Integrating Gender Perspectives in the U.S. Global Fragility Act: Innovation and Implementation

On March 8, 2024, Women In International Security (WIIS) and the Embassy of Liechtenstein held an in-person discussion with State Department Assistant Secretary of State Anne Witkowsky, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and an expert panel on the U.S. Global Fragility Act (GFA) and approaches to integrating a gender perspective in the 10-year country implementation plans to stabilize conflict-affected states and prevent the escalation of violence in fragile contexts. In line with the GFA, the Biden administration presented the 10-year plans for advancing U.S. government efforts for conflict prevention and stabilization in four countries (Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea) and the region of Coastal West Africa (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo). To be effective, however, the GFA’s Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) and country implementation plans must integrate a gender perspective in advancing gender equality and the principles enshrined in the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. The WIIS event discussion will focus on the GFA, and the detailed implementation plans released by the U.S. government to highlight how gender perspectives have been integrated into the detailed 10-year plans for the four partner countries and one region under the SPCPS.

Marvin Dee Mathelier and Tahina Montoya

The Global Fragility Act (GFA) and its subsequent Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) constitute a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. government will act to address the root causes of violence in fragile states and stabilize conflict-affected areas. Given bipartisan support and congressionally mandated funding, the GFA is designed to produce a coordinated strategy that builds on lessons learned and prioritizes building partnerships with local communities and civil society actors. In terms of implementation, the GFA requires a whole-of-government approach and interagency process with regular reporting mechanisms applied to five high-priority countries over a ten-year period.

In Spring 2023, four years after the passing of the GFA, the U.S. State Department released a 10-Year Strategic Plan for four priority countries and one priority region. Haiti is one of the SPCPS-designated priority states, along with Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea, as is the region of Coastal Western Africa (which includes Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo). The SPCPS specifically links the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) to its work, recognizing that the root causes of violent extremism are gendered and thus intimately linked to structural inequalities and discriminations that must be addressed to reduce state fragility. Haiti’s own 10-Year Strategic Plan identifies severe gender inequality and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as elements that undermine Haiti’s stability. 

With the SPCPS specifically calling attention to drivers of conflict that are deeply gendered, this policy brief argues that country implementation plans must consider a whole-of-government (WOG) approach that integrates a gender perspective. Haiti’s implementation plan must also recognize Haiti’s complex history and how it has contributed to the gendered dimensions of Haiti’s current violence—political, economic, cultural, and structural—and integrate these factors into the tailored approach emphasized in the GFA’s strategic documents. 

The policy brief begins with an assessment of current conditions in Haiti and then turns to the question of why current conditions are so intractable. Using Haiti as a case study, the policy brief shows how consideration of a country’s history and gender-specific issues are factors that must be considered when developing tangible solutions, as doing so is necessary to promote long-term stability. The policy brief then presents a set of recommendations that can strengthen the Haiti implementation plan and programmatic objectives in critical areas: formalize the informal sector workforce to empower women, reform education policy, increase support to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and mobilize the Haitian diaspora in support of U.S. assistance to Haiti.

Haiti: The Current Situation

In addition to the 2020 COVID pandemic, 2021 was a devastating year for Haiti. Multiple protests and demonstrations have since occurred in response to high inflation and rising food and gas prices. The poverty-stricken country also saw an alarming increase in criminal and gang activity, a sign of the weakening authority and the incapacity of the Haitian National Police to control the gangs. Tensions escalated when, on July 7, 2021, a group of 28 foreign mercenaries broke into the home of President Jovenel Moïse and assassinated him. Only five weeks later, on August 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the southern claw of Haiti, causing billions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage and affecting the lives of over 1.2 million people.  

In the wake of these political, economic, and social crises, human rights violations over the past two years have escalated and accelerated. Women and children are particularly vulnerable. The number of kidnappings and abductions has tripled since 2021 as gangs use women and children for financial gain or tactical advantage. Of the 5.2 million Haitians requiring humanitarian aid (nearly half the population), three million are children. Severe malnutrition and cholera outbreaks are overtaxing a failing healthcare system, and gender-based violence is rampant.

It is estimated that gangs control 90% of the capital, Port Au Prince, instilling fear through the use of violent tactics such as kidnapping, rape, and murder to control areas. Occasionally, to further aggravate the populace, and in an attempt to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry from power, these gangs block off access to fuel and goods, preventing access to other parts of the country. This further exacerbates food shortages that, if left unchecked, can lead to a man-made famine. The international community’s hesitancy to get involved has left citizens with few choices, leaving many to combat gangs on their own. Some citizens have retaliated by taking extreme actions of their own, such as burning gang members in the road as a deterrent.

On October 23, 2023, after intense pressure from both the Haitian government and human rights organizations, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved a Kenyan-led security mission to help the Haitian National Police combat gang violence. However, on October 24, 2023, Kenya’s High Court blocked the deployment of Kenyan police to Haiti after a petition was filed challenging the government’s deployment decision, and Kenya’s parliament has yet to schedule a debate on the issue, a ruling the High Court is expected to make on November 9.

Roots of Systemic Failure          

For Haiti, the current violence that handicaps efforts to stabilize the country and protect at-risk groups has roots in Haiti’s tumultuous history, which has been shaped by foreign intervention and occupation, crippling debts, weak governance structures, and devastating natural disasters.

Independence and Struggle: 1800-1900. Haiti became the first free Black republic on January 1, 1804, when a band of slaves raised an army to defeat France. To recoup and compensate for its economic losses, the French demanded reparations totaling 150 million francs ($20-30 billion in today’s currency). Debt payments consumed over 80% of Haiti’s revenues for the subsequent 122 years. The fear of political contagion from Haiti’s successful slave rebellion led countries, including the United States, to withhold recognition of Haiti’s sovereignty or offer any support for the young country.

