Women, Wadis and Peace in Darfur

The Darfur region of Sudan is no stranger to conflict. For over a decade, cycles of violence have driven over 2 million people from their homes and villages and into internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps near towns.

Many of those displaced during the hostilities settled in the area of Wadi El Ku in northern Darfur. Rapid population growth over the past decade means that an estimated 700,000 people now depend on the Wadi (a valley or seasonal riverbed) for their water and livelihoods, putting additional pressure on already-limited natural resources. With competition over land and water having been an original trigger for hostilities, tackling the root causes has been a priority in halting any further downward spiral of violence in the traumatized region.

During the conflict many men lost their livelihoods and moved elsewhere in search of opportunities, leaving a large number of female-headed households. Women also undertake most of the domestic and agricultural work, meaning that they are heavily reliant on available water and land resources. However, women are largely excluded from decisionmaking in the household and wider community on how these resources are exploited.

In response, UNEP, the European Union, the Darfur Regional Authority, and the Government of North Darfur launched a threeyear project in 2013 to support inclusive sustainable land and water resource management in the Wadi El Ku catchment area. The project, which has targeted 81,000 residents from farming, pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities, aims to support economic and livelihood recovery and thus reduce intercommunal tensions.

Given that women comprise around 65 per cent of the population of the project area, UNEP staff realized the importance of considering gender issues to ensure that the project addressed the specific needs of both men and women. Magda Nassef, UNEP Project Manager for Environment and Livelihoods in Sudan, explains: “Gender is an important component of any project dealing with natural resources because men and women have varied roles, needs, capacities and contributions when it comes to natural resources. These are important to understand so that our activities do not neglect the priorities and contributions of a particular gender.”

A comprehensive analysis was undertaken to help understand the local gender dynamics and confirm or refute some of the anecdotal information on gender in Darfur. Magda says that including gender in projects is not as complicated as it’s made out to be.

“We held focus group discussions with men and women and assessed the level of women’s involvement in various institutions – within our project governance structures, within government institutions, within the UNEP office in Darfur and within our implementing partners’ offices,” she says.

The gender analysis helped the team tweak project activities to make them more gender responsive. A gender strategy was also developed to frame UNEP’s position on gender and to monitor progress on gender mainstreaming.

By incorporating a comprehensive gender analysis early in the project it is hoped that both men and women in Wadi El Ku can improve their lives and livelihoods in an environment of peace and coexistence through inclusive and environmentally sustainable resource management.