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Recognizing women’s critical roles in responding to conflict: FAO and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325.


Jennifer Nyberg, FAO, Rome (Italy)

Ilaria Sisto, FAO, Rome (Italy)



October 2010 marked the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325), which highlights the importance of involving women in all aspects of peacekeeping and peace building to conserve peace, security and livelihoods. Unanimously adopted during the Namibian presidency of the UN Security Council in October 2000, SC  Resolution 1325  addresses the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, and recognizes the under-valued and under-utilized contributions that women make to conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace building. Accordingly, Resolution 1325 promotes women’s full and equal involvement in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and reconstruction of war-torn communities. It also calls on conflicting parties to recognize the needs of both women and men when planning peacekeeping operations, and to protect women and girls from gender-based violence in emergency settings, particularly rape.

To celebrate the anniversary of this landmark resolution, in October 2010 a number of high-level ministers attended an open debate on Women, Peace and Security held by the UN Security Council in New York.  Scholars, activists, policy makers and UN agencies invited to participate to the meeting examined the impact of UNSC Resolution 1325, the remaining obstacles to women's participation, and indicators to measure progress.

On this occasion, the Council reaffirmed its commitment to increasing women’s participation at all stages of the peace process and commended efforts to develop a set of indicators that will help track the implementation of Resolution 1325. These practical indicators, which have been produced by a number of UN entities including FAO, will measure progress towards the protection and empowerment of women in conflict and post-conflict situations.


Conflict and crisis affect women and men in different ways

Globally, women and girls constitute 47 per cent of refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as half of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) and former refugees (UNHCR, 2009) who have been made homeless by armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights and natural- or human-made disasters. However men and women are affected in different ways. In armed conflicts, while men are generally at greater risk of being drafted into military groups or killed, women tend to be more vulnerable to physical violence, intimidation and discrimination. During civil unrest, women may turn into the sole providers for their families if their husbands and sons are absent or incapacitated. They often become entirely responsible for finding alternative ways to feed their children, as well as care for the ill and injured. In other types of crisis, men may migrate in search of alternative employment, while women take on a higher proportion of work previously handled by men.

In protracted crises – which are characterized by recurrent natural disasters and/or conflict, longevity of food crises, breakdown of livelihoods and insufficient institutional capacity to react to the crises - men and women are differently affected in three key areas: gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual exploitation, such as forced marriages or transactional sex in exchange for food, medicines, farming inputs and other essentials; access to social services such as health care and education; and stress on livelihood strategies and survival or coping mechanisms. 

By affecting mostly the productive population groups aged 15 to 45, GBV has a devastating impact on the agriculture sector and food security: illness or injuries as a result of violence reduce work capacity, productivity and livelihood assets. Many victims and survivors of GBV are stigmatized and excluded from community and social activities, and deprived of support. Risky coping strategies such as commercial sex, employed by those facing food and livelihood insecurity and humanitarian crises, often lead to further erosion of the livelihood asset base, and further vulnerability to GBV and HIV transmission (FAO-Dimitra, 2010).

All these differences influence what resources women and men can draw upon in crisis situations, and thus their ability, and the ability of the communities they live in, to respond to and cope with crisis.


Different needs, different opportunities

Gender issues may seem of less important in the midst of urgent crisis, but studies show that life-saving strategies are more efficient and timely when there is a real understanding of the different roles and responsibilities that men and women have in food security and agriculture. 

Furthermore, involving both men and women in all stages of conflict resolution, prevention and post-conflict reconstruction can provide an opportunity for women’s empowerment, as well as increase the overall resilience of communities to emergencies. 
When men migrate in search of work or become fighters in military operations as a result of warfare, women tend to play expanded roles in economic and agricultural production. They must take on new roles to ensure the survival of their families and may perform work that would otherwise be confined to men in times of peace.

During the civil war in Sri Lanka, for instance, women played an important part in carrying out marketing activities, because men were more likely to be held at army checkpoints or to be detained by the rebel group.  Internally displaced women relocated to agricultural areas also engaged in wage labour, while women in fishing communities became involved in a variety of productive activities: from fish harvesting, processing and marketing to net making and repair.

