30 Sep 2017 Story Disasters & conflicts

Women as agents of peace in natural resource conflict in Sudan

Sudan – UN Environment and partners are working to enhance women’s role in conflict resolution and environmental management at the community level.

© UN Environment

Al Rahad, a dusty town in central Sudan, is emblematic of the challenges facing the country. Drought and deforestation have created tensions between the communities that rely on the region’s dwindling natural resources. At times, these tensions have escalated to conflict.

On the southern fringes of the Al Baja desert, Al Rahad used to be known for producing more gum Arabic than anywhere else in Sudan. It was a longstanding source of income for farmers. But the acacia trees that produce the gum are no longer bountiful due to changes in rainfall patterns and warmer temperatures.

A scarcity of resources like this can trigger disputes over water, trees, and fertile land. It can also drive entire families to migrate, or men to abandon their traditional livelihoods to seek sources of income elsewhere.

© UN Environment

“There are villages where there are almost no men,” said Majda Mutwakil, a resident of Al Rahad. “They have migrated to mine gold or for urban cities. In these villages, the adults left are women and old men. Women are now doing all the work that their men used to do.”

But despite the departure of many of their male family members and neighbours, women, in many cases, are still being excluded from social structures for decision-making.

“Women are not allowed to sit in the same spaces as men when they are undertaking the Judiya [an indigenous conflict resolution mechanism] in Sudan for cultural reasons,” said Ghada Abdelrahman, another resident. “Even at meetings permissible for women to attend, when we try to make a point or express our opinions, we can be silenced by the men attending. We have important thoughts about how to help end disagreements and bring peace, but our views are not always heard.”

UN Environment – in partnership with UN Women and the UN Development Programme – is working to change those dynamics. In a joint project, Women, Natural Resources, and Peace, the partners are working to strengthen the role of women in determining how to address the challenges facing them and their communities. The project also aims to increase women's decision-making role in resolving conflicts over natural resource management.

© UN Environment

The project builds on the UN Development Programme’s The Community Security and Stabilization Programme (C2SP), which has developed committees in all areas of intervention with membership drawn from different tribes, traditional leaders, youth, and others. The committee is well-known in Al Rahad, local leaders endorse it, and it makes decisions on issues that matter to the community. However, women’s representation in committees such as these is small, and the scope of their engagement is limited. The joint project aims not only to expand the number of participating women in the Community Management Committee but also to incorporate their perspectives in peacebuilding efforts.

Context is essential in this endeavour. A woman’s capacity to recover from conflict and contribute to peace depends on a multitude of issues: whether she is displaced, directly engaged in armed groups, or forced to take on additional responsibilities to care for dependents and sustain her livelihood.

The project’s efforts would be almost impossible without Vetcare, a Sudanese civil society group that has long been active in the region. Vetcare has earned the community’s trust over the years of cooperation with the UNDP by helping families resolve their livelihoods needs in the area.

UN Environment brings its experience with community resource management, given the increasingly degraded environment in Sudan. Tools and approaches developed by UN Environment are helping various actors in the community to better manage their natural resources. The Community Environmental Action Plan, for example, helps people understand the dynamics between natural resources and livelihoods. Through this tool, Sudanese farmers and pastoralists, many of whom are women, learn from each other and have a chance to discuss and negotiate controversial matters. 

The project, which is funded by the Government of Finland, is part of a global programme and is the first of its kind. Lessons from the intervention in Al Rahad will be critical to peacebuilding efforts, not only in other regions of Sudan and Africa, but globally, to further involve women in conflict resolution and environmental management at the community level and more.

Find out more about UN Environment’s work in Sudan at unep.org/Sudan or follow our latest updates at www.facebook.com/UNEnvironmentSudan.