Gender-Based Violence and Environment Linkages


Castañeda Camey, Itza, Laura Sabater, Cate Owren, and A. Emmett Boyer. 2020. Gender-Based Violence and Environment Linkages. Ed. Jamie Wen. Gland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Author: Jamie Wen


"Around the world, it is estimated that one in three women and girls will experience gender-based violence (GBV) during her lifetime (World Bank, 2019). Rooted in discriminatory gender norms and laws and shrouded in impunity, GBV occurs in all societies as a means of control, subjugation and exploitation that further reinforces gender inequality. This publication, Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality, establishes that these patterns of gender-based abuse are observed across environmental contexts, affecting the security and well-being of nations, communities and individuals, and jeopardising meeting sustainable development goals (SDGs). While linkages between GBV and environmental issues are complex and multi-layered, these threats to human rights and healthy ecosystems are not insurmountable. Research findings demonstrate that ending GBV, promoting gender equality and protecting the environment can be positively linked in ways that contribute to securing a safe, sustainable and equitable future.

Purpose and approaches: Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality establishes a knowledge base for understanding and accelerating action to address GBV and environmental linkages. Developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT) partnership, this publication aims to raise awareness and engage actors working in environmental and sustainable development, gender equality, and GBV policymaking and programming spheres to inform rights-based, gender-responsive approaches to environmental policy, programmes and projects. Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality consolidates vast knowledge and experiences gathered from across sectors and spheres, serving as a robust reference for policymakers and practitioners at all levels to understand issues and potential interventions to address GBV as it relates to the environment. Over 1,000 sources of information, experiences and interventions from international stakeholders, national governments, civil society, environmental practitioners and policymakers, advocates and activists, and academics relating to GBV across environmental contexts from around the world were reviewed. At various stages of drafting this publication, the research further benefited from key informant interviews, input from experts through a validation workshop and extensive feedback from peer reviewers. Additionally, a survey (referred to as the GBV-ENV survey) and a call for case studies on GBV and environment linkages added to this research, garnering over 300 responses and 80 case submissions documenting evidence, promising practices and capacity needs from a broad array of stakeholders. The GBV-ENV survey responses included a range of accounts in which GBV has been a barrier to conservation and sustainable development. Fifty-nine per cent of the survey respondents noted they had observed GBV (from sexual, physical and psychological violence, to trafficking, sexual harassment, sexual coercion – rape in specific cases – child marriage linked to environmental crises, and more) across issues relating to women environmental human rights defenders (WEHRDs), environmental migrants and refugees, specifically-listed types of environmental crimes, land tenure and property rights, Indigenous Peoples, protected areas, climate change, energy and infrastructure, extractive industries, water, disaster risk reduction, forestry and biodiversity and the access, use and control over natural resources of some type in the course of their work to implement environmental and sustainable development projects.1 Meanwhile, survey responses made it clear that knowledge and data gaps, tools and capacity building are all needed to tackle GBV-environment linkages. Seventy-one per cent of respondents noted that staff awareness and understanding of GBV-environment linkages was needed to address GBV.

Key messages: This analysis reveals the complex and interlinking nature of GBV across three main contexts explored in this paper: access to and control of natural resources; environmental pressure and threats; and environmental action to defend and conserve ecosystems and resources. Gender inequality is pervasive across all these contexts. National and customary laws, societal gender norms and traditional gender roles dictate who can access and control natural resources, often resulting in the marginalisation of women compared to men. Threats and pressures on the environment and its resources amplify gender inequality and power imbalances in communities and households coping with resource scarcity and societal stress. Discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes even shape the differentiated treatment of women and men working to protect and conserve the environment, ultimately affecting the effectiveness and success of outcomes. Across contexts, expressions of GBV maintain societal and cultural gender inequalities and norms, forming a feedback loop to the detriment of livelihoods, rights, conservation and sustainable development. GBV is a systematic means of control to enforce and protect existing privileges around natural resources, maintaining power imbalances that create tensions within families, between communities and among involved actors. Furthermore, where the enforcement of the rule of law is limited, GBV abuses are used to enable illicit and illegal activities through sexual exploitation and/or to exert control over communities. As Indigenous communities are often on the frontlines of defending their territories, resources and rights from extractive projects and corporate interests, many Indigenous women face intersecting and reinforcing forms of genderbased and other violence (Wijdekop, 2017).

Access to and control over natural resources: Land, forests, agriculture, water and fisheries; Gender inequalities rooted in legal and social norms – including unequal access to education, economic opportunities and decision making – and genderdifferentiated roles and responsibilities dictate how (and if) women and men access and have control over land and resources related to forests, agriculture, water and fisheries. Evidence and experiences in the context of land and natural resources show that GBV is often employed as a way to maintain these power imbalances, violently reinforcing sociocultural expectations and norms and exacerbating gender inequality. For example, when attempting to enter into agricultural markets, women can experience intimate partner violence (IPV) as their partners seek to control finances and maintain economic dependencies (Case Study EN19).2 Moreover, gender-differentiated roles related to land and resources can also put women in a more vulnerable position to suffer GBV while carrying out daily responsibilities, as seen in firewood and water collection activities (Sommer et al., 2015; Wan et al., 2011). Access to and control over natural resources are also often a source for sexual exploitation, as seen in land tenure when authorities suggest or demand sexual favours for land rights (Matsheza et al., 2012); when male fishers demand sex-for-fish from women fish buyers and processors (Béné & Merten, 2008); or where male supervisors in natural resource industries sexually harass and abuse women, punishing those who do not submit by relegating them to dangerous work or limiting hours if their advances are denied (UN Women, 2018).