Integrating gender and participation in humanitarian response

Humanitarian response and early recovery in protracted crises are carried out in very difficult and often insecure situations, and understanding gender roles and responsibilities may seem less relevant when faced with security risks, violent conflict, food shortages or supporting the needs of large groups of internally displaced people. Yet, gender analysis is important to effectively reduce and manage the risk of crisis, and help people prepare for crisis, in that gender can be a root cause of social vulnerability to natural disasters, conflicts and other crises.  In most cases, gender analysis can help understand ongoing vulnerability, target need effectively and support more sustainable results to address the complex challenges of protracted crisis. For example, in protracted crises, findings indicate that first, food and livelihood insecurity can only be properly understood and addressed if GBV is factored into the analysis; and second, that livelihood interventions are necessary to confront underlying causes and factors related to poverty, economic inequalities and control over resources which contribute to GBV (SOFI, 2010).

The FAO approach to disaster risk management (DRM) therefore places special emphasis on integrating gender perspectives into emergency relief and rehabilitation operations. Gender analysis related to food security, conflict and protracted crisis should focus on four key steps:   

  • First, a sound analysis of differentiated needs and vulnerabilities resulting from crisis, as well as the different strengths and coping capacities women, girls, boys and men. This would allow planners to target the socio-economic groups who face particularly adverse conditions or at least ensure that their needs are incorporated into response planning and delivery.
  • Second, it is important to ensure that actual programmes on the ground are gender-sensitive. Such programmes should seek to redress not only existing inequalities but to secure and build assets in ways that empower victims of crises (for example, through safe and secure access to land, cash and other productive resources for women and men of all ages). Relief programmes that adopt a gender perspective can avert widespread acute malnutrition and lead to more rapid recovery in food production and other aspects of livelihoods.  For protracted crises, there is a particularly need to focus on the changing needs of vulnerable groups over time.
  • Third, humanitarian response must deliberately ensure that institutions embrace a gender perspective in which the needs and rights of both women and men of all ages are recognized and addressed. As such, community groups, such as women’s organizations, and other networks and civil society must participate in dialogue related to recovery and reconstruction planning to better reflect goals linked to gender equity and equality in the lives and livelihoods of the affected population.
  • Fourth, in protracted crisis, the need to focus on governance and institutions in terms of social protection is critical, for example, through social services, including but not limited to health and education. More focus on social protection can have a long-term positive effect on social and economic development of communities affected by protracted crises.

The challenge is to identify common entry points even in the absence of effective institutions or governance. For example, context specific gender analysis or an increased understanding of local concepts of risk and hazards and community-based risk reduction measures, as well as the constraints related to enhancing resilience and diversifying livelihoods, may broaden the range and scope of response options available. All of these elements are related and should be seen as important parts of a more integrated approach in a renewed overall aid architecture aimed at addressing short- and longer term dimensions of food insecurity in protracted crises.

The IASC Handbook sets forth standards for the integration of gender issues from the outset of a new complex emergency or disaster, so that humanitarian services provided neither exacerbate nor inadvertently put people at risk; reach their target audience; and have maximum positive impact. To this aim, the handbook provides the Framework for Gender Equality Programming, which is a tool to use with project staff working at the sector level, to review their projects or programmes with a gender equality lens. The introduction of the Gender Marker coding system for projects to be financed through humanitarian appeals or pooled funds, which will be compulsory as of 2012, will help humanitarian clusters and actors on the ground programme through a gender lens.

The IASC guidelines also highlight the importance of active participation of people affected in identifying needs and designing and implementing relief programmes to address those needs, to substantially improve programme effectiveness and sustainability. In this regard, it highlights the following entry points for participation in humanitarian action:

  • conducting assessments;
  • setting priorities with communities and households;
  • carrying out programme planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation activities;
  • designing leadership and decision-making structures;
  • undertaking advocacy, awareness and education initiatives in communities; and
  • establishing committees, subgroups and others structures for information gathering, decision-making and implementation.

Through each of the points of entry, agency personnel should include the participation of a broad range of community members — women, girls, boys and men — as each population has specific needs and contributions based on their age and gender. If successfully integrated into humanitarian action, gender-based and participatory approaches help promote the ultimate goal of protecting and promoting the human rights of women, girls, boys and men targeted in emergency response and rehabilitation.


How has FAO responded to the aims set forth in SC 1325?

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of UN SCR 1325, FAO initiated an internal review aimed at highlighting lessons learned and identifying good practice in emergency and rehabilitation interventions in complex emergencies, post-conflict and protracted crisis, with a specific gender focus.

