Women’s Security amidst Resource Scarcity

19 Sep

This past summer, Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) introduced a program initiative to explore and address gendered security questions integral to the UN thematic nexus of Food, Water, Energy and Climate.

Our approach will look most directly at the multiple challenges of water access and quality, and their impact on rural women. Our policy involvement at the UN has stressed the evolving relationship of resource scarcity as a major contributing factor to armed violence.  As is so often the case, scarcity of supplies, restrictions on access, and the violence that increasingly erupts from such conditions disproportionately impact women’s lives in a multitude of ways. This program will speak to the growing concerns regarding the effective and inclusive governance of water while identifying the potential for conflict caused by water stresses – specifically related to access, quality and a lack of participation in water-related policy.

In the first half of 2015 UN member states will have set an agenda which will then determine local and national policy interventions and activities on climate and development. Climate change negotiations related to the Conference of the Parties  (COP) 20 will transition to COP 21, and the Millennium Development Goals will formally transition to the Sustainable Development goals, most likely finalized at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. All of global civil society will be on hand and will be ready to encourage and support governments as they adopt and implement their development and climate commitments.

On a local level NGOs will define, underscore and help promote the security measures needed to ensure SDG accountability. As Bhumika Mucchala has suggested, a universal model of accountable security must accompany the effective realization of SDGs. During the first half of 2015 GAPW will share security-related perspectives with diplomatic and global civil society actors to ensure the effective realization of SDG goals. GAPW is also committed to ensuring that agreed targets of water and food security are assessed by gendered data indicators necessary for ensuring participation and preserving peace. In all of this work, we will remain gender-aware, context- sensitive, and rights-based.

In partnership with other NGOs we seek ways to minimize risk while safeguarding conditions of sustainable development access. For example, the often-perilous journey women face in water collection and overcoming water inaccessibility heightens levels of vulnerability to exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous traffickers, smugglers and employers. We seek to ensure that new implementation models for Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture and Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, will fully examine the security needs that can help ensure access and prevent water-related armed conflict and violence against women.

As we approach the Climate Change Summit (CCS) of 2015, where member states will seek to “advance climate change action and ambition,” UNSG Ban Ki-Moon has invited member states to “bring bold announcements and actions to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will.” As a means to build global governance and climate diplomacy, the CCS 2015 will be a great opportunity for member states to pledge their support in a detailed, optimistic, and implementable manner. Deliberations of a “new climate economy” can raise the level of discourse, but can also change the narrative of geopolitics in ways that are welcome. While thinking about resources and conflict prevention with respect to climate change I pose three questions to member states attending CCS 2015: (1) What kind of development-related climate models are most likely to create fiscal dependencies in states? (2) Which models of sustainability are best able to ensure social stability and prevent conflict? (3) In which ways has women’s participation in water and other resource policies been enhanced to help ensure access and prevent conflict?

As CCS approaches, GAPW respectfully encourages member states to look closely at the impacts of water stresses on their societies. Indeed, the alarming rate of water stresses worldwide – related to sanitation, dam construction, sludge and other pollutants, and more — has resulted in and been exacerbated by local and state conflicts. Agribusinesses and other industries demand large quantities of existing freshwater, reducing water tables and increasing access challenges. Water, like any other resource essential to human life, represents not just a fundamental human need, but also a pivotal matter in the preservation of state and international security. In an Inter-Press Service article about water’s use as a weapon in war, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comments, “Preventing people’s access to safe water is a denial of a fundamental human right [and the] deliberate targeting of civilians and depriving them of essential supplies is a clear breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Water stresses clearly create heightened vulnerability and liability for less developed countries. One major issue faced by many small island, least developed and post-conflict states is the question of how these states can be asked to respond effectively to the SDGs when the resources used to tackle any particular issue are constrained by financial, water and other deficiencies. Many have argued that the lack of equitable assistance, whether financial, infrastructure related or strategic will invariably cause new sets of constraints. At the Climate Change Summit governments will have the opportunity to cite their own specific impediments to the fulfillment of SDG obligations and also share suggestions for remediation.

Climate health and its many implications is a direct by-product of our policy and consumer choices. Our climate “footprint” is large and growing, and showcases our successes and failures. As global leaders and a large numbers of global citizens gather in New York to discuss our climate future, the time has come to stop thinking only about risk mitigation and shift to a concern for risk elimination.  We are simply running out of time to save what’s left and make that accessible to all in a fair and participatory manner.

Sulekha Prasad, WPS Fellow

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