U.S. Occupation: 1915-1934. The U.S. occupation of Haiti was designed to quell the political and economic turmoil plaguing Haiti and, through a campaign known as the Banana Wars, to protect U.S. financial assets and economic growth in the Western Hemisphere. Many atrocities and human rights violations, including torture, forced labor, and religious persecution against voodoo practitioners occurred during the U.S. occupation of Haiti. Additionally, under the guise of protecting Haiti’s financial assets, the U.S. took custody of over $500,000 from Haiti’s national bank, roughly equivalent to $15,351,300 billion in current dollars. The loss of these funds had significant impacts on the country’s economic development and stabilization, and especially on Haiti’s social fabric and education system.

Despite promoting the goal of creating 1,074 schools in Haiti, the U.S. built only 306, much lower in comparison to schools constructed by the U.S. in Cuba (2,600) and the Philippines (1,000). For children in those countries, this support resulted in a significant increase in access to both schools and education. Rather than develop schools to promote education for all Haitians, the U.S. provided agricultural training for predominantly black Haitians, while their mixed-race peers continued their education at the limited and exclusive French-based curriculum schools in Haiti. This specifically limited black Haitians’ ability to acquire critical skills and knowledge, further widening the education and socio-economic gaps for black Haitian children.

The Duvalier Regime: 1957-1986. The 30-year reign of terror of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier that led to the killing of over 50,000 men, women, and children contributed to a massive exodus of Haitian citizens. This “brain drain” of highly educated and skilled Haitians had a devastating effect on the country’s social and economic development and placed the country in a perpetual cycle of poverty. Haitian citizens continue to struggle while members of the Haitian diaspora secure more economic growth and send remittances back to Haiti, often the only income many families have. Women, in particular, were severely affected by the impacts of emigration and economic crises, as most were forced to work almost exclusively within the informal sector. Statistics show the staggering cost: in 2021, the World Bank reported that “vulnerable employment” among Haitian women had reached 83.5%. 

2004 and Beyond: 2004 ushered in a crushing series of humanitarian, political, and economic crises that continued to disproportionately impact women and children in Haiti. This began with the second coup of Haitian President Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004, which in the wake of Aristide’s ouster led to the establishment of the UN peacekeeping mission Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH). Peacekeeping forces worked with the Haitian National Police to support police efforts to reduce violence. Unfortunately, trust in MINUSTAH evaporated as tensions grew. Corruption and GBV were endemic; serious incidents of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers against local citizens occurred, but few were held accountable for their actions. A severe cholera outbreak traced back to a sewage leak from a MINUSTAH base resulted in the loss of over 10,000 lives, and the UN was slow to accept responsibility. The withdrawal of MINUSTAH troops in 2019 left much destruction, loss of life, and a glaring security gap, creating an opening for gangs to take control of the country.

Finally, with more than 96% of its population exposed to hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, Haiti has become even more vulnerable to natural disasters. A 2010 earthquake killed 222,570 people, injured over 300,000, and displaced 3.5 million Haitians. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed around 250,000 people and wiped out 120% of its GDP. The destructive earthquake that hit Haiti on August 14, 2021, was followed two days later by Tropical Storm Grace, causing massive flooding and landslides and worsening the already desperate conditions on the ground. 

All these systemic issues and intractable problems, combined with a lack of faith in the government, have forced Haitians to fend for themselves. For women, this meant relying increasingly on the informal sector, primarily selling goods on the street and making the hard decision to use their financial resources to feed their children, pay for medical bills, or decide which of their children was most eligible to go to private school. This overwhelming conundrum created a practice with serious repercussions for poorer Haitians. With little money to send their children to school, a legalized form of child labor or slavery called Restavèk developed. With the creation of this system, limited resources drove many families to send their children to other, presumably wealthier, families who had the relative means to provide education, shelter, and food in exchange for their children’s service.

Current Impact on Women and Children

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

With the ongoing turmoil in Haiti, marginalized groups such as women and children continue to be disproportionally impacted. GBV and violence against women and children are used as a deterrent to control a community. A Health Policy Watch study that evaluated the use of rape as a weapon of war in Haiti stated that “80% of the women and girls who participated in this research had been victims of one or multiple forms of sexual violence by one or more perpetrators. In 33% of the cases, the assailants were described as bandits, gang members, or kidnappers. 14% of the victims were only 10 to 18 years old.”  

Unemployment Rate & Informal Work Sector

Haiti’s unemployment rate is currently 15.73%. Women make up 62% of the labor force, and nearly half of the Haitian women are heads of households, but they do not work in the formal sector. Women constitute more than 75% of the informal economy in Haiti, where they sell produce and other items on roadsides to support their families with no benefits, health insurance, or other job protections.  

Lack of Representation in Politics

Unsurprisingly, women’s political representation in Haiti is negligent. In 2019, women constituted only 2.54% of the Haitian parliament, though as of January 2023, there is no functioning parliament at all in the country. Haiti established a Gender Equality Policy in 2014 and the Haitian Ministry for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights (MCFDF) in 1994. Nevertheless, the plan has not been effectively implemented, and the MCFDF faces chronic underfunding (0.01—0.05% of the national budget), government and parliamentary hostility, and little political will to change the status quo. 

Restavèk System

As noted, a modern version of child slavery known as Restavèk remains prevalent in Haiti. Studies have shown that male and female children who have been “restavèks” (more than half of whom are girls) likely never attended school and are more prone to experience sexual, physical, and emotional violence in childhood than non-restavèk children (See Figure 1). Some children do return home, but with few options available to them, many turn to prostitution, join gangs, or become beggars, which only continues the poverty-stricken cycle in Haiti. The Haitian government has attempted to crack down on this practice, but many families continue to resort to the only means they can afford to feed their children and families. 

