The complicated relationship between climate, conflict, and gender in Mozambique

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Individuals face immense challenges in displacement contexts, particularly where climate, conflict, and displacement intersect. In Mozambique, climate impacts have combined with conflict to displace nearly a million people. Entire livelihoods, identities, and stability are vanishing. Women, men, girls, and boys are not just losing homes; they are losing their place in traditional societal roles, too. This chaos—and responses by the international community—are reshaping Mozambique’s gender dynamics.

A recent workshop organized by the CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security team in Maputo, together with the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), and co-convened by the Ministry of Land and Environment, the Swiss and Belgian Embassies and UNHCR, and fieldwork in Nampula, highlighted the adverse effects on social cohesion and community relations in Mozambique created by the intersection of climate change, conflict, fragility and displacement. The discussion pointed to the need to integrate gender considerations into climate, peace, and security discourses. It also critiqued the misconception of gender viewed solely through the prism of women’s experiences.

Shifting Gender Norms

It’s well-documented that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and conflict. Climate hazards and conflicts strip away their ability to rely upon natural resources, leaving them in extremely precarious positions. [Names have been changed to protect the identity of subjects.] Amelia, a resident of the Corrane Camp, indicated that “during disasters, we women try to get water inside our houses because water resources will be destroyed, so we make sure we have water, wood, charcoal, and food storage. We also try our best to keep our children home so that the children are not attacked.”

The loss of land and limited access to resources creates a cycle of food insecurity, exposing them to harmful coping strategies. Girls in particular face heightened risks, ranging from disruptions in schooling to child marriage and sexual violence. Women IDPs in Corrane agreed that in Cabo Delgado, where they fled, “If the woman was very beautiful, the members of non-state armed groups would take you as a wife. If you were not beautiful, they will leave you behind.”

In the turmoil, women and girls are also finding spaces to step out of the shadows to claim autonomy. Ayubu, a resident of the Corrane relocation site (located southeast of Nampula), notes that “there are single women who depend on themselves. During the cyclone, some women were holding onto the houses and putting stones on top of the houses to stop them from being blown up.”

Yet, despite some observable shifts, gender inequalities persist—and loom over any progress. As Mozambique undergoes this transformative ordeal, it is a stark reminder that while disaster can, under certain circumstances, rewrite societal norms, the real challenge is whether responses can lead to genuine gender equality.

Navigating Masculinity in Crisis

In places where women have been traditionally marginalized, the focus on implementing programs responsive to their needs can be a powerful impetus for strengthening gender equality. But if those programs fail to take into consideration the experience of men and boys, and the broader gender dynamics at play, they may unintentionally introduce new obstacles for gender equality. When working toward gender equality, it is important to not only focus on women and girls but also to look at the realities of men and boys to ensure all displaced people are receiving the aid they need.

In the intricate dance of gender identities, masculinity is not a fixed concept. Rather, it is a fluid social construct shaped by individual practices and societal perceptions. In most African countries, including Mozambique, masculinity is often defined by patriarchal dominance and the role of men as breadwinners.

As climate-related disasters increase in Mozambique, these traditional gender norms face a seismic shakeup. While men continue to be seen as breadwinners, they are grappling with new challenges brought about by climate hazards and conflicts. Dwindling economic opportunities have pushed some of them to embrace risky coping mechanisms, including illicit activities that put boys in the country at risk of being pushed into child labor.

Men have also traditionally had the task of protecting families and communities. Yet, in the town of Corrane, where there are IDPs, residents observed that non-state armed groups recruited both women and men, as well as both young girls and boys.

The danger of recruitment into non-state armed groups also looms as conflict comes into confluence with climate impacts. In discussion with displaced women in the Corrane Camp, one woman said, “For the men it is even more difficult because, firstly, we expect them to provide for the family, yet with floods and cyclones, it becomes a challenge, and secondly, they are the target, they are targeted by the armed groups to be recruited, and if they resist, they are killed. In some instances, they have no choice but to join”. Making a similar point, an internally displaced group of men in the Corrane camp recounted how they braved conflict in their home region of Cabo Delgado to sustain their livelihoods through fishing and farming. However, they were eventually displaced by violence and adverse climatic events. Their experiences offer a glimpse into Mozambique’s masculine narrative, shedding light on the resilience and the risks men take to uphold their role as breadwinners in the face of crises.

Breaking Stereotypes and a Call to Action

Climate and conflict-induced displacement is threatening both men and women in Mozambique, with profound implications for gender dynamics and power relations.

Interestingly, the changes wrought by displacement also have had knock-on effects on the host communities. One Corrane resident said that “since the IDPs came, some of the rules have been broken. Women are also doing jobs normally reserved for men because they see IDP women who came without their husbands doing these tasks.”

The implications of these trends are multifaceted. Amid climate and/or conflict-induced displacement, traditional gender roles and inequalities are undergoing shifts. The recruitment of both women and men, including young girls and boys, by non-state armed groups challenges preexisting norms in places like Corrane. Local women, inspired by the tasks undertaken by IDP women who arrived without their husbands, now engage in jobs traditionally reserved for men. This turn of events indicates a ripple effect where changes in displacement contexts influences and reshapes societal norms within host communities.

Stakeholders in climate adaptation, peacebuilding, and security need to step up in response. And they must do so in a more integrated and collaborative manner. Addressing gender roles, relationships and power inequalities requires understanding and responding to the diverse risks, needs and preferences of everyone affected within the community. It is time to foster sustainable transformation that considers the roles each group can play in finding solutions amidst displacement chaos.

Gracsious Maviza is a Gender, Migration and Climate Security Scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; Mandlenkosi Maphosa is a Gender Consultant at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and a Lecturer at the Institute of Development Studies of the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe; Thea Synnestvedt is a Climate Security Visiting Researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and a Human Security MSc Student at Aarhus University, Denmark; Giulia Caroli is a Climate, Peace and Security Specialist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT; and Joram Tarusarira is a Climate Security Research Associate at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and an Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

This work is carried out with support from the CGIAR Initiative on Fragility, Conflict, and Migration. We would like to thank all funders who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

This article originally appeared on New Security Beat.

Photo credit: CGIAR FOCUS Climate Security

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