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Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
UN Women
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO)
6 November 2013

This report was made possible by the generous contributions of the Finnish Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation,
the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the UK Department
for International Development and the Government of the Republic of Korea

About this report

This report focuses on the relationship between women and natural resources in conflict-affected settings, and discusses how the management of natural resources can be used to enhance women’s engagement and empowerment in peacebuilding processes. Part I of the report examines the relationship between women and natural resources in peacebuilding contexts, reviewing key issues across three main categories of resources: land, renewable and extractive resources. Part II discusses entry points for peacebuilding practitioners to address risks and opportunities related to women and natural resource management, focusing on political participation, protection and economic empowerment.

This report was developed by a dedicated team comprised of UNEP, UN Women, UNDP and PBSO, whose members contributed critical guidance and expertise to the project. Silja Halle of UNEP served as the team coordinator and led the report development process. The report was authored jointly by Adrienne Stork, Cassidy Travis and Silja Halle of UNEP. David Jensen provided guidance and inputs on conflict and natural resources linkages. Sarah Douglas, Tracy Raczek and Anne-Marie Goetz of UN Women offered their expertise on gender, peace and security linkages, while Henk-Jan Brinkman, Gérald Pachoud and Cécile Mazzacurati of PBSO provided key support and guidance on peacebuilding aspects. Leontine Specker, Glaucia Boyer and Nika Saeedi of UNDP provided wide-ranging expertise on livelihoods and economic revitalization, as well as gender and peacebuilding dimensions. UNDP also contributed a number of case studies and was instrumental in linking the drafting team to field practitioners through its extensive network.

In addition to the report development team, the report benefited from the inputs and contributions of some 45 experts and field practitioners, who shared their knowledge and expertise through interviews as well as reviews of successive drafts. An extensive peer review process involving more than 20 leading experts in the fields of gender, natural resources and peacebuilding from the UN, international and national NGOs and academic institutions was conducted as well. A comprehensive list of reviewers and contributors is provided in Annex 3.

UNEP, UN Women, PBSO and UNDP are grateful for the generous contributions of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the UK Department for International Development and the Government of the Republic of Korea that made this report possible.

Executive summary

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 benefit-sharing early on in the peacebuilding process is therefore a critical condition for lasting peace and development.

To strengthen peacebuilding outcomes by enhancing women’s engagement and empowerment in conflict-affected contexts through sustainable natural resource management, this report recommends that national governments and the international community take the following action:

1. Promote women’s participation in formal and informal decision-making structures and governance processes related to natural resource management in peacebuilding: Working with natural resource management authorities can help increase women’s participation in decision-making at the sub-national and national levels. However, targeted support is needed for overcoming the structural, social and cultural barriers to women’s formal and informal political participation in conflict-affected settings. This can be achieved by including women and gender specialists early on in peace negotiations in a variety of positions – as negotiators, as expert advisors and as civil society observers – and in mediation support teams, as well as supporting their capacity to engage effectively in these processes. It also requires ensuring that women are represented in relevant decision-making bodies, including through the use of quotas and soliciting inputs from a broad range of women’s groups and networks when elaborating natural resource management policies. In addition gender experts should be part of teams charged with developing policies and other governance tools around natural resource management in peacebuilding contexts, including in supply-chain certification mechanisms, benefit-sharing schemes, and transparency initiatives. Finally, it is essential to provide training and capacity-building and to support the advocacy efforts of women’s organizations and networks.

