Women, Natural Resources and Peacebuilding in Virunga

In “Women Empowerment, Fisheries and Sustainable Development in Virunga”  we have seen how  important Lake Edward is for the empowerment and emancipation of women in the Great Lakes region. In this article based on the excerpt of the UN report on  Women and Natural Resources: Unlocking the PeaceBuilding Potential we focus on the relationship between women and natural resources in conflict-affected settings, such as Eastern Congo and see how enhancing women’s engagement and empowerment through the sustainable management of fisheries supports sustainable peace building outcomes in Congo.

The fisheries of Virunga provide an unequal opportunity to break down barriers to women’s empowerment in Congo and help support women’s productivity in sectors that are often critical to economic revitalization, food-security, stability and peace.

© Save Virunga
© Save Virunga

“Around the world, over half a million people die violently every year – more than one per minute. Inequality in access and benefit-sharing from natural resources is a major driver of conflict. As the global population continues to rise and the demand for resources continues to grow, there is significant potential for violent conflict to intensify in coming decades. In addition, climate change is exacerbating these risks and posing new threats to men, women, boys and girls in many parts of the world.

As primary managers and users of natural resources in many conflict-affected contexts, women have a key role to play in building peace. However, they remain largely excluded from owning land, benefiting from resource wealth or participating in decision-making about resource management. Excluding women is clearly a missed opportunity.

Indeed, peace and development will only be achieved when both men and women in conflict-affected and fragile societies access and benefit from natural resources in an equitable and sustainable way.

© Save Virunga
© Save Virunga

Women’s diverse experiences in times of conflict have powerful implications for peacebuilding. Their capacity to recover from conflict and contribute to peace is influenced by their role in the conflict, whether directly engaged in armed groups, displaced, or forced to take on additional responsibilities to sustain their livelihoods and care for dependents. In spite of efforts by the international community to recognize and better address these multiple roles through agreements such as United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the dominant perception of women as passive victims in conflict settings continues to constrain their ability to formally engage in political, economic and social recovery, and thereby contribute to better peacebuilding.

One of the unexplored entry points for strengthening women’s contributions to peacebuilding relates to the ways in which they use, manage, make decisions on and benefit from natural resources. Coupled with shifting gender norms in conflict-affected settings, women’s roles in natural resource management provide significant opportunities to enhance their participation in decision-making at all levels, and to enable them to engage more productively in economic revitalization activities.

As the primary providers of water, food and energy at the household and community levels, women in rural settings are often highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and are therefore particularly susceptible to changes in the availability and quality of these resources during and after conflict. In particular, lack of access to land – which underpins rights to all other natural resources and is a key asset for securing productive inputs – can force them into increasingly vulnerable situations and expose them to higher levels of physical and livelihood risk, with trickle-down impacts on community welfare. The structural discrimination that women face regarding resource rights and access also limits their political participation and economic productivity.

At the same time, conflict often leads both women and men to adopt coping strategies that challenge traditional gender norms. To meet the needs of their households and compensate for loss of revenue usually provided by male family members, women may assume new natural resource management roles, either by taking up alternative income-generating activities or by moving into traditionally male sectors. In the aftermath of conflict, capitalizing on these shifting roles can contribute to breaking down barriers to women’s empowerment and enhancing women’s productivity in sectors that are often critical to economic revitalization.

Failure to recognize the challenges and opportunities awarded to women in conflict-affected settings by their various roles in natural resource management also risks perpetuating inequalities and deepening grievances linked to natural resource rights, access and control, which have proven to be powerful catalysts for violence. Addressing issues of inequality related to resource access and ownership, participation in decision-making and benefitsharing early on in the peacebuilding process is therefore a critical condition for lasting peace and development.”

Source: Women and Natural Resources: Unlocking the PeaceBuilding Potential

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