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Towards a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace - a reality too complex to tweet? 

Towards a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace – a reality too complex to tweet? 
Photo taken by Sidra in Bin Qasim Town, Karachi, caption, "Water, Water!!" - when asked to show the most important issues in the neighbourhood, 2015. Photo: Sidra

2017 marked a decade since climate change was first debated in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Last December 15, an Arria Formula meeting was held on ‘Preparing for security implications of rising temperatures’ in order to expand on the recent UNSC resolution 2349 on the Lake Chad Basin crisis and stress the impact of climate change on security. There was a powerful call from 13 member states for the UN system to better understand and respond to climate-related security risks. 

Even as the UNSC member states still negotiate if and how to address climate-related security risks, there is increasing acknowledgement that climate change impacts continue to affect the poorest and most marginalized groups disproportionately, with negative consequences around their livelihoods and human security that can spill over into national security issues. The latest statement of the president of the UNSC on West Africa and the Sahel emphasized: 

the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of the region... and emphasizes the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies by governments and the UN relating to these factors’

In December’s Arria Formula, Ireland explicitly stressed concern about the gendered dimensions of climate change. Women’s organizations like Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development as well as researchers have long emphasized that climate change is not gender neutral and in fact tends to increase gender inequalities. General recommendations on Gender related dimensions of Disaster Risk Reduction in a Changing Climate is, for example, currently under development within the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)—a critical international treaty ratified by 189 states.


Another perspective? Haven’t we got enough on our plate already?

A ‘gender’ perspective is lauded in development and security analysis, but it too often falls into the segregation of women in the name of ‘empowerment’. Not that women shouldn’t have their own funding and spaces, but we can’t count the times we’ve learned a gender programme merely equals ‘having a woman’s focus group’. Gender is not just women; it is how women, men and other gender groups interact with and impact each other. This is something that feminist groups often active in conflict areas with experience of highly militarized societies – as well as researchers – have highlighted for decades. Binary understandings of males as power hungry and dominant and females as ‘virtuous victims’ limits understanding of how gender roles, their expectations and performances, are intricately linked to how insecurity and conflict emerge and pervade. Without an inclusive gender perspective, there continues to be insufficient progress on women’s rights and security.

How climate change and security issues are linked requires a comprehensive gender analysis. Very few analysts have considered how climate change, gender and security are interconnected. For example, there has been much discussion about the role of climate change on livelihoods in the Lake Chad Basin crisis, and separately how non-state armed groups like Boko Haram used gendered norms to recruit and implement violence.  However, there has been a failure to analyse how the impact of climate change on livelihoods has impacted expectations and pressures of masculinity for different groups of males, and how frustrated masculinities may be an incentive to perpetrate violence in this complex scenario. Similarly, local peacebuilders like Hamsatu Allamin have expressed how female relatives of those who joined Boko Haram in Nigeria saw the warning signs early on, but because of gendered norms they did not have channels to share these concerns—not even with their husbands.  


A growing body of evidence on the gender, climate change and security nexus 

A recent background study conducted by SIPRI that will be published soon shows that—where evidence is available—there are emergent linkages when it comes to: i) livelihood conditions and food security, ii) migration and displacement, iii) critical infrastructure and basic services, and iv) responses to climate change. 

The literature shows, for example, that both rapid and slow onset disasters lower women’s life expectancy compared to men’s. But crucially, the higher womens’ socioeconomic status, the weaker the effect. This was demonstrated quite clearly in Hurricane Katrina, where the most vulnerable group were working class African-American women, due to their marginalization in both urban planning and socio-economics. Therefore, gender is not enough to understand vulnerabilities to experiencing—or even perpetrating—security threats. 

Gender intersects with other categories of identity – like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, class, religion, disability – to create compounding ‘intersections’ where a person’s vulnerability may worsen or reduce. To take one case, in Amiera’s work with King’s College London and IBA Karachi on gender and violence in urban Pakistan, the most vulnerable groups to both experiencing and perpetrating violence included minority ethnic, young males residing in informal settlements. This is in contrast to established assumptions. Why is this the case? Because they are dealing with extreme economic and political marginalization in an uncertain economy, whilst also having to ‘live up’ to the pressures of ‘being a good man’—including financially supporting their families.  In moments of environmental stress, frustrations bubble over into violence and joining non-state armed groups becomes one of the only options for economic and physical security. In the gender equals women approach, young men like this get left out of the analysis, meaning risk assessment and mitigation strategies suffer critical gaps. 

The Sustainable Development Goals underscore the need for an intersectional approach to development and security programming—even if they don’t use the term. Instead, they call for a ‘comprehensive’ approach, interlinking the 17 goals to encourage this. There is much demand for a comprehensive approach, but how to facilitate it in practice is a constant source of debate.  


Institutional challenges to pursuing a comprehensive approach

Policymakers and practitioners have expressed a difficulty in acquiring sufficient information to conduct comprehensive analysis regarding which groups are the most vulnerable to experiencing and perpetrating security risks under the stresses of climate change. They state that it is already hard to understand climate change and security linkages, so incorporating gender adds additional complexity. To then add an intersectional perspective is shunned by some as too complex and it is definitely more difficult to communicate the successes in one tweet (even if they have increased the characters). For others, applying an intersectional analysis is a critical way to understand the local context and to promote the sustaining peace agenda. For them, an intersectional analysis is the crucial foundational step to ensuring risk assessments and responses around climate-related security risks are locally appropriate and sustainable.

SIPRI is now working on a project that aims to identify challenges that organizations face in addressing knowledge and practice gaps in the relationship between gender, climate change and security. And since gender alone is not enough, we are currently mapping practitioner and policymaker needs and opportunities for more comprehensive (or, intersectional) analysis and programming. So far, several stakeholders have underscored that the communication gaps between academic, policy maker and practitioner terms like ‘intersectional’ need to be simplified and subsequent analytical tools need to be practical and relate to the daily work. There are broader concerns about institutional and sectoral silos between development, humanitarian and security actors, so we are using this work to create greater opportunities for interface and discussion between researchers, policy makers and practitioners around risk assessment tools.


The opportunities

Just like UNSC resolution 1325 and follow-up resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, feminist organisations – this time together with researchers – have driven awareness of the gender, climate change and security nexus. There is a long way to go, but there is strong interest from a wide range of stakeholders in supporting research on this nexus, to inform their work. SIPRI is working with a range of practitioners and policymakers to demystify the linkages and to support a more comprehensive analytical approach through simple, practical guidance. The key question remains: what are the institutional barriers to and opportunities for pursuing a more comprehensive analysis of the gender, climate change and security nexus? SIPRI is investigating this development with great interest and will, during the coming months, interact with policy makers as well as continue to meet with practitioners in order to develop guidance on how to move the agenda forward.


The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Henri Myrttinen for inspiring the title of this blog through his ever helpful reflections on gender and peacebuilding.


Dr Amiera Sawas was a Researcher in the Climate Change and Risk Programme.
Emma Bjertén-Günther was a Researcher within the SIPRI Peace and Development Programme.