                     Figure 1: Restavèk vs Non-Restavèk Children

A graph of different colored bars

Description automatically generated

Access to Education

Education in Haiti is valued but not accessible to all since 85% of schools in Haiti are private schools. Families understand the power and opportunities an education can bring and, if they have the means, are willing to pay more than 40% of their income to send their children to school. In families with multiple children, children may skip a year to let their siblings go to school or, as is often the case, preference is given to boys under the assumption that it will be easier for them to find jobs. Parents often have no money to pay for their daughter’s education, and it has been known that some girls ask their male counterparts for money in exchange for sex in hopes they will make enough money to afford an education. Additionally, while the global average for “mean years of schooling” is 8.7 years, Haiti’s is a mere 5.6 years, placing it 124th out of 150 countries.

An Opportunity for Change: The Global Fragility Act

The U.S. 10-year Strategic Plan for Haiti identifies key factors that contribute to Haiti’s fragility (including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and increased criminal gang activity) and delves into gender-specific issues that continue to contribute to the countries’ instability, namely, GBV and gender inequality that disproportionately impacts women and girls. It specifically highlights the creation of a working group that consulted 230 individuals from different facets of the Haitian government and civil society. But gaps remain. 

It is particularly important that a detailed implementation plan arising from interagency discussions successfully integrate a gender perspective. However, a growing list of documents referenced for GFA implementation (see Figure 3) has made an already complicated effort more onerous. 

Figure 3: U.S. Government Documents: WPS and GFA

December 2017The United States Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017
June 2019The United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security
December 2019Global Fragility Act
December 2020The U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability
December 20202020-2024 The USAID Strategic Framework: Haiti
April 2022Announcement of GFA Priority Countries and Regions
March 2023U.S. Department of State Integrated Country Strategy
March 2023Publication of Country and Regional Plan Summaries

Despite multiple failed attempts by Haiti and the international community to address existing complex conflict dynamics, the Global Fragility Act and its 10-Year Strategic Plan for Haiti offers an opportunity to course-correct if implemented with a gender-sensitive lens alongside the people of Haiti. We offer four tangible recommendations that help codify how gender-conscious GFA implementation could look like in Haiti. They provide a unique and crucial approach to stabilizing Haiti’s fragile situation through the lens of gender-centric solutions.


Recommendation 1:  Increase Women’s Economic Agency in the Workforce

Through the support of the DoS, DoD, and USAID under the GFA, the Haitian government should create a joint coalition with the Haitian Ministry of the Economy, local government officials, and local NGOs to develop a pilot project for supporting the women-led informal sector. While most plans would center their efforts in the capital, specifically in Port-au-Prince, this plan is better suited for development and implementation in Cap Haitian, the second-largest city in the country.  With over 190,000 people, Cap Haitian is in the northern tip of Haiti and has thus far been shielded from the violence currently engulfing key cities in Haiti. Through monitoring mechanisms and data collection, a pilot case will provide lessons learned for implementing programs tailored to support women’s agency in more fragile and conflict-ridden environments. This approach has positive multiple effects, and it will address the persistent insecurity women face socially and economically and help ensure they are in a space that enables economic growth for their families and encourages career development.               

Recommendation 2:  Enhance the Ministry of Women’s Affairs

While the Haitian government has established laws addressing gender equality, policymakers are noncompliant with the laws. Enhancing the capability of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is needed to oversee and enforce these laws, though it is doubtful the Haitian government will extend the resources and staff to support the Ministry’s work. International assistance can provide financial support for the Ministry’s activities, such as developing education and gender awareness programs for men, women, and children or building women’s economic empowerment. Collaboration among diverse international stakeholders that provide training, business advice, and increased access to financial resources or that work to build women’s business leadership and ownership in emerging markets will strengthen the Ministry’s capacity to empower more women.

Recommendation 3:  Education for Children

Education is the key driver to economic growth within a country. A highly educated and skilled labor force will increase the quality of work in all sectors and will contribute to increased income, tax revenue, and better-quality public education. To get there, with the help of GFA entities, Haiti should establish an education initiative similar to the approach conducted in the High Performing Asian Economies (HPAE) that includes Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Although different in culture, government structure, and region, these countries were able to shift from developing countries to leading economies within half a decade. With high rates of investment in education, the governments were able to reallocate funds towards human capital such as schools and other necessary training, which helped each respective economy grow. This is a challenge for Haiti–not just because of government instability and scarce resources for education, but because of structural inequalities in the education system itself that must be eliminated to spur greater economic growth in the country. Nevertheless, making progress towards quality universal education must be a political priority.

Recommendation 4: Mobilizing the Haitian Diaspora

Despite significant international assistance to Haiti–$13 billion between 2011 and 2022 alone–Haiti remains an impoverished failed state. Earlier efforts have failed for many reasons, among them, poorly managed projects, local capacity limitations, corruption, and a political and economic elite complicit in gang violence and unwilling to implement structural changes to address state instability. An approach that has not been optimized is leveraging the Haitian diaspora to advance develop-driven, long-term solutions for Haiti, with the diaspora working hand in hand with the U.S. government and Haitians on the ground. Outside of the Haitians on the ground, there is no other group that understands the complexity and issues within the island nation or that contributes more to Haiti’s GDP: around two-thirds of Haiti’s GDP comes from remittances, showing that the Haitian diaspora not only influences but drives and deeply cares about Haiti’s success.

