American Univesity of Beirut

Are Women the Future of Environmental Peacebuilding?

Rita Theresa El Kahi

As the Cold War came to an end in 1989, civil wars rose, and many governments began to worry that the aggravating resource scarcity will lead to violent conflicts. Academically, the environment/conflict relationship was of great interest to many researchers who came up with many ambiguous and complicated solutions that shifted the problem to other perceived threats. Then, in 2002, the concept of environmental peacemaking came to life in a book titled Environmental Peacemaking by Ken Conca and Geoffrey D. Dabelko. Perhaps, the need to cooperate over mutual needs–natural resources–could build a certain trust between countries– or different political communities within countries–to achieve durable peace. Environmental dynamics can then be used to create beneficial opportunities for the cooperating countries. The notion of environmental peacemaking has gained acceptance in some circles since the book's publication, but it still faces opposition in others. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) avoid using the term “peacemaking" because of security contexts. For instance, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) prefers to use the terminology “peacebuilding" to reflect on the post-conflict arena. Today, environmental peacebuilding encompasses a wide variety of environmental and natural resource activities, such as climate change mitigation and preparation, agriculture and farming, natural resource exploitation, land access, usage and ownership, rewilding, and nature protection among others.

Now, one might question why does the world need more women involved in this environmental-political process? What can women bring to the table when it comes to this male-dominated field? Well, it is scientifically proven that gender equality in conflict resolution contributes to long-term peace. According to many researchers, promoting and achieving gender equality will not only decrease conflicts significantly, but the likelihood of eliminating violence will increase by 24%. Therefore, whenever women play an active role in peacemaking, the probability of accomplishing peace and resilience increases. Despite all these facts, women are still under-represented in politics when it comes to any decision-making process. Although women are 35% more likely to join peace agreements that last at least 15 years, the sad truth is that most peace agreements do not include any female signatories. Thus, world leaders would not be able to achieve durable peace without including women in the process. Moreover, not reaching long-lasting peace hinders sustainable development. This is why it is essential to consider what happens if women were an active part of environmental peacebuilding.

In order to succeed, the way issues and solutions are communicated inside countries and communities has to be clear and direct. Women can explore what works best for both parties and communicate to achieve a common trust between them. “As women peacebuilders, we will always dialogue with the other, it is our principle. There is a risk that people will judge us for this, for talking to people that others don't like, but this is part of our work; building new bridges that others will use after," said Rosa Emilia Salamanca (2020), executive director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Action (CIASE) in Colombia, and an active member of the Women, Peace and Security Collective for Reflection and Action.

However, this is not enough. According to Naraghi-Anderlini (2018), founder and CEO of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), women peacebuilders should also be supported on three different levels: personal, professional, and institutional. Personal support is done by establishing a network where other women peacemakers help each other, so none of the parties involved are alone in this journey. ICAN also support them on a professional level by empowering female negotiators to lobby in international organizations, conferences, and meetings with funders and politicians. Finally, on an institutional level, this organization provides these women with all the resources, funds, and tools needed to advocate for peace and accomplish change. Despite all the support given, women still face many challenges on the field such as trying to communicate with terrorists to stop a conflict. Modern laws against terrorism might cause them trouble for “associating" themselves with these criminals. However, at the end of the day, everyone can count on these brave women to face and solve these problems.  As Naraghi-Anderlini (2018) stated: “When push comes to shove, when things get bad, the first people that are warning us and standing up are women. And if we listen to them, and if we support them in the work that they're doing and adopt their ideas before the crisis, maybe they could stop it."

As a conclusion, the environment is a key concern in international politics, but it is not a viable reason to start a war. Instead, one should perceive the fundamental qualities of the biophysical environment as a chance to promote cooperation and peace rather than conflict and rivalry. Everyone should care about the environment since our survival as a human race depends entirely on this planet. In addition, women are critical to build and sustain peace, yet they have been a missing piece in environmental peacebuilding for so long. As already mentioned, they are more than capable of finding great solutions to the most complicated problems, preventing conflicts, and stopping humankind from irremediably damaging their common home. Thus, it is crucial to give women the same number of opportunities as men to be at the negotiating table. As the Iraqi American women's rights activist and founder of Women for Women International, Zainab Salbi, once said “Like life, peace begins with women. We are the first to forge lines of alliance and collaboration across conflict divides."


Photo credits: Women sitting on rock near body of water. Unsplash. Unsplash License.

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