Gender & Women’s Empowerment
Women are agents of change, resilience, and development in pastoral societies. They play key roles in pastoral value chains, including milk processing, local commerce, and managing small ruminants. Yet, across the Sudano-Sahel, rural women are sparsely... Read More
Download Module

Women are agents of change, resilience, and development in pastoral societies. They play key roles in pastoral value chains, including milk processing, local commerce, and managing small ruminants. Yet, across the Sudano-Sahel, rural women are sparsely represented among governing bodies, trade associations, and customary institutions that handle disputes, negotiate access, and manage natural resources. Though pastoralists and other rural women often have fewer opportunities for leadership as authority figures, they exercise influence in other ways. Pastoralist women are more likely to stay behind in villages or home areas to manage household and economic affairs while their relatives take the livestock on migration, leaving them to maintain social and economic bonds with neighboring farmers and shape the beliefs and attitudes of the youth who also remain behind.

Despite their leadership in community affairs, women’s voices often go unheard as most interventions give undue weight to the role of traditional authorities. Engaging pastoral women as allies and direct beneficiaries in programming can be difficult, as access must often be mediated through traditional (and generally patriarchal) institutions. Their distinct experiences as victims of violence receive little attention: as victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) domestically and during conflict; or, as the ones left to provide for their family with limited trade skills and livelihood opportunities when their men are killed in conflicts. But women are more than victims. They are also social influencers who can support reconciliation or act as spoilers. Though women are rarely combatants in violence between pastoralists and farmers, their voices can incite or dissuade violence in others.

At the same time, traditional culture and gender norms can also contribute to conflict dynamics involving pastoralists, where ideals of masculinity shape expectations of how livestock, clan, and family must be defended. In some pastoral cultures, youth conduct cattle raids as a rite of passage to manhood and to acquire chattel to pay a bride price and marry. Such violence can trigger repeat cycles of theft and retribution between communities, perpetuated by traditional values and gender roles.

Questions to Consider in Your Context
Intervention Strategies
Gender Equity in Resource Governance
Description

Women are equal stakeholders in the use of rangeland resources, yet their voices are generally not represented in the state or community-led institutions that manage these resources. Women constitute a significant proportion of subsistence farmers and participate in pastoral livestock production as both caretakers and sellers of animal products. When they are left out of decision-making processes, efforts to reform land tenure or mediate resource disputes are less likely to serve the interests of the whole community. When external interventions recognize the traditional barriers to the inclusion of women in both formal and informal governance, they can play a valuable role in opening opportunities for women’s leadership.

What Makes Empowering Women in Resource Management Succeed?
What Makes Empowering Women in Resource Management Fail?
Case Study
Creating Opportunities for Women’s Input in Mapping Migration Corridors in Chad
Women-led Peacebuilding
Description

Women’s channels of influence in community affairs are rarely reflected in customary leadership or state institutions but can constructively influence peacebuilding efforts. Too often, “leaders” are seen as those who hold official authority rather than those who have the capacity to influence those around them. This limited understanding of leadership can sideline women, who often have limited access to public leadership roles but still exercise significant influence. Women who lack official roles or positions may still be mobilized as mediators, emissaries, or peace advocates. They can play a role as a bridge-builder between pastoralist and agricultural communities, leveraging their social and economic ties with women in other communities who are also absent from formal peacebuilding or governance activities. However, building partnerships with women within pastoral communities can be challenging for outsiders. Most of the ways of establishing communication channels and making connections (e.g., through traditional leaders or trade associations) are dominated by men.

What Makes Empowering Women as Peace Advocates Succeed?
What Makes Empowering Women as Peace Advocates Fail
Example 5.2a
Women Mobilize to Lead Dialogue and Early Warning Systems in Nigeria’s Middle Belt
Move, Migration, Carry
Case Study
Women Mediate Conflict Through Ritual Practice in Cameroon
Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Description

Rural and nomadic populations are often far removed from the legal and medical services offered to victims of SGBV. SGBV is an all-too-common occurrence among many rural women and can be yielded as a weapon in hostilities between pastoralist groups, or between pastoralists and settled communities. Absent legal systems to hold perpetrators to account, SGBV can add fuel to cycles of retaliatory violence. Securing justice and accountability is a social and legal challenge in weak and fragile states as it requires accountability for acts of SGBV to be an accepted norm and public institutions that recognize it as a crime. A multi-sector, holistic response to SGBV in pastoral rangelands may require mobile courts or legal services and awareness-raising programs that are adapted to pastoral realities.

What Makes SGBV Programs Succeed?
What Makes SGBV Programs Fail?
Awareness-Raising Around Gender, Pastoralism, and Conflict
Description

With a limited body of empirical research and few opportunities for pastoral women to share their perspectives with national and regional audiences, government officials and aid practitioners often lack firsthand evidence to guide their policies and programs. Improving understanding of the role of women and gender norms by supporting locally-led research and the inclusion of women in public diplomacy activities is an essential starting point.

What Makes Raising Awareness Around Gender, Pastoralism, and Conflict Succeed?
Case Study
Pastoral Women Issue a Call for Action