The Global Fragility Act and the 10-year strategic plan for Haiti can lead to novel implementation approaches by incorporating members of the diaspora while engaging with Haitian civil society organizations, and do so with the intent to leverage Haitian diaspora expertise. This includes engaging with organizations like the U.S. National Haitian Elected Officials Network (NHEON), a U.S.-based organization of Haitian-American politicians who can be an additional voice and liaison between Haitian citizens and U.S. organizations working towards implementing the GFA. We also recommend exploring the opportunity to grant voting rights to Haitians living abroad. While Haitians living abroad are eligible for dual citizenship, they cannot currently vote in Haitian elections. Doing so would insert a diversity of views and weaken the ability of corrupt politicians to manipulate voters, in the hope that diaspora voters would help to push the Haitian government to be more accountable to its citizens.


While Haiti’s history has contributed greatly to its current situation, and prior policies (with the best of intentions) have failed to alter Haiti’s current state, the Global Fragility Act is, undoubtedly, currently the best option to address fragility in Haiti. Though a challenge, cooperation between U.S. government agencies working with Haiti’s citizens and the diaspora to develop and implement the above-listed recommendations would contribute to addressing key concerns of GBV, employment, education, and safety, all of which are discussed in the guiding frameworks that have been identified as key documents for GFA implementation in Haiti. Despite the delay in implementation, the GFA is a policy that provides a significant opportunity for change. If implemented alongside the people of Haiti in a gender-sensitive way, the GFA can address fragility in innovative ways that will work for Haiti and its people.

By Liliya Khasanova

The protests in Iran in the name of Mahsa Amini are one of many examples of how the advancement of technology enables us to speak up, spread the word, and learn about human rights violations. Online anonymity and, therefore, reduced accountability for gender-based violence affects the vulnerability of individuals. There is no doubt now that the internet has become the most consequential communication technology of the human rights era.

Despite the technical universalism that technology grants us, there is a strong pushback on conceptual universalism in human rights in cyberspace, including gender issues. In multilateral settings, the efforts of states to regulate malicious state operations have been underpinned by cybersecurity concerns, with little attention paid to human rights protection. The gender dimension, if at all represented, is mainly in the norms of capacity-building and gender parity, avoiding direct referrals to gender equality and women’s rights.

Multilateral Forums under UN Auspices

Until 2021, two main forums had a mandate to discuss norms and rules on cybersecurity: the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) (work completed in May 2021) and the UN Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) (mandate renewed 2021-2025). One of the main achievements of the GGE was an adoption of a consensus that international law applies to cyber operations (2013). However, how it applies is still very much contested. The complexity of cyberspace as a domain raises several contested issues among states on the definition of sovereignty, attribution of cyber-attacks, the applicability of international humanitarian law, due diligence, etc. The differences between the GGE and OEWG process lay in the nature and number of stakeholders included in the discussion: the latter includes all the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) members as well as non-governmental actors, as compared to experts from 25 states working in their personal capacity in the GGE. In a certain sense, continuing the mandate of the OEWG was a step intended to mitigate the risk of functional and geographical fragmentation of international law. In 2022, negotiations also began in the new UN ad hoc committee on cybercrime that is tasked with drafting a new cybercrime convention.

(Anti)gender Discourse in Cybersecurity Negotiations 

After analysing all the reports adopted by GGE and OEWG, documents of the preparatory process, and official commentaries of states, several observations can be made regarding the Women, Peace, and Security agenda and gender discourse in cyber security negotiations.

Firstly, openness and “multistakeholderism”, i.e. bringing multiple stakeholders together to participate in dialogue and implementation of responses, of the OEWG (as opposed to GGE) resulted in more gender-related remarks in preparatory work and, consequently, in the reports. As an example, an introduction to the latest 2021 OEWG report states:

“The OEWG welcomes the high level of participation of women delegates in its sessions and the prominence of gender perspectives in its discussions. The OEWG underscores the importance of narrowing the “gender digital divide” and of promoting the effective and meaningful participation and leadership of women in decision-making processes related to the use of ICTs in the context of international security.”

To be fair, the gender parity of delegates, both within the teams and among delegation leaders, is improving yearly. Around 38% of all the delegates to the last OEWG sessions were women, which is relatively high compared to other forums.

However, when it comes to gender mainstreaming in the sense of assessing and addressing the implications of information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) for girls, boys, men, women, and non-binary people, the multilateral forums lack consensus. For instance, out of four paragraphs that contained gender issues in the initial draft reports, only one (paragraph 56) that touches upon gender-sensitive capacity building could survive the opposition and was included in the final text of the 2021 OEWG report. Two others–the reference to gender-centred implications of malicious use of ICT and the concluding statement on the need to mainstream gender considerations in the implementation of norm–were cut out from the final text.

Despite the outstanding advocacy work by international human rights and women organizations represented at the negotiation forums, the pushback against gender discourse is persistent and strong. Today, in 2022, in a multilateral setting where states are the main decision-makers, there are still official positions that follow the mantra of a traditional, state-centric, and non-inclusive understanding of international peace and security. Russia, which is playing an active role in OEWG deliberations, affirmed in one of its official statements that “references to the problems of sustainable development, human rights and gender equality, which fall under the competence of other UN bodies, look inappropriate and are not directly related to the problem of ensuring international peace and security” [emphasis added]. To be fair, Russia formulated a position that is shared with most of the countries in the Middle East and some Asian, African and Latin American countries.

