Civil society organizations, corporations, and governments are increasingly making policy and program decisions based on the tacit recognition that addressing gender equality plays a central role in achieving numerous societal objectives (ranging from reducing poverty to improving public health). Likewise, the unique role that women play in strengthening post-conflict reconstruction has been widely documented.1 However, less well documented is the important role that engaging women at the community level plays in improving human development outcomes.

While not limited to these examples, organizations ranging from the World Bank to Oxfam America’s Extractive Industries program have noted that when women are initially included as part of community consultations this leads, over time, to an increase in women’s political participation. Such increases in women’s political engagement in turn lead to improved human development outcomes in areas such as education, health, and infrastructure.2

While conflicts over resources are not new, climate change and population growth are combining to drive an increase in the number of resource conflicts.3 As conflict has shifted from traditional inter-state warfare to intra-state hostilities, smaller more localized conflicts are increasing due to competition for limited natural resources. Water is a prime example of this problem. A recent Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security released by the U.S. government, suggests that “use of water as a weapon will become more common during the next 10 years with more powerful upstream nations impeding or cutting off downstream flow”.4 Communities are on the frontlines of these tensions that flare over the competition between resources needed for human survival (food, land and water) and those required for economic development and job creation (e.g. land used for forestry rather than farming). For example, in Kerala, India, communities suffered when groundwater was overly depleted by Coca-Cola for the purpose of manufacturing soft drinks.5 Resolving, and ideally, preventing such conflicts requires the inclusive engagement and negotiating skills of all members of a community, particularly women.

Drawing on CBI’s extensive work with corporations, governments, and civil society organizations, particularly on community stakeholder engagement, we will continue to document the unique role that engaging women plays in improving sustainable supply chains, negotiating durable agreements, reducing community conflict, and improving human development outcomes. In the meantime, the following recent CBI activities in this area represent important first steps in this process.

In September and November 2012 and continuing into Spring 2013, we conducted workshops in Political Astuteness and Strategic Thinking for UN Women leaders worldwide through the United Nations System Staff College in Turin. CBI’s sessions focused on strategic priority setting, stakeholder mapping, and consensus building within the agency’s larger leadership framework. With CBI’s help, men and women from the UN’s entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women will be better positioned to navigate complex relationships with peer agencies, host governments, donors, and other key stakeholders.

From May through October 2013, Oxfam America (OA) engaged CBI in an effort to further integrate gender into OA’s Extractive Industries (EI) program. Through preparatory webinars and a highly participatory three-day workshop, Mil Niepold and Rachel Milner Gillers assisted EI regional program leaders and gender advisors, U.S.-based policy staff, and selected senior leadership with envisioning how to implement OA’s gender policy at various stages in the project life cycle. During this hands-on workshop, participants learned best practices from key industry and multilateral development bank gender experts; analyzed gender dynamics through hypothetical case studies; and began to design a specialized plan for monitoring, evaluating and learning from gender integration in selected EI projects.

What CBI has learned from our work with UN Women, Oxfam America and corporate stakeholder engagement initiatives is that achieving robust international development goals begins with the inclusion of multiple perspectives during community based negotiations. By specifically targeting women and creating the appropriate mechanisms for ensuring that their voices are heard, you improve the quality and durability of negotiated agreements. Sound and durable agreements, reached with consent of a fuller array of community perspectives, in turn helps stem the cycle of violence (for an example of this, see Chevron’s work with communities in Nigeria).6 Other lessons from recent engagements highlight considerations in the design, facilitation, and implementation of gender-equitable agreement building in the international development context.

  • Women tend to lean toward practical, more durable solutions in discussions about community development funding. Firstly, women bring to the table issues of concern to women and children, and, secondly, a more gender inclusive process leads to a more practical community development approach overall.7
  • Some consensus building efforts need women-only processes up front to build confidence in sharing voices at the table. Though the goal is to have an integrated, gender-balanced approach to participation, traditional gender norms may render this impossible at the outset. Initially segregated engagement efforts can position women stakeholders to enter negotiations with more agency and trust in the process.
  • Involvement of women in consensus building processes increases the likelihood that results of a negotiation will be accepted by a wider array of stakeholders. The World Bank Institute cites incorporation of gender issues as among the most critical factors determining success of a given development policy.8 Likewise, policies crafted with the input of the stakeholders they are designed to help are often most effective.
  • Over time, as more women are included in community based negotiations, evidence shows that women’s political participation increases, whether intended or not. As demonstrated in Papua New Guinea, efforts to involve women from mining communities in development funding negotiations had a direct impact on women’s participation in government.

In a time of increasing conflict, all stakeholders stand to gain from engaging women early and often. Our research and experience have shown that including women as part of activities from policymaking to business planning or post-conflict reconstruction will result in better decision making, more durable agreements, increased social license to operate, to say nothing of gains in education, health, and economic development.9

2. Ibid.
3. “But it is also evident that resource conflict is becoming more frequent and more pronounced in some areas as the demand for certain materials comes to exceed the available supply. For example, an acute shortage of arable land and fresh water seems to have been a significant factor in several conflicts, including those in Chiapas, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. The same conditions appear to be developing in other areas of scarcity”.
4. Global Water Security” Intelligence Community Assessment, February 2, 2012
6. Re-negotiating Community Agreements Between Chevron and Niger Delta Stakeholders
7. Comments by Chris Anderson of Rio Tinto, IFC Sustainability Exchange, May 2012
8. World Bank Institute, “What is the Most Important Feature Key Success Factor That will Make a Development Policy Succeed or Fail?"
9. Presentation by Adriana Eftimie, formerly of the World Bank Group, to Oxfam America, October 17, 2012.