and biophysical systems and processes, shaped by the inputs and perspectives of the modellers. While most water modellers understand the need for integrating GEDSI in the process, many lack the training and experience to implement it effectively. Failure to consider GEDSI may inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes and compromise the real-world representations in their models.

Furthermore, while existing models may examine quantitative aspects such as water volumes and flow rates, they often overlook qualitative dimensions such as distribution, access, and control over the water resources. Questions about who benefits and how much, who decides and for whom, and the equity of access often go unaddressed. In November 2023, ICIMOD and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) ran a training session on GEDSI in water modelling, during which participants discussed the challenges in integrating qualitative aspects into what is predominantly a quantitative water modelling process.

The training was based on the comprehensive “Gender equality, disability and social inclusion in water modelling: A practitioners’ toolkit” developed jointly by the two agencies. This collaboration was made possible through the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Government of Australia.

Participants discuss how to incorporate GEDSI in modelling during the training. Photo: Chimi Seldon, ICIMOD

Challenges in GEDSI integration

Integrating GEDSI into water management can contribute to improving access to water irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or social status. This equitable access to water can empower women, girls, marginalised communities, and people with disabilities, opening opportunities for education and employment while breaking the cycle of poverty. Despite these potential promising outcomes, several challenges persist. Arti Shrestha, a training participant from Nepal Economic Forum, an economic policy and research institution in Kathmandu, highlights, “One of the biggest challenges I foresee for including GEDSI in our modelling process will be in the model calibration and validation. Since GEDSI dimensions are qualitative, while models are quantitative and based on numbers, synchronising these qualitative and quantitative aspects will require support from GEDSI experts.”

The lack of disaggregated data on GEDSI components is another challenge. In order to reveal which groups, bear the biggest burden or receive the most benefit from water infrastructure and policies, quantitative data should be disaggregated by gender, ethnicity, income, abilities, and age, among other attributes. Without intentional consideration of these intersectional identities, aggregated data can obscure gender disparities resulting in inequalities.

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Disaggregated data on GEDSI components is important for water modelling to ensure fair and equitable water policies and framework. Illustration: Sudip Maharjan/ ICIMOD.

Next steps

The way forward involves creating an enabling environment by improving access to disaggregated GEDSI data. While water modelers rely heavily on quantitative data, gathering qualitative insights directly from impacted groups is essential for crafting equitable solutions. The inclusion of diverse stakeholders, such as women, low-income communities, and marginalised groups, in participatory modelling processes, ensures the representation of diverse needs and priorities.

Participants in the training session recognised the need for specialised training on sub-models – or components of a larger model – which could focus on specific issues, such as water availability for irrigation in a community with clear parameters such as water availability, land cover, and cultivated land and bringing in GEDSI dimensions of user groups. Participants were particularly interested in guided sessions on integrating GEDSI dimensions into those sub-models and later in larger water models.

Participants also felt the need for modellers to have a broader perspective on GEDSI. Gayatri Joshi, Engineer at the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS), Government of Nepal, explains, “As a modeller, we are thinking of what amount of water is needed to irrigate a region and what kind of channels need to be constructed to carry that amount of water. We are not looking at water use beyond that”. Water modellers now need to consider questioning their assumptions, and make intentional choices throughout the modelling process – from problem formulation to data collection, analysis and application.

Transforming the status quo

Given that existing water policies and scientific processes may inadvertently embed discriminatory biases or tend toward the gender-neutral – which often reflects unconscious biases – there is a need to critically examine these biases in water use. Integrating GEDSI in water modelling, though not yet the norm, requires courage, consistency, and a commitment to understanding contextual intricacies and social power dynamics. The first step is a paradigm shift in mindsets and attitudes, with ICIMOD and CSIRO actively undertaking the challenging task of inspiring a gradual shift in modelling processes.

While the journey to fully incorporate GEDSI into water modelling is challenging, its initial acceptance is a significant step forward. As we work towards concrete steps to incorporate GEDSI in all stages of modelling, from data inputs to calibration and dissemination, the goal is to ensure a more inclusive and equitable water management approach for the benefit of all.

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