Cybersecurity multilateral negotiations are not unique in this sense. The issue is rooted in deep opposition to ‘gender ideology’ –the discourse(s) on gender equality and women’s rights, and especially the discourse(s) on sexual orientation and gender identity. It cannot be seen separately from the policy and governance narratives that became dominant in several countries in the past years: the rollback of women’s rights, gender equality, and perception of gender. For example, in Russia the state-sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ campaign culminated in the 2013 “anti-propaganda law” banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to children and to the general public starting from December 1, 2022.[1] Eventually, the amendments to the Russian constitution in 2020 added a definition of marriage as “a relationship between one man and one woman,” which explicitly outlawed same-sex marriage.[2] Most of the Middle Eastern nations recently outlawed same-sex intimacy directly, punishing it with everything from fines to prison and, in Saudi Arabia, to the death penalty. Thus, this pushback on gender ideology, originating from national discourses, can be seen in rule-making procedures internationally.

The multilateral cyber negotiation scene under UN auspices is complicated nowadays with geopolitical tensions and competing interests and reflects the general crisis penetrating the international legal orderThe rise in recent years of civilizational, cultural, and ideological confrontation set within the human rights agenda is reflected not only in official positions and approaches, but also in normative proposals in the OEWG and UNGA on cyber matters.

In such circumstances, the role of civil society and its contribution is critical in using a “humanitarian” agenda to persistently push back against an archaeal understanding of international security. Amidst geopolitical disputes, the deepening cleavages between western countries and Russia and China heavily influence the participation of certain stakeholders in meetings. In July 2022, during the first OEWG meeting, 27 NGOs were blocked from participation by Russia, after which some of the Russian NGOs were blocked by Ukraine in retaliation.[3] Harmonizing and aligning strategies and enhancing cooperation between stakeholders could help overcome the increasing geopolitical pressure that civil society organizations experience nowadays in cyber negotiation forums.

To work against the effects of these and other efforts to repress international attempts at advancing a gender equality agenda, effective gender mainstreaming is possible only when gender research is less fragmented and supported by rigorous data collection practices. Partially, the strong transnational opposition against “gender ideology” comes from the misconception of the notion of “gender (identity).” This leads to a broad delegitimization of scientific knowledge on gender as such. “Gender” becomes a red flag even where it is not necessarily a contested concept. Acknowledging and defining this disagreement might help avoid the broad hostility toward everything related to gender. Highlighting and respecting cultural and religious traditions and perceptions while conducting detailed and concise research on gender and cyber can help focus on the “humane” component rather than ideological confrontation.

The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates


[1] Russian Federation, Federal Law No. 135-FZ of 2013, on Amendments to Article 5 of the Federal Law “On the Protection of Children from Information Harmful to their Health and Development;” Russian Federation, Federal Law No. 478-FZ of 05.12. 2022. on Amendments to the Federal Law on “Information, information technologies and security of information” and other legislative acts of Russian Federation.”

[2] Constitution of the Russian Federation as amended and approved by the All-Russian vote on July 1, 2020 [working translation]

[3] Hurel, Louise Marie, “The Rocky Road to Cyber Norms at the United Nations”, Council on Foreign Relations, September 6, 2022,

By Claire Harrison

By Claire Harrison

In late January 2022, following a series of Houthi rebel strikes on its territory, the United Arab Emirates targeted several civilian infrastructure sites in Yemen that included a water facility.[1] Nine days later, an investigation by The New York Times revealed that in March 2017, the United States targeted a dam in Syria that was on the “no strike list.”[2] Both events circulated in the media on the same day, pointing to a historical trend of weaponizing water in war. As climate change further exacerbates water insecurity in much of the world, the disproportionate impacts of water scarcity on women and girls must be pushed further into the spotlight.

The January strike was not the first time the Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is a member, hit civilian targets, and specifically water sites in Yemen.[3] Such attacks have outsized effects on a country that suffers from climate change-induced water scarcity, lack of clean water access, and rampant water-borne diseases.[4] The January 11 strike destroyed a water reservoir in the Sahar district of  Sa’da Governorate, which supplies water to over 130,000 people.[5] The 2017 attack in Syria knocked out the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River north of Raqqa, controlled at the time by the Islamic State. It thus became a high value target, despite not being on any official U.S.-led coalition target list. The New York Times report revealed that the Tabqa Dam bombing took place after a top-secret U.S. Special Operations unit used a procedural shortcut reserved for emergencies to circumvent the chain of command and drop the bombs despite official warnings against the action.[6] In spite of the horrific humanitarian implications, flooding tens of thousands of people out of an area and depriving many more of electrical power and water supply may well be a tempting strategy for state and non-state combatants alike. Indeed, U.S. Central Command told The New York Times the bombs “prevented ISIS from weaponizing” the dam against the people of Northeast Syria, demonstrating how the same logic around water could apply to both sides of a conflict.[7]

Furthermore, grievances over water insecurity and lack of access were one of several factors culminating in the 2011 revolutions in Syria and Yemen. As freshwater resources evaporate and water scarcity becomes a truly existential threat for many populations, the monetary and identity value of water resources will skyrocket. This pattern of targeting water resources will accelerate, and water will become a driving factor for conflict. To be sure, many of the water scarcity challenges exacerbated by climate change are also attributable to weak governance and obstruction. However, both man-made and climate-driven accelerants of water scarcity create a negative feedback loop, exacerbating each other and driving up the value of water. As the earth heats up and resources evaporate, clean and safe water is often the first to disappear, leaving entire villages and sometimes countries arid. The price of water rises in parallel, and it is the lack of water that causes desperation and potential violence, not the cause of this scarcity.

When water becomes scarce, it is more likely to be monopolized and weaponized by groups seeking to capitalize upon desperation and fear as a means for legitimization and power. In many cases, the government’s inability to adequately meet its peoples’ needs further pushes people into jeopardy. This dynamic contributed to the entrenchment of groups like Al Shabab and Boko Haram in water-poor areas and their effective manipulation of water security as a recruitment tactic and funding mechanism.[8] It is also what made civilian water infrastructure compelling targets in Syria and Yemen.

