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Frequently Asked Questions

Gender Based-Violence and Environment Linkages – Key Issues and Strategies for Change

Frequently asked questions.

On 04 June, 2020, IUCN, USAID, and other partners presented key findings on gender-based violence and environment linkages (see the webinar recording and related materials here). Over 600 people registered for the webinar, answering and asking questions about the nexus, while over 300 participants from major environmental organizations, environmental policy spheres, academia, media, and other sustainable development partners (from humanitarian to gender-based violence programming organizations) attended and also asked diverse questions. This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document is designed to respond to the majority of questions asked. These questions and responses are organized under five major themes that were identified by participants: 

  • Knowledge on GBV and environment linkages; 
  • Technical support; 
  • Cross-sector collaboration; 
  • Inclusivity; and 
  • International and National Policy.

Explore questions and answers.

How does gender-based violence impact the environment?

Gender-based violence is used as a means of control to maintain the status quo of unequal and gendered power dynamics in many contexts, including as related to accessing, using, deriving benefits from and controlling land and natural resources. Gender-based violence has widespread impacts, including often preventing or discouraging women from engaging in decision-making, economic and educational opportunities and exercising their rights – which creates lost opportunities for the environment sector. Ultimately, gender inequalities and gender-based violence hinder conservation results, as women’s participation in conservation and the unique traditional knowledge and roles they can bring to the table are not considered as part of any solution, reducing the opportunity for effective conservation and sustainable development. For example, in Zimbabwe, an all-female anti-poaching unit, called Akashinga, created by the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), has proven to be a more effective environmental approach to conservation than the militarised paradigm of ‘fortress conservation’, as women focus on conflict resolution and relationship building instead of using guns. The women selected to be part of this unit had been survivors of sexual and abuse, sex workers or belonged to other marginalised groups. Their participation in this unit not only provided an economic opportunity for survivors, but they also gave more back to their communities and helped changing social norms, becoming inspirational figures for girls and boys alike.

Are there any distinctions in the links observed between gender-based violence and access/control of terrestrial resources, as opposed to between gender-based violence and access/control of water/fisheries resources?

Gender-based violence includes various, sometimes overlapping, forms of violence that are used to exert/control and benefit from unequal power dynamics. Evidence shows that some forms of violence are more prominent in specific contexts, for example: the use of domestic violence to enable disinheritance and property grabbing; sexual abuse and rape risks while women collect water or forest products; or sexual exploitation around fishing ports. However, many other expressions are present across sectors, such as pressure to engage in sexual transactions in exchange for fish or in the resolution of land disputes, or increased intimate partner violence associated to tensions caused by increasingly scarce natural resources and, in some instances, to maintain control over women’s benefits from natural resources, such as from payment for ecosystem services, land rights or agriculture and fishing profits. 

Are there situations where women do not know what gender-based violence is or are not aware that they have been experiencing violence due to their gender?

Gender-based violence is rooted in long-standing, deeply entrenched discriminatory norms of patriarchal systems and is used to maintain these unequal gendered norms that, in turn, perpetuate it. The lack of or limited recognition of gender-based violence in national legal systems in many countries and the insufficient provision of resources to prevent and respond to it, coupled with societal stigma and cultural taboos that surround gender-based violence, contribute to under-reporting and impunity – which sends a message to society that gender-based violence is acceptable and inevitable. Thus, many women and men are not aware that the violence perpetrated or suffered is based on unequal gender norms, especially when it refers to more subtle ways of gender-based violence, such as psychological abuse or control over economic resources. For example, studies show that “behaviorally descriptive” terms versus labeling gender-based violence terms often result in different responses for women and men alike on what constitutes a form of gender-based violence. 

What are some examples of best practices in addressing sexual and gender-based violence in the environment sector? 

Some good practices exist across the environment sector, including: 

  • Ensuring diverse women and gender experts are included in project design and monitoring as they may help identify relevant GBV-environment linkages, including through gender analyses and designing gender-responsive programming that works to prevent unintended risks from gender neutral or blind approaches;
  • Integrating awareness raising on gender-based violence as part of cross-sector resilience building in the context of climate change;
  • Ensuring institutional policies and practices are in place and supported to mitigate and address GBV;
  • Empowering women’s collective agency in the defence of natural resources (e.g., in relation to restoration or conservation activities);
  • Engaging survivors in conservation efforts, empowering and supporting them;
  • Using gender analyses to identify gender-based violence risks and developing recommended activities to address them; and
  • Engaging men and men’s networks as champions and partners.