FAO’s role in natural and human-induced disasters is guided by the commitments set forth in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security, the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the Hyogo Framework for Action. At the beginning of 2000, the FAO Gender and Development Service and the Emergency and Rehabilitation Division agreed to collaborate with WFP in the preparation of guidelines on Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) for Emergency and Rehabilitation Programmes. The purpose of these guidelines was to support humanitarian agencies in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the planning and implementation of emergency programmes through a participatory approach. FAO and WFP produced also a passport to mainstreaming a gender perspective in emergency and rehabilitation programmes under the SEAGA Programme

In 2005 the international community adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) which sets the Strategic Goals and Priority Areas of Action for a ten-year programme to substantially reduce loss of life due to natural disasters, as well as reduce lost of social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries. As the UN Specialized Agency for food and agriculture, FAO has the responsibility of assisting member countries in integrating Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures in agriculture and food sector policies and practices and plays a key role in protecting and restoring agriculture based livelihoods in the aftermath of a disaster, and in view of the expected future impacts of climate variability and change.

FAO work in emergency and rehabilitation is focused on preparedness, response and transition, and is currently implemented by the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division, supported by the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment division and other technical units within FAO.

FAO seeks to promote gender equality and reduce discrimination against women in emergency and development contexts through: 1) collaboration with the IASC Sub-working Group on Gender in Humanitarian Action;  2) design and dissemination of participatory  tools for applying socio-economic and gender analysis (SEAGA) in emergency and rehabilitation programmes; 3) provision of policy support (for example,  gender mainstreaming strategies and plans of action for the agriculture sector, and incorporation of gender considerations in land legislation and in agricultural censuses and surveys in FAO Member countries); 4) capacity development on SEAGA; 5) establishment of pilot Junior and Adult Farmer Field and Life Schools (FFLS) among populations of humanitarian concern in 11 African countries. One aspect of the FFLS approach is how the programme targets youths and vulnerable adults affected by AIDS, and promotes gender-equal attitudes from early ages; 6) strengthening the capacity and competencies of women to plan, make decisions, organise, manage and carry out activities at different levels – household, community and societal.

In humanitarian response, FAO builds partnerships with and strengthens the capacities of NGOs and other non-UN actors to apply gender analysis tools in beneficiary targeting, and in monitoring and assessing agriculture and food security interventions. As much as possible, FAO gives priority to the collection of essential baseline and Sex and Age Disaggregated Data (SADD) to better inform the different needs of various socio-economic groups, taking into account sex, age, tribal or indigenous group, education level, possible disabilities or other factors that would differentiate needs in crisis contexts.  FAO also provides insights and feedback to gender equality programming with its UN-system and other partners in the context of food security and agriculture, mostly in rural areas.  FAO also contributes to the integration of gender perspectives in the agriculture and food security interventions through its cluster leadership role in humanitarian contexts.

Specific interventions focus on the reinforcement of food security and the economic rights of women, by promoting their access to and control over productive resources, reduction of women’s workload, training, information and the promotion of women’s participation in the decision-making.  FAO is a member of the UN Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) and related Task forces; the focal point for gender and agriculture for the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); and convenor of the International Coalition on Women and AIDS.


FAO Good Practices in mainstreaming a gender perspective in emergency and rehabilitation operations

In times of disasters, FAO responds rapidly with essential agricultural inputs to help affected-communities meet their immediate food security and livelihood needs. FAO also helps to rebuild small-scale, community-based agricultural infrastructure among other critical time-bound agricultural interventions that enable farmers, fishers, herders and foresters to resume their livelihoods activities. In restoring agricultural activities and in bridging the gap between food aid and longer-term agricultural development, FAO has realized the importance of  programming that allows  women to gain equal access to productive assets and resources on which their livelihoods depend.

FAO also uses established coordinated early warning platforms, such as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification System (IPC) or Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), to analyse the causal factors of vulnerability to food insecurity and loss of livelihoods. This type of analysis is key to understanding how to reduce and manage the risks associated with potential crises and disasters.

Since 2000 FAO has been collaborating with the IASC Sub-working Group on Gender in  Humanitarian Action and assisted in the preparation and dissemination of the Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action called: Women, Girls, Boys and Men: Different Needs – Equal Opportunities. As a member of the SWG, FAO also contributed to the recommendations and follow up on awareness raising, evidence based advocacy and training activities on gender issues. In addition, FAO is increasingly engaged in supporting a global roster of gender advisors – The Gender Standby Capacity Project (GenCAP) –  which is a collaboration between the IASC and the Norwegian Refugee Council. GenCAP “seeks to build capacity of humanitarian actors at country level to mainstream gender in all sectors of humanitarian response.”