When a water crisis strikes, the entire population suffers, but climate change and water scarcity extract the highest price from women and girls. This is especially true for those who are already left behind or made invisible by the circumstances of conflict. At the opening session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s annual meeting on March 14, 2022, Undersecretary General Sima Bahous explained: “Women suffer most when local natural resources including food and water come under threat, and have fewer ways to adapt.”[9] In many water-poor countries, women and people who identify as women are heads of households and devote a significantly higher proportion of their time to unpaid domestic activities. Most of these activities are water-intensive, such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning. This means women often have a greater role in day-to-day clean water management and provision and understand the stakes, while men are more likely to control the financing and distribution. Thus, when water becomes scarce, it is women who are left to deal with the practical implications of water insecurity.

Further, when conflict breaks out, women in these situations are impacted in ways citizens of water-rich countries often do not consider. In countries where weak government institutions translate to a lack of adequate and equitable water management, there is often one source of water shared between communities and at a great distance from the home. It is frequently women’s responsibility to make the journey to collect remote freshwater. When water decreases in availability, this trek becomes longer and consumes more energy and time, leaving women less able to address additional responsibilities and less able to pursue personal means of economic fulfillment. This burden is even greater for rural women who are already more likely to be further from water sources, distribution sites, or the reaches of government assistance. When conflict erupts, not only do these water sources themselves become sites of violent clashes, but the journey to obtain water becomes increasingly dangerous.

The disproportionate impact on women and girls is evident in places such as the Syrian city of Raqqa. As a result of the U.S.-led coalition and the Islamic State both targeting water resources around Raqqa, returnees to a liberated city suffered shortages of clean running water and sanitation facilities. For the women returnees, these problems led to a number of specific gynecological problems like urinary tract infections and cystitis.[10] Children filled clinics in Raqqa city, plagued with respiratory illnesses, infections, and gastrointestinal distress, and one of the main causes was dirty water.[11] In Yemen, water scarcity combined with ineffective governance in government-controlled areas and Houthi control in other regions increased stress on women and girls, who bore the brunt of responsibility for collecting water and rationing its use in the household.[12] This in turn led to women increasingly dealing with health issues associated with expending the energy, time, and stress required to obtain water when food is scarce. Women were forced to stand for long periods of time in scorching heat and were exposed to sexual harassment and violence, depending on the time of day and length of time spent collecting water.[13] COVID-19 has only made this crisis in Yemen worse.

But this intimate connection between women, water, and climate change also holds the potential keys to resolution. When women are the community arbiters of water distribution and are most intimately involved with the movement of water resources and consequences of water scarcity in day-to-day life, they also become sources of vital contextual knowledge necessary to a conflict-sensitive approach to conflict arbitration, mitigation, and prevention. As the frameworks for water peace developed over the last few decades become less relevant and effective, there is an opportunity for the international community to practice climate diplomacy and push for new conflict resolution frameworks inclusive of gender and resource scarcity.

The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates. 

Claire Harrison is a 2021 WIIS Next Generation Scholar, a national security professional, and a research analyst. Her work focuses on climate security in the MENA region, institutional capacity building, and natural resources as a catalyst for violent conflict. She has previously served as a Research Associate in the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses, as well as in various Middle East policy research roles at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the State Department. Harrison holds an MA in Strategic Studies and International Economics from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, an ML in Chinese Politics and Foreign Policy from Tsinghua University in Beijing, and a BA in Middle East Studies and Political Science from Sciences Po Paris.


[1] Colm Quinn, “Houthis Strike Abu Dhabi as Yemen War Drags On,” Foreign Policy, January 18, 2022,; Shuaib Almosawa, Vivian Yee, and Isabella Kwai, “Yemen’s Houthi Militia Claims Rare Military Strike on U.A.E.,” The New York Times, January 17, 2022,

[2] Dave Phillips, Azmat Khan, and Eric Schmitt, “A Dam in Syria was on a ‘No-Strike’ List. The U.S. Bombed It Anyway,” The New York Times, January 20, 2022,

[3] “Why did the Houthis attack the UAE? Everything you need to know,” Al Jazeera, January 31, 2022,

[4] Collin Douglas, A Storm Without Rain: Yemen, Water, Climate Change, and Conflict, Briefer No. 40: August 3, 2016; “Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation,” from Yemen, UNDP,,many%20sub%2DSaharan%20African%20countries; WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, “Cholera Situation in Yemen,” Document no. WHOEM/CSR/434/E, World Health Organization, April 2021.

[5] “Press briefing notes on Yemen,” delivered by Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, January 18, 2022,

[6] Phillips et. al., “A Dam in Syria was on the ‘No-Strike List’,” The New York Times.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Halima Gikandi, “The group behind Nairobi’s recent terror attack recruits young people from many faiths. Officials can’t stop it,” GlobalPost, January 25, 2019,; Mervyn Piesse, “Boko Haram: Exacerbating and Benefiting From Food and Water Insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin,” Future Directions International, September 19, 2017,; Laura Heaton and Nichole Sobeki, “Somalia’s Climate for Conflict,” The GroundTruth Project, April 19, 2017,

[9] Edith M. Lederer, “UN says women pay the highest price in conflict, now in Ukraine,” Associated Press, March 15, 2022,

[10] Arianna Pagani and Sara Manisera, “‘The world forgot us’: Women and healthcare in ruined Raqqa,” The New Humanitarian, January 8, 2019,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ashraf Al-Muraqab, “A daily struggle to fetch water,” Yemen Times, September 17, 2012,

[13] Margaret Habib, “COVID-19 Exacerbates the Effects of Water Shortages on Women in Yemen,” Wilson Center, August 20, 2020,

Jessica Margolis and Tahina Montoya


Over the past several decades, the United States (U.S.) has worked to develop conflict mitigation and prevention strategies in response to growing crises and poor governance in conflict-affected states. These stabilization missions have given significant attention and resources to women’s rights and gender programs, but U.S. gender policy has had varied and limited success.1 Well-intentioned programs were marred by poor coordination and expertise, as well as a lack of integration throughout all aspects of the stabilization process. The last twenty years of Afghanistan reconstruction offer numerous examples, and recent developments underscore an urgent need for the  U.S. to review its approach to stabilization, especially when it comes to gender and women’s rights, and assess how to implement new strategies more effectively.