2. Adopt proactive measures to protect women from resource-related physical violence and other security risks early in the peacebuilding period: Women in conflict-affected settings routinely experience physical insecurity, including sexual violence, when carrying out daily tasks linked to the collection and use of natural resources. Moreover, while the impacts of environmental contamination and pollution adversely affect all, women are particularly vulnerable, due to heightened exposure in their gendered roles and responsibilities. Protecting women from these risks is not only important to their health, but also key to ensuring that they are able to safely carry out economic and social activities linked to natural resource management. Among other measures, addressing these risks can involve: conducting assessments to identify specific resource and environment-related security and health threats for women in conflict-affected contexts; ensuring that women have safe access to key resources, such as fuel wood and water, in internally displaced persons and refugee camps; supporting the dissemination of innovative technologies, such as improved cook stoves, that protect women from adverse health impacts in carrying out their roles; increasing women’s participation in security sector institutions and conflict resolution processes; and supporting awareness-raising and training on women’s rights among the staff of government institutions and the national security sector, as well as at the community level, in order to increase gender-sensitive operational effectiveness and security service delivery by the army and police.

3. Remove barriers and create enabling conditions to build women’s capacity for productive and sustainable use of natural resources: Access to credit, technical support and benefits from natural resource exploitation is essential to improving women’s economic productivity, which in turn is key to their empowerment. Likewise, legal support for the enforcement of land rights and other resource rights underpins women’s ability to productively use natural resources for their recovery. Achieving this can include: identifying women’s specific roles in key natural resource sectors and how those roles may have been affected during conflict, establishing regular consultative mechanisms with a variety of women’s groups and networks on the development of basic service infrastructure in their communities, prioritizing land negotiation and reform processes that improve women’s rights to land. In addition, providing legal aid, conflict management, negotiation and mediation services to women can enable them to enforce their resource-related rights and access dispute resolution mechanisms. Prioritizing access to finance, inputs and skills training for women and men equally, upholding human rights and minimum labor standards for women’s involvement in the extractive sectors and ensuring private companies operating in the extractive sectors engage both men and women during environmental and social impact assessments, as well as throughout the project cycle can further improve women’s productive and sustainable use of natural resources. Finally, women’s representation on commissions established for wealth-sharing and national and sub-national level and the provision of gender expertise for such bodies, should be prioritized and efforts made to ensure that women are included in community-based natural resource management initiatives in conflict-affected settings.

4. Within the United Nations, increase inter-agency cooperation to pursue women’s empowerment and sustainable natural resource management together in support of more effective peacebuilding
: Existing inter-agency mechanisms at the global and country levels should be tasked to address the risks and opportunities presented to women by natural resource management in peacebuilding contexts more systematically in their work, including by: conducting pilot programmes to learn lessons on how to integrate the linkages between women, natural resources and peacebuilding in joint assessments and country programming; ensuring that 15 per cent of all funding towards UN-supported natural resource management programmes in peacebuilding is allocated to women’s empowerment and gender equality; requiring the collection of sex and age-disaggregated data on peacebuilding and recovery programmes that address and/or have an impact on natural resource management; developing specific targets related to the participation of women and gender experts in natural resource management in post-conflict countries, in line with the priorities and goals set in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the goals for the post-2015 development agenda; supporting further research on the nexus of women, natural resources and peacebuilding, particularly in areas where significant knowledge gaps remain; and integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment issues in meetings of actors working on addressing the linkages between natural resources, conflict and peacebuilding.


Case Studies


Case study 4: Gender dynamics in water management in the West Bank

Water availability, in addition to a host of other political factors, is a key issue in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.71 The tensions surrounding water issues are further heightened by a confluence of variables including limited and erratic rainfall, extended dry spells, and Israeli controls and closures that prevent the flow of goods and services and limit Palestinians’ access to water resources.72

Currently, some 200,000 rural people in the West Bank have no connection to the water network and instead rely on tanked water, which can cost up to 400 per cent more per liter.73 In particular, Palestinian access to water springs in the West Bank has become increasingly difficult due to Israeli settlements in the area.74 These challenges have been further exacerbated by suppressed economic activity resulting from restricted mobility of goods and limited access to natural resources.75 For example, many villages are hindered in their ability to cultivate land for agriculture in the valley or to develop infrastructure due to restricted access to water.76

As the primary managers of domestic water needs, women draw on their knowledge of local water sources to employ effective conservation measures, particularly in times of drought and scarcity. This may entail recycling water or using grey water for washing and irrigation, and using run-off from those activities for livestock. Women also tend to monitor water quality, sterilizing or disinfecting well water in an effort to mitigate potential health impacts for themselves and their families.77 As such, women are key repositories of information, whose unique knowledge and skills could help improve water management systems.