As an example, UNDP is supporting the government of Uganda to integrate actions to address gender-based violence within the ‘Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystems and Associated Catchments’ project. This approach was a result of formative research indicating links between gender-based violence – particularly child marriage and transactional survival sex –  and climate change disasters, famine, and water shortages. The piloting of gender-based violence in this project is part of a broader UNDP project on ‘Ending GBV and achieving the SDGs’. 

Integrating gender and gender-based violence prevention and response into environmental work appears to be challenging due to relatively low capacity and resources of stakeholders in the environment. How can we enhance the capacity of experts and practitioners in the sector?

Across the humanitarian sector, gender-based violence has been addressed for decades. Their knowledge, capacity and cross-sectoral collaboration approach, as well as their resources and tools, can guide the environment sector efforts to strengthen the capacity of experts and practitioners. For example, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action, provides useful information across multiple sectors that can be taken into consideration and adapted to the environmental sector.  Likewise, CARE has a Guidance for Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Monitoring and Mitigation within Non-GBV Focused Sectoral Programming. Enhancing the capacity of environmental experts and practitioners requires raising awareness and building knowledge on the linkages between gender-based violence and the environment, as well as investing in research and training. 

Given the scarcity of information, USAID and IUCN produced the first publication to provide an overarching review of gender-based violence and environment linkages. USAID and IUCN will continue raising awareness and making the case for the importance of addressing these linkages as well as galvanizing commitment and investment towards gender-responsive environment programming that addresses gender-based violence, and capacity building of practitioners. IUCN has created a gender-based violence and environment platform that provides curated resources and data, as well as promising practices to advocate for addressing these links. Additionally, IUCN is currently working on developing capacity building tools and providing technical support under request. For more information, you can contact us at GBV-ENV[at]

How can gender-based violence and environment linkages be addressed in the context of COVID-19 and lockdown measures?

As gender-based violence has increased during COVID-19 across regions and contexts, key recommendations include raising awareness, attention and investment to increase awareness and to address linkages between gender-based violence, environmental considerations and COVID-19 impacts. For example, food and livelihood insecurity can escalate conditions for violence. At the project level, it is vital to identify referral systems and facilitate information-sharing on national and local services available to prevent and respond to GBV, which can be done with the support of a local gender-based violence organisation, expert or network. Dealing with gender-based violence should always be done with a survivor-centered approach, to ensure that the rights, needs and wishes of affected individuals are at the center of the response. Finally, in order to prevent gender-based violence, practitioners must ensure the meaningful participation of women’s groups and organisations in decision making, particularly in pandemics, so any adjustment to projects addresses women’s and men’s differentiated needs.  Engaging men as partners, realising men and boys also suffer gender-based violence, and adopting male engagement strategies can also help address risks. Projects can also monitor women’s participation; if participation dramatically drops, for example, that may be a signal for attention.

What specific tools are used to collect data on gender-based violence issues related to the environment?

So far, most data available on these linkages has been collected through surveys, focus groups and other qualitative methods as part of development projects or research. IUCN’s research used a mixed-methods methodology that combined desk research, a call for case studies, development and dissemination of a survey, expert interviews and peer consultation. One of the findings was that in many cases, while environmental practitioners had knowledge of gender-based violence in the context of their projects, it was rarely included in project reporting, as no specific system was in place to capture information, hindering the opportunity to address gender-based violence through environmental programming, including in identifying and addressing any unintended risks. Thus, specific tools such as gender analyses, risks assessments or the integration of gender-based violence in monitoring and evaluation frameworks can help collect this type of data. Additionally, a survivor-centered approach should always be used in the collection of this data to ensure the rights and privacy of the individual are respected. Some useful recommendations include WHO Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Researching, documenting and monitoring sexual violence in emergencies.

Approaches to address gender-based violence and environment issues include environmental entities incorporating expertise to address gender-based violence, social entities focused on gender and gender-based violence incorporating expertise to address environmental issues, and partnerships between social and environment entities. Is there a sense of what approaches have been most effective at achieving results? 

There is little information on best practices regarding how to best approach collaborations between gender-based violence and environment practitioners to address these interlinked issues. Nevertheless, as indicated by some organisations, cross-sectoral collaboration is optimal to combine expertise from different sectors and build synergies. The Hariyo Ban programme in Nepal, implemented by WWF Nepal and other partners, for example, identified GBV as a prevalent problem that hindered women’s participation in the project and, in turn, effective conservation outcomes. To enable women to participate, and benefit from the programme while avoiding putting women at increased risk of gender-based violence, they collaborated with CARE Nepal to create a cadre of men champions among leaders and decision-makers to fight discrimination and gender-based violence, raise awareness and supporte mainstreaming of gender-based violence considerations into national policies. As the Hariyo Ban team indicated,  the successful integration of gender-based violence considerations was due to their collaboration with CARE Nepal, an expert organisation on gender-based violence. More research is needed, yet initiatives such as USAID’s Resilient Inclusive & Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge can provide some insight through funding the innovative application of promising or proven interventions that prevent and respond to gender-based violence across environment contexts, which encourages the collaboration between women’s organisations and environmental organisations. 