Fortunately, comprehensive bipartisan legislation that promises to serve as a mechanism for better stabilization programs is inching toward implementation. The Global Fragility Act (GFA) was signed into law in December 2019 and lays out a transformative and innovative approach for the U.S. government to prevent violent conflict and address the root causes of state fragility.2 Though lauded for its efforts to revise stabilization, the GFA reflects old thinking regarding gender relations. The Act ignores countless studies that prove the vital role gender sensitivity can and should play in successful peace processes and stabilization programs, as well as the importance of gender inclusion for conflict prevention.

Gender-sensitivity attempts to understand how the social hierarchies attached to stereotypes of gender exclude or endanger certain groups. This includes an analysis of how gender intersects with inequalities stemming from other socio-economic factors (intersectionality). Applying a gendersensitive lens to GFA implementation will put gender issues at the forefront of the policy-making process and enhance U.S. stabilization programs. This is more than just an opportunity to make more durable gains for women’s rights; it is essential to achieving the U.S. government’s overall stabilization goals, including a secure environment, a stable economy, general social well-being, and the rule of law. It will also allow the  U.S. to re-establish its credibility and commitment to stabilization.

GFA implementation strategies are still being crafted, hence action now will enable a gender-sensitive approach to shape both the beginning of the bureaucratic process and the tenyear period allotted for GFA goals. In addition to improving gender outcomes for future stabilization operations, a gendersensitive GFA will enable the  U.S. to redefine its international image and lead the development of a feminist approach to international development.3

This policy brief analyzes the shortcomings in the GFA process and policies regarding gender with specific reference to previous stabilization efforts, before outlining how a gendersensitive GFA can improve future U.S. stabilization and reconstruction programs. Gender issues are, of course, broader than just the experiences of women and girls; however, this brief focuses primarily on women because most U.S. “gender” programs are designed for women and girls. The GFA itself also specifically singles out women as a marginalized group to support because violence is so often perpetrated against women in fragile contexts.  It is our hope that enhanced programming for women and girls spurs more support for other underrepresented gender groups. Our analysis and recommendations emphasize actionable next steps for gendersensitive implementation, ensuring the GFA is effective and transformative. These recommendations include using gender-focused indices to identify GFA priority countries and analysis; enhancing coordination and gender integration through an interagency task force; applying intersectional analysis to ensure diverse civil society engagement; leveraging existing policies; and employing gender-inclusive language.

The GFA: Opportunity for Change

U.S. foreign policy has relied on a disparate, reactionary approach to assistance rather than a coordinated and proactive strategy that addresses the underpinnings of armed conflict. Short-term incentives have outweighed long-term goals. The difficulties experienced in countries like Afghanistan forced a revaluation of U.S. stabilization strategies in fragile and conflict-ridden countries. A new approach was needed.

Seventeen years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. government formally recognized that past stabilization efforts were limited by a “lack of strategic clarity, organizational discipline, and unity of effort.”4

The Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR), approved by the State Department (DOS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Defense Department (DOD) in 2018, was the government’s first joint step to reconsider stabilization and move towards a whole of government approach. The SAR defines stabilization as “a political endeavor involving an integrated civilian-military process to create conditions where locally legitimate authorities and systems can peaceably manage conflict and prevent a resurgence of violence.”5 This was followed by the GFA’s passage as part of the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019.6 As novel legislation that prioritized long-term strategy over short-term solutions, the Act sought to improve global, regional, and local coordination of multilateral development; expand and enhance the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance programs; support research efforts; and improve the tools for proper assessment and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).7

The Act mandates the U.S. government select at least three countries or regions for stabilization and three countries or regions for conflict prevention, guided by data in existing global fragility indices and U.S. watch lists.8 These sources address specific categories and levels of violence, including violence committed by state actors and extremist organizations, as well as violence committed against children and youth.9 The GFA also requires interagency coordination to streamline government efforts to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence and fragility globally.10 Lastly, the Act earmarks $230 million annually for five fiscal years to fund these efforts.11

Enacted in December 2019, the GFA was to be implemented along three key deadlines, all of which have been missed, postponing overall implementation.12  First, within 270 days after the GFA was enacted, in September 2020, lead organizations were to submit: a detailed strategy with department and staff roles and responsibilities; the identification of authorities, organizational steps, and processes; and a list of priority countries.13 Second, within one year after the establishment of the Act, in December 2020, the executive branch was required to submit to Congress a report detailing a ten-year plan for each country selected, along with updated conflict analyses and interagency plans, policies, and tools to implement the GFA.14 Third, within two years after submission of the ten-year plan, in December 2022, and every two years thereafter (for ten years), the president is to submit a biennial, unclassified report on progress and lessons learned with assessments to the Government Accountability Office for review.15

Excluding Gender: The Crucial Flaw

While the GFA is innovative in driving interagency coordination and requiring transparent reviews and reporting, it has one major flaw: it largely overlooks gender. The Act only mentions women once, when listing violence against women and girls as an area of concern in fragile countries, and never mentions the concept of gender more broadly. Box 1 provides an example of poorly coordinated gender programming during stabilization to contextualize the following discussion of how GFA implementation has fallen short on gender.