Pressures and threats on land and resources: Environmental crimes, extractive industries and agribusiness, and climate change and weather-related disasters: Environmental degradation and natural resource scarcity pose significant threats to ecosystems and livelihoods, resulting in or exacerbating biodiversity loss, food insecurity, poverty, displacement, violence, and loss of traditional and cultural knowledge. Ensuing tension and competition over scarce resources in and between communities, households and industries amplifies normative, discriminatory and exploitative gender inequalities, giving way to a rise in GBV as a means of control and reinforcement of power imbalances. For example, across environmental crimes, the weakened rule of law contributes to the sexual exploitation of women and men towards enabling criminal activities – as seen throughout illegal logging, mining and fishing operations as a means to fill labour forces (GI-TOC, 2016; UNHRC, 2011; Urbina, 2015). At other times, GBV has been employed as a method of quelling resistance from local communities during disputes and forceful displacements due to large-scale developments (IUCN, 2018; Rustad et al., 2016; Schrecker et al., 2018). Armed military and security forces involved in large-scale infrastructure developments and extractive work, as well as protected area rangers, have also deployed GBV as means to pressure local communities or exploit them. In the wake of social, financial and infrastructure stresses due to climate change and weather-related disasters, child marriage has been used as a coping strategy (UN Women, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2015), while IPV rates rise as men use violence as a means to exert control over scarce natural resources (Dankelman, 2016). Exacerbating challenges, gender-blind disaster risk management planning can also contribute to GBV (Dwyer & Woolf, 2018; Nellemann, et al., 2011; UNHCR, 2011; WRC, 2011).

Environmental action: Women environmental human rights defenders, environmental projects and environmental workplaces: Gender-based discrimination in social, cultural, legal, economic and institutional frameworks affects the ability of women and girls to equally and safely participate and lead in environment-related activism and organisational work and programming. These barriers reinforce gender inequality in actions to defend, protect, conserve and benefit from the environment. In these contexts, GBV is used to assert power imbalances and, at times, violently discourage or stop women from speaking out for their rights, working toward or benefiting from a safe and healthy environment (GBV-ENV survey respondent SP33; GBVENV survey respondent EN53). For example, incidents of GBV against women environmental human rights defenders (WEHRDs) are on the rise (Barcia, 2017; Facio, 2015; Meffe et al., 2018), with GBV normalised to the point where violence and discrimination are experienced in both private and public spheres (López & Bradley, 2017), making it difficult for defenders to seek justice (Watts, 2018). In environmental workplaces, patterns of gender-based inequality and discrimination are often surrounded by a culture of acceptance that reinforce them and can lead to instances of violence and harassment at work (ILO, 2017; Taylor, 2014). Environmental initiatives can unintentionally exacerbate local conditions that contribute to GBV (Tauli-Corpuz et al., 2018). Ultimately, GBV undermines and can even reverse progress on meeting environmental goals.

Ways forward: Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality documents GBV-environment linkages across a range of contexts, demonstrating that GBV is applied as a systematic tool of control to determine the rights and prospects of people based on their gender. While the issues are vast, there are also numerous entry points to prevent and respond to GBV within these linkages. Understanding GBV and environment interlinkages is critical for effective policy-making, planning and interventions, as these issues influence one another in various ways that can hinder or negate progress. Some promising practices do exist and are leading the way for others in this area of work. Environmental programming can address GBV issues and risks by: integrating focused attention in organisational priorities and policies; raising awareness and capacities; building strategic alliances across sectors and stakeholders to expedite action; and integrating GBV considerations across project cycles. In multiple international policy frameworks; donor, aid and finance mechanism priorities; and sustainable development organisations’ strategies and plans, matters pertaining to both GBV (including prevention of and response to violence) and environment (including conservation and sustainable development) tend to be crosscutting but rarely linked, obscuring potential risks for exacerbating violence and/or environmental degradation. Bringing these interlinkages into priority focus offers a chance to see things differently, revealing strategic options for new and renewed efforts toward meeting human rights and international sustainable development commitments" (Wen 2020, xi-xvi).

Table of Contents:
1. Introduction
Section I. Gender-Based Violence and Access, Use and Control of Natural Resources
2. The Use of Gender-Based Violence as a Form of Control over Land and Natural Resources
Section II. Gender-Based Violence in the Context of Environmental Pressures and Threats
3. Illicit Natural Resource Exploitation - Links Between Gender-Based Violence and Environmental Crime
4. The Impacts of Extractive Industries, Large-Scale Infrastructure Projects and Agribusiness on Gender-Based Violence
5. The Impacts of Climate Change and Weather-Related Disasters on Gender-Based Violence
Section III. Gender Based Violence in Environmental Action
6. Gender-Based Violence in Defending Land, Territories and the Environment - The Situation of Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders
7. Gender-Based Violence in Environmental Work and Workplaces
Section IV. Pathways for Change: Recommendations for Taking Action
8. Bridging Gaps, Taking Action: Entry Points for Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Environment Links, Including for Improved Environmental Programming

Topics: Environment, Extractive Industries, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Indigenous, Infrastructure, Justice, Impunity, Rights, Human Rights, Security, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Year: 2020

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