How can public health practitioners and people in the healthcare field contribute to addressing gender-based violence and environment linkages? 

The public health system is key to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and to support other sectors in addressing it. Health practitioners in particular can share information on referral pathways and on how to adopt a survivor-centered approach to deal with cases of gender-based violence. Additionally, if not in place, health practitioners can help environment organisations to identify these gender-based violence services and referral pathways. Health policymakers and practitioners can also specifically seek environmental experts and organizations to partner toward addressing environment-related stressors and threats, such as climate change, food insecurity and environmental crime.  

What is the difference between gender-based violence and violence against women and why is the term gender-based violence used in this research? 

Gender-based violence refers to any harm or potential of harm perpetrated against a person’s will on the basis of gender. Occurring in all countries, in all communities, at all stages of life and across settings, gender-based violence encompasses many different expressions of violence, including: physical, sexual and emotional abuse sexual harassment; stalking; rape, including “corrective” rape and rape as a tactic of conflict; domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV); child marriage; human trafficking; and female genital mutilation (FGM). Given pervasive gender inequalities that almost universally affect women’s unequal access to resources and rights, a majority of gender-based violence victims are women, yet there are also cases of gender-based violence against men and gender and sexual minorities, as presented in IUCN research. These experiences of violence have destabilizing effects for whole communities, made all the more fragile in the context of environment-related stressors such as a natural disaster or drought. In order to have a more comprehensive understanding of this violence rooted in gender inequalities, IUCN uses the term gender-based violence instead of violence against women. 

How can violence against gender and sexual minorities be addressed? Particularly as indigenous knowledge often has a more open definition of gender than Western binary notions.

Women comprise the majority of victims of gender-based violence but they are not the exclusive targets; gendered violence is also employed as a weapon of control against men, boys and gender and sexual minorities. As IUCN included in its publication, sexual violence has been documented in relation to illegal fishering activity where boys and men are trafficked into forced labour and can also be victims of sexual exploitation and abuse in fishing vessels. Likewise, there are recorded incidents of gender-based discrimination and violence against gender and sexual minorities in evacuation centers in Fiji after category 5 tropical cyclone Winston hit the islands in 2016. A report on this issue addresses the rights, needs and strengths of Fijian sexual and gender minorities in disaster settings, and provides useful recommendations for the integration of the considerations of sexual and gender minorities in policy and practice. For more information on how to support gender and sexual minorities, see for example VAWNet, a project from the National Resource Center for Domestic Violence. Projects can also include efforts to address positive and healthy masculinity and train teams on the value of gender equality for all.

In many countries and regions legislation on gender-based violence is insufficient or loosely implemented. How is policy change being handled to successfully address gender-based violence and environment issues?

Environmental practitioners have increasingly integrated gender considerations at international, regional and national levels, including within the decisions and implementation frameworks of major multilateral environmental agreements (e.g. gender action plans in the CBD, UNCCD and UNFCCC), environmental funds and national environmental policies. Additionally, major environmental funds are starting to include attention to gender-based violence considerations, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), whose policy on environmental and social safeguards includes minimum standards to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse in the project cycle and at the workplace. At national level, scant evidence exists that environmental policies specifically include attention to GBV. This is an important area for continued research, advocacy and technical support. Additional support is needed to enhance the implementation of policies across sectors, at international and national levels, and to provide spaces for collaboration across environment and gender sectors. Joining efforts with women’s organisations that are advocating for women’s rights can greatly contribute to achieving policy change both in the environment and social spheres. 

How can humanitarian standards support the harmonisation of international standards to address gender-based violence in the environmental context?

The long-standing work done by the humanitarian sector to address gender-based violence in emergency contexts is an important source of information for those working across environmental contexts. Knowledge and best practices should be taken into consideration for the development of any standards and cross-collaboration between these two sectors will be key in developing them. For example, the work of the gender-based violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR) of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), including its guidelines to integrate gender-based violence interventions in humanitarian action, has been an inspiration for IUCN publication as they provide useful information on food security and agriculture, as well as firewood collection and water and sanitation.  

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