Women, peace, and security & the climate change agenda

Jun 03, 2024

By Alicia Lopez Alvarez, Technical Specialist in Environment and Climate Change & Sophia Papastavrou, Technical Specialist Gender.

Climate change is a critical threat to 21st-century peace and security, with significant gender dimensions influencing how insecurity is experienced and managed by women and men. The interplay between the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and climate change has garnered increased attention in academic and policy circles, especially since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000. Women in conflict-affected and environmentally vulnerable areas face disproportionate impacts from climate change and armed conflict due to existing vulnerabilities and structural inequalities. Despite these challenges, women are vital agents of change and resilience. Addressing these interconnected issues requires gender-responsive approaches that acknowledge the complex relationship between women's roles in peacebuilding and the impacts of climate change.

Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change and Conflict on Women

Women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change as they often bear the primary responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel for their families. These responsibilities become more challenging during droughts, particularly in rural and marginalized communities. It is estimated that women and girls worldwide spend 200 million hours collecting water daily. Environmental degradation, changing weather patterns, and natural disasters exacerbate existing gender inequalities, leading to increased poverty, food insecurity, conflict, and displacement among women and girls. According to UN estimates, 80 per cent of those displaced by climate change are women. At the same time, conflict and insecurity undermine resilience to external shocks and make adapting to climate change more challenging.

Despite their vulnerability, women are critical conservation and natural resource management actors. However, they are often excluded from decision-making processes related to climate change adaptation, mitigation, and peace and security efforts. This exclusion perpetuates cycles of marginalization and heightens the challenges faced by women in conflict and climate-affected contexts. A gender-blind approach to policies and interventions not only fails to address women's specific needs and priorities, hindering efforts to build resilience and promote sustainable peace but also deepens existing inequalities and potentially aggravates environmental and security threats.
A technician shows community members how to use a solar water pump.

A technican shows community members how to assemble a solar-powered water pump, an important tool to increase the resilience of communities.

Women as Agents of Change and Resilience

Although they face systemic barriers to participation, women are powerful agents of change and resilience in the face of climate change and conflict. Women play critical roles as caregivers, stewards of natural resources, and community leaders, contributing invaluable knowledge and skills to climate adaptation and peacebuilding efforts. Incorporating women’s unique local knowledge of natural resources, adaptive capacities, and social networks into climate change adaptation can strengthen the design and implementation of adaptation plans, making them indispensable allies in addressing the root causes of conflict and environmental degradation.

Additionally, women's participation in peace processes has been shown to enhance the durability and effectiveness of peace agreements. Research indicates that peace agreements are more likely to address the needs of diverse stakeholders and incorporate provisions for gender equality and women's rights when women are actively involved in their negotiation and implementation. By amplifying women's voices, promoting their leadership, and ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making processes, we can harness their potential as catalysts for positive change in building resilient and inclusive societies. Capitalizing on women’s social networks can open alternative communication channels, creating new or broader dialogue opportunities. This can, in turn, highlight women’s capacities as decision-makers and influencers and increase their access to other political and peacebuilding processes.

Challenges and Opportunities for Gender-Responsive Approaches

Despite recognizing the importance of women's roles in peace and security efforts, significant challenges remain in mainstreaming gender considerations into climate change and conflict-related policies and programs. A recent analysis of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 found that only 17 NAPs (out of 80) included direct references to climate change, including six that acknowledged climate-related risks in discussions about their country’s respective peace and security contexts and needs.

However, there are opportunities for advancing gender-responsive approaches that recognize and address the interconnectedness of women's rights, environmental sustainability, and peacebuilding. The adoption of landmark resolutions such as UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security has provided a framework for integrating gender perspectives into conflict prevention, resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Similarly, the enhanced Lima work programme on gender and its gender action plan agreed upon at COP25 sets objectives and activities under five priority areas to advance knowledge and understanding of gender-responsive climate action and its coherent mainstreaming.

Furthermore, grassroots women's organizations and civil society networks are critical in advocating gender-responsive policies and holding governments and international institutions accountable for their commitments to women's rights and gender equality. Investing in women's leadership, capacity-building, and access to resources can strengthen their ability to contribute to sustainable peace and environmental resilience at local, national, and global levels.

Gender-Responsive Approaches in Practice: RESILIENT-WE

World Vision Canada is committed to implementing gender-responsive approaches integrating women’s rights and environmental sustainability. The "Reducing Environmental Shocks Improving Livelihoods and Inspiring Empowered Innovative and Thriving Women of Ethiopia" (RESILIENT-WE) project is a five-year initiative funded by Global Affairs Canada and implemented by World Vision Canada in partnership with World Vision Ethiopia. The project aims to increase women's and girls' resilience to environmental degradation and climate-induced shocks in Ethiopia's fragile Oromia region. To achieve this, the project uses a multi-pronged approach combining comprehensive interventions to address the root causes of gender inequality while empowering women to be critical drivers of transformative change within their communities.

A gender equality analysis study conducted in the area identified sexual and gender-based violence, limited agency and decision-making power of women, and restricted mobility and access to resources as key gender inequality barriers to women’s effective participation in finding sustainable climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions. Anecdotal evidence and stories gathered from project participants suggest that the project is having positive impacts on gender equality. One such intervention involves increasing access to water.

Water is a precious yet scarce commodity in the areas where RESILIENT-WE is operational. Its scarcity is a source of conflict among communities and contributes to women’s burden of work, who are culturally responsible for securing water. Climate change and environmental degradation have amplified women’s work burden as they must travel long distances in search of water. To address this challenge, RESILIENT-WE has partnered with community members to install solar-powered pumps and water harvesting technologies, such as water ponds, closer to the communities. This has eased the burden on women and created opportunities for women to engage in other productive activities. Solar-powered water pumps are a green solution associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions. 

Communities enjoying the results of a functioning pump - clean water!

Communities enjoying the results of a functioning pump - clean water!

Moving Forward

Women are disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of climate change and armed conflict; however, they also play vital roles as agents of change, resilience, and peacebuilding within their communities. Acknowledging the linkages between conflict prevention and climate adaptation can help create policies and interventions mutually reinforcing one another. It is crucial to recognize and amplify women's voices, promote their leadership, and ensure their meaningful participation in decision-making processes so that we can harness their potential to build more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable societies for present and future generations.

As we strive to address the complex nexus of gender inequality, environmental degradation, and conflict, we are committed to advancing gender-responsive policies and practices that empower women and promote peace, security, and environmental sustainability for all.

For more information, visit Water.org and UN Women.