What does advancing Feminist Peace in the context of climate change look like?

Women’s International Peace Centre hosted a parallel event on 14th March at the 66th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to further discussions on gender equality as it relates to climate change and environmental risk reduction within conflict-affected settings with a focus on women’s experiences and recommendations for advancing peace in this context.

51 diverse women peace builders including young and displaced women, and representatives of women’s rights organisations working on advancing the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda as well as climate justice from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda gathered during UN CSW66 and made specific recommendations.

They highlighted the need for data that reflects their reality and includes intersectional analysis; gender- responsive climate change policies and programme that centre women’s wellbeing and economic livelihood; humanitarian response to consider the impact of climate crisis on refugees and prioritise environmental peace; women and women’s interests to shape decision-making through decentralised processes that include and fund women leading grassroots groups, organisations or networks for climate change action and peace; women’s knowledge on climate crisis mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies to be prioritised and for the WPS programmes to address gender elements of climate-related security issues.

“Advancing gender equality in this context is not possible without centering the voice and agency of women, including women peacebuilders, whose lives are impacted and whose contributions to decision-making on climate, environmental and disaster-related action are invaluable. In conflict-affected countries, this also has implications for women’s experience of peace and security and their ability to meaningfully participate in promoting peace and security.” Soutine Namanya

In her keynote address, Sostine Namanya the Gender & Food Security Officer, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) emphasized the need to centre women in environmental decision-making backed by the Beijing Platform for Action, a valuable policy tool to advance the role of women in the climate-gender-conflict. Sostine also recommended the urgent need for more research, programs, and initiatives at the nexus, of climate change – gender and peace, including additional evidence on emerging trends from diverse geographies and contexts. A more integrated response that leverages the expertise and strengths of global agendas and actors working across these issues will generate a more comprehensive understanding of both challenges and solutions, leading to more effective policy and practice.

She also recommended healing circles, especially where women have been subjected to sexual violence and ongoing trauma, can become core to building collective peace, risk and safety strategies in communities. Wellness and stress management, self-care and collective care are key to physical and psychological well-being. These are also critical for affected women to cope with burnout and sustain their lives.

Following the keynote speakers from Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan and DRC shared how climate change and natural disasters have affected women’s experiences of peace and security.

Yangi Rutensia Made, a Peace Mediator from Adjumani District, Uganda shared the perspective of a refugee-hosting district where there has been a notable increase in domestic violence as testified by both refugee women and women in the host community. Apart from the war which sent them out of their homeland, these women still undergo environmental challenges for instance lack of land for cultivation. Yet, they need to provide for their families since the food rations cannot sustain a family for the whole month. This breeds frustration which in turn leads to fights in families because no one would want to take responsibility for the situation.  Much as this ought to be taken as a positive step towards economic empowerment, these women often are exploited either materially or sexually because prices fluctuated during the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been an increased population due to the influx of refugees in the district. This has resulted in the scramble for natural resources for example water in Nyumanzi, Ayilo among others, and grazing land in Nyumanzi and Maaji. These are resources that should be a means of peaceful co-existence but their scarcity has brought up tension in the communities. Yangi called for sensitization coupled with empowerment from the grassroots level, investing in research and economic empowerment programs being environment friendly.

Grace John Kenyi, Founder and Executive Director, CSCOV shared the realities in South Sudan and highlighted that in 2020 more than 700,000 people were affected by flooding and droughts in South Sudan with 85% of women and youth mainly depending on agriculture. The flooding and droughts had serious effects on agricultural production and food security. Climate change has heightened food insecurity and increased pre-existing gender inequalities and discrimination against women. Women and girls walk long distances and are at greater risk of rape as they search for firewood, water, and food. There’s also increased competition over natural resources such as land that regularly triggers local eg the conflict between Cattle herders who migrated from Jonglei to Magwi and the local farmers of Abara, Agoro, and Omeo of Magwi county.

Climate change has been brutal for Burundi with shifting weather patterns, heavy rains, and dry spells have become increasingly unpredictable and extreme. Floodwaters have decimated communities, destroying homes and livelihoods. The population of Burundi is heavily dependent on agriculture and the country’s natural resources. Land resources and agriculture provide a livelihood for about 90% of the predominantly rural population. Godelieve Manirakiza, President, L’association des Femmes Rapatriés du Burundi (AFRABU) recommended that women and girls must be acknowledged as technical experts in climate change and conflict & peacebuilding and be able to participate in decision-making spaces on climate change. Without their involvement, key decisions will not meet their needs. This includes ensuring that women and girls’ human rights are at the centre of all responses to climate change, peace and conflict, thus addressing their diverse needs.

This event presented an opportunity to reflect on the perspectives of diverse women peacebuilders including young and displaced women, and representatives of women’s rights organisations working on advancing the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda as well as climate justice, proposed actions to ensure the advancement of the WPS agenda in the context of climate change, environmental risk reduction policies and programmes and shared recommendations for a feminist approach to gender-sensitive environmental peacebuilding to inform policies and programmes.

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