Empowering women to manage natural resources vital for conflict recovery – UN report

Gum arabic farmer from the Jawama’a tribe in El Darota, Northern Kordofan, Sudan. Photo: UNEP/Grant Wroe-Street

6 November 2013 – Giving women access to and control of natural resources such as land, water, forests and minerals is essential to ensure war-torn countries can achieve long-term peace, according to a United Nations report released today.

“At a practical level, women form the majority of resource users and managers in peacebuilding settings, but this responsibility seldom translates to the political or economic levels. This has to change,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

“Peace and development can only be achieved when both men and women access and benefit from natural resources in an equitable and sustainable way.”

The report, Women and natural resources: Unlocking the peacebuilding potential, states that while women in conflict-affected countries are often primarily responsible for meeting the water, food and energy needs of households and communities, they are largely excluded from owning land, benefiting from resource wealth, or participating in decisions about resource management.

This exclusion often extends to negotiations over the way that natural resources are allocated following a peace deal, with the result that women’s specific needs are rarely met during the peacebuilding process.

“Women bear the brunt of conflicts in many ways. They often have to become the sole caretakers of their families and communities and are agents of peace and recovery,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

“Sustainable natural resource use is the cornerstone of development. Women’s full participation and access to natural resources are urgent priorities for rebuilding peaceful societies.”

Women are also insufficiently targeted in post-conflict recovery programmes that aim to support natural resource-based livelihoods and small businesses, such as agriculture. The report argues that failing to seize the opportunity presented by women’s roles in natural resource management can perpetuate inequity and undermine recovery from conflict, as women have untapped potential as engines of economic revitalization.

In contrast, research by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that giving women farmers the same access to assets and finance as men could help increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 per cent. In conflict-affected countries, where women’s roles in agriculture tend to expand, this could raise total agricultural output and significantly strengthen recovery and food security.

“Natural resources, such as mineral wealth, have the potential to provide significant sustainable employment opportunities for women in conflict-affected settings,” said Jordan Ryan, Assistant Administrator and Director of the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery. “However, in reality, women are frequently unable to take advantage of such opportunities. Barriers that prevent women from accessing the benefits of these resources, such as low-literacy rates, marginalization and limited mobility need to be addressed.”

The report urges Governments and the international community to invest in the political and economic engagement of women in natural resource management and to end discrimination that women face in accessing, owning and using critical natural resources in sustainable and productive ways.

“Women continue to be disenfranchised across the globe particularly in countries that have endured violent conflict,” said the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), Judy Cheng-Hopkins.

“This research shows that when women have a seat at the table and their concerns are taken into account in the management of natural resources, the impacts on families, communities and peace are positive and significant.”

The report was jointly produced by UNEP, UN Women, UNDP and PBSO.


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