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Water, War, but where are the Women?

On 8.- 10. September the Heinrich-Boell Foundation and the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University held the international congress ‚Femme Global’ to discuss gender perspectives in the 21st century. Under one of the major conference themes 'peace and security’, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) organized the workshop on 'WWW - Women, Water, War’. The first presentation by Roula Zoubiane, a Lebanese Lawyer focussed on the historical development of water politics in the Middle East, highlighting Israel’s control of water sources and arguing that water, not oil, bears the potential for major future wars in the region: while oil fields are mapped and their ownership settled, many water sources are still unidentified. The second speaker, Regina Birchem, Biologist and President of WILPF, highlighted women’s plight in developing countries as providers of water to their families. She pointed to the burden of having to carry water for miles, the health risks of polluted water and the negative impact of water privatization for the provision of affordable water in many developing countries.

Both presentations pointed to important topics: the role of water in the Middle East future war or peace developments and women’s (and their families’) health risks from insufficient and dirty water. While the presenters provided interesting facts on water and war on the one hand, and women and human security on the other, only when pushed by the audience did they make some indirect links between all three elements of the panel’s title: by emphasizing the lack of women in the political system regulating Middle East politics and in the corporate system of water privatization. The impression that water (or other natural resources), wars, and women are still not really thought together was reinforced by the discussion taking place in another, larger panel: the 'feminist critique of new security concepts’ recognized a broad security concept, however, the specific role of our natural environment did not feature. (MF)


Femme Global congress website:

Link to WILPF’s environment programme:

Link to the German discussion paper for a feminist perspective on new security concepts

Published in:ECC-Newsletter, October 2005