At present, however, formal water management in Palestine remains highly gendered. At the government level, such as in the Palestinian Water Authority, women are generally not promoted into decision-making positions, which require negotiating and dealing with the Israeli Ministry of Defense and soldiers that guard water infrastructure resources. Aspects of water management where women would be highly effective, such as reflecting daily usage needs into water management, have also not been sufficiently explored.78 Rather, the incorporation of gender perspectives into planning, design and implementation of irrigation programmes continues to be overlooked in spite of data showing that irrigation schemes have routinely failed as a result of erroneous assumptions over division of labor and water use.

This represents a missed opportunity not only to support women, but also to improve water quality and access in a context where the need is high. As donors continue to fund large-scale infrastructure projects, further efforts are needed to shift the focus to more locally appropriate water infrastructure that reflects women’s particular knowledge and needs.



Water is a critical resource for meeting daily household needs and is a key input for agriculture, livestock production and various types of small businesses. Violent conflict can have adverse impacts on both water quality and availability if accessibility is limited by active fighting or the presence of landmines, or water sources and infrastructure are damaged.80

These impacts are particularly acute in cases where violence results in increased population density and unsustainable pressure on water resources, as seen in Yemen, Sudan and the Gaza Strip in Palestine, for example. According to a UNEP assessment conducted in the Gaza Strip in 2009, the protracted conflict has led to dramatic over-consumption of water, causing irreversible damage to the underlying aquifer and increasing the threat of scarcity in an already arid region.81 In such contexts, women and men are often forced to adopt new water use and management strategies. However, these shifts are rarely reflected in the design and implementation of large water infrastructure projects, as exemplified in Case study 4 on the West Bank, thereby missing important opportunities to capitalize on men and women’s unique knowledge of related needs and challenges.



71 The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. (2011). Defining Water Needs for Fully Exploited Resources: A Necessary
Step for Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation. Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies Environmental Policy Center: Jerusalem.
72 Gasteyer, S. and Araj, T. (2009). Empowering Palestinian Community Water Management Capacity:
Understanding the Intersection of Community Culture, Political, Social, and Natural Capitals. Community
Development:40, pp. 199-219.
73 EWASH. (2012). Down the Drain: Israeli Restrictions on the WASH Sector in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
and their Impact on Vulnerable Communities. Emergency Water and Sanitation Group in the Occupied
Palestinian Territory.
74 OCHA. (2012). How Dispossession Happens: The Humanitarian Impact of the Takeover of Palestinian Water
Springs by Israeli Settlers. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Geneva.
75 OCHA. (2012). How Dispossession Happens: The Humanitarian Impact of the Takeover of Palestinian Water
Springs by Israeli Settlers. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Geneva.
76 OCHA. (2012). How Dispossession Happens: The Humanitarian Impact of the Takeover of Palestinian Water
Springs by Israeli Settlers. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Geneva.
77 Mimi, Z., Sinokrt, N. and Tibi, S. (2011). Involvement and Influence of Women in Innovation Processes within
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Projects. Birzeit University and Institute of Environmental and
Water Studies, Palestine.
78 Interview with Mr. Nasser Faqih, UNDP Team Leader Poverty Reduction Palestinian Territory, 31 October, 2012.
80 WHO. (2003). Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Vol. 81(9), pp. 665-670. World Health Organization: Geneva.
81 UNEP. (2009). Environmental Assessment of the Gaza Strip following the Escalation of Hostilities in December
2008-January 2009. United Nations Environment Programme: Geneva.

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