Awareness raising and capacity development materials, such as guidelines, a pocket guide and a fact sheet) were jointly prepared and widely disseminated by FAO and WFP, as part of the FAO Socio-economic and gender analysis (SEAGA) Programme, to support humanitarian officers and local partners in mainstreaming a gender perspective in the planning and implementation of emergency and rehabilitation programmes through a participatory approach. A Pocket guide, available in six languages with some key questions to be asked in emergency situations for data collection, was widely disseminated to assist in the design of humanitarian interventions so that they will be sensitive to gender differences.

There are many examples of how FAO and its partners either have sought or continue to seek creative ways to address key challenges in the agriculture sector that may include but go beyond short-term emergency responses, including specific interventions in protracted crises in Afghanistan, Haiti, Tajikistan and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which show how to support longer-term recovery in agricultural livelihoods and food security (SOFI, 2010).

Specifically, in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake, FAO in collaboration with the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, worked to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure, to establish  food-and-cash-for-work initiatives, as well as provide small-scale farmers with agricultural advice and training. Immediate actions included distribution of seeds, fertilizers, livestock inputs and other agricultural tools to the most vulnerable households, including female-headed households.  

FAO work in Afghanistan provides important lessons in terms of addressing short- and long-term needs in a protracted crisis context. In collaboration with WFP, FAO aimed at responding in the immediate and longer-term to the crisis by addressing cross-cutting issues including food security, agriculture, irrigation, social affairs and health. Nutrition programmes were used as culturally acceptable entry points to address gender issues in Afghanistan, even when women remained excluded from public life. Strategies have aimed at strengthening women’s technical skills by working in partnership with organizations that assist women to form self-help groups to access credit and markets and develop small, agriculture-based businesses. A more detailed description of FAO’s initiatives in these countries is provided in a separate article on “Food security and agricultural livelihoods recovery in protracted crises: Lessons learned by FAO and partners”, published in this newsletter.



Three out four people in developing countries are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.  Protracted crises reduce household livelihood and food security, most importantly by restricting access to economic opportunities, such us participation in cash crops and other more lucrative agricultural activities, reducing investment choices and reducing or destroying household assets. Gender gaps persist and these may be exacerbated during times of conflict, complex emergencies or in protracted crisis. Differences in gender roles and disparities in the way men and women are treated play a major role in how protracted crises emerge and are experienced.

The State of Food and Agriculture in the World Report launched by FAO on 7 March 2011 - focused on Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development - signals a new way of thinking about women in agriculture, including an economic analysis of the gaps women face in access to resources and opportunities in agriculture and rural enterprises, and empirical estimates of the costs this gender gap imposes on the agriculture sector in terms of lost productivity, food insecurity and forgone growth.  The report makes a strong business case for promoting gender equality in agriculture: in fact, closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains for the agriculture sector and for society, with an overall reduction of the number of hungry people in the world by 12–17 percent.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 stressed the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all aspects of peacekeeping and peace building to conserve peace, security and livelihoods. A thorough understanding of livelihoods, gender dynamics, social context and local and national institutions is required not only to address the critical constraints to livelihoods and food security at the household level but also to understand the underlying causes of the crisis.

Major donors have highlighted the need to link humanitarian food assistance and efforts to promote sustainable, gender equitable agriculture-led growth as part of an integrated food-security approach. Action is needed to incorporate peace-oriented considerations into livelihood and food security interventions, and systematically to take into account the ways in which policies and development aid are likely to influence food security, livelihoods, equity and peace. All of these elements are related and should be seen as important parts of a more integrated approach in a renewed overall aid architecture aimed at addressing short- and longer term dimensions of food insecurity in humanitarian response.


Main Sources:

FAO, Recognizing women’s critical roles in responding to conflict, FAO-ESW news, 1st November 2010.

FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises, FAO, Rome.

FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture in the World 2010. Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development 2010-11, FAO, Rome

FAO, FAO Inputs - Resolution 1325- update 2009.

FAO, Emergency and rehabilitation programmes: does gender matter? , FAO Policy Brief.

IASC, Women, Girls, Boys and Men. Different needs – equal opportunities, Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action, 2006


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