Women's role in fostering water security in the South Caucasus

NWO funding for research into the role of gender in environmental peacebuilding

Photo by Twiga269 ॐ FEMEN on Flickr

Although many of the world's border conflicts arise over water scarcity, very little scientific research has been done on women’s participation in water-related conflict resolution. The research now proposed by Róisín Burke – who is an assistant professor at Utrecht University's Law department and affiliated to the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) – aims to better understand factors that enable, or prevent, women’s participation in the dialogue around water security and its transboundary management. Her focus will be on the Southern Caucasus, where Armenia and Azerbaijan clash over the water-rich region of Nagorno-Karabakh and where control over the territories and water resources of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia) is in dispute. What role can women play in negotiating a water-secure peace in a still strongly patriarchal culture?

The project intents to map out the current state of affairs of women’s participation in water management and 'environmental peacebuilding' in the South Caucasus, to bring stakeholders together in a workshop, and from there build on an inter-disciplinary, cross-sectoral network of experts and women’s groups, who will work – through the process of environmental peacebuilding – on achieving peace and (water) security. The broader aim is to connect with the UN Security Council's resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), concerning the need for women’s participation in peace processes.

Water underpins people’s human rights and security. It is a conflict-driver in the South Caucasus. But it has
been neglected in peace processes, and – additionally – women have been effectively excluded from the peacebuilding space

Research suggests when women meaningfully participate, peace agreements are more likely to last. Moreover, women tend to prioritise issues affecting communities and youth. International and regional bodies are advocating for participation of women in water related conflict resolution, as a security issue. Furthermore, the concept 'environmental peacebuilding' connects actions in the environmental sphere (such as agreements on better management of transboundary water) to peacebuilding. Advocates argue that positive environmental action and dialogue may foster cooperation and confidence-building in inter-state conflicts, such as between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Traditionally women have often been excluded from these processes. In the South Caucasus patriarchal ideas often relegate women to the role of caregivers, and men decision-makers. Stepping outside gender roles can result in societal backlash, such as harassment, rendering it difficult for women to engage in peace processes, including in the environmental space. In this context, the project aims to identify what barriers and opportunities exist for women’s meaningful participation in dialogue, decision-making and management of transboundary waters in the South Caucasus. And in a broader sense, the aim is to find out how WPS, water and environmental peacebuilding interact, and what this interplay could mean for attaining specific goals.

The project 'The Nexus between Women Peace and Security, Transboundary Waters and Environmental Peacebuilding in the South Caucasus' (duration one year) receives funding from NWO Open Competition Domain Social Sciences and Humanities