The September Report and Global Fragility Strategy

The GFA strategy documents offer some improvements from the Act regarding women and girls but neglect to consider their rights in a way that will catalyze durable change. Furthermore, implementation of the GFA has been slow, and priority countries are yet to be identified.

Box 1: Afghanistan’s Troubled Gender Policy
Afghanistan offers many lessons for why gender— specifically the experiences of women and girls—needs to be better integrated into U.S. stabilization policy and practice. The reconstruction and stabilization process in Afghanistan was well-funded, extensive, and explicitly mandated to incorporate gender mainstreaming, though almost all its gender programs were built for women and girls. This led to some achievements in education, employment, and health. Women were able to attend universities and girls’ access to education expanded, with a 23% increase in the number of girls enrolled in primary school between 2003 and 2017.16 By 2019, 25% of civil service jobs were held by women, and maternal mortality had declined significantly, moving from 1,100 to 396 per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2015.17 However, despite the attention and resources, U.S. government gender policy in Afghanistan had limited success overall. Reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reveal that the  U.S. lacked a comprehensive and coordinated gender strategy as well as staff with gender expertise. It took more than ten years for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to create the first mission-wide gender policy and a unified understanding of gender priorities.18 Along with poor coordination was a shortage of gender expertise. USAID only required that gender be addressed in its programs in 2008, and “it was not until 2014 that USAID placed staff with gender expertise in each of the agency’s technical offices in Kabul.”19 This meant that gender analysis was often delayed or ineffective.20 Conditions improved with the creation of an Afghanistan Gender Task Force in Washington, D.C. and a Gender Working Group in Kabul, but the utility of this system was impaired by inconsistent support from senior leadership.21 U.S. officials often failed to understand and address the underlying social and cultural context that fueled gender inequality in Afghanistan, consequently designing programs that did not reach a diversity of women.22 Gains were primarily felt by women in elite urban areas, while many women in conservative, rural, and ethnic minority communities continued to live with genderbased restrictions that limited their access to services.23 Furthermore, Afghan women were often excluded from leadership or decision-making roles, especially at the local level where decisions can have a more immediate impact on daily life. Analysts sometimes highlight women’s participation in Loya Jirgas (“grand council”) meetings of the country’s regional leaders and the national parliament as evidence that they held positions of power.24 However, even when women were in decision-making positions, they comprised a significant minority and had difficulty gaining respect or garnering support for their ideas.25

To comply with the GFA, the “Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 504(c) of the Global Fragility Act” (hereafter referred to as the September Report) was sent to Congress on September 17, 2020.26 The September Report was supposed to present a comprehensive strategy but, on many levels, failed to do so.27 Only five pages long, it briefly summarized the 2017 National Security Strategy and identified four goals—prevention, stabilization, burden-sharing (multilateral coordination), and management (internal coordination)—but did not provide details on how to achieve these goals.28 Additionally, while the September Report mentions both “women” and “gender,” it does so in a cursory, and arguably performative, manner.

A second document, “The  U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability,” also known as the Global Fragility Strategy (GFS), was released on December 18, 2020. This marked “the first time that the  U.S. has had a strategy, an enduring—a 10-year strategy—to address conflict prevention and stabilization.”29 This unique strategy was intended to address fragility at its core and encourage the development of strong and secure countries that could be U.S. partners.30 The GFS elaborates on the four goals mentioned in the September Report by committing to developing new partnerships with civil society, the private sector, regional partners, and bilateral and multilateral contributors, with an emphasis on “supporting locally driven political solutions.”31 Though it still does not widely address gender, the GFS specifically highlights the need to meaningfully engage women and girls and promote their rights, which is more detail than contained in the GFA and September Report. It also describes the need to strengthen local civil society organizations that are inclusive of women, address the WPS strategy, and consider the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Inequality


Here, the GFS provides needed details on, for example, the creation of a working-level secretariat and a senior-level GFA Steering Committee composed of USAID, DOS, DOD, the Department of Treasury, and the Office of Management and Budget, convened by the National Security Council. Additionally, it identifies the Chief of Mission as the lead for field-level planning and declares U.S. embassies responsible for coordination of national government counterparts and local civil society organizations.33 Finally, the GFS highlights “compact-style country and regional partnerships” to promote mutual accountability and the facilitation of political dialogue.34

As a stabilization document, the GFS is far more promising in bringing women and gender to the forefront. However, a strategy is meant to have implementation guidance, and despite a greater emphasis on gender, the GFS fails to address how the GFA will integrate gender throughout its activities.

Gender-Sensitive Implementation Can Close the Current GFA Gap

The gender gaps in the GFA and GFS include using genderblind language, confusing gender-based terminology, and using indices that do not measure gender. As a starting point, using language that acknowledges different gender groups and their needs when implementing the GFA will prove critical for the legislation’s success, because fragility and conflict affect women and girls differently than men and boys.35 Failure to deliberately consider the needs of women specifically will stymie intended change. Researching the lived experiences of underserved groups helps “fill a gap in the understanding of conflict and instability and improve[s] conflict-sensitivity of policies and programs.”36 This type of analysis is necessary to understand the consequences of outside intervention on stopping or changing an ongoing conflict, which is vital to the GFA’s goals.37 Paired with gender, this will reveal how “women’s everyday experiences with broader regional and global political processes and structures inform violence.”38

As a final example of how the GFA overlooks gender, countries or regions for GFA implementation are to be selected based upon several sources, including U.S. government conflict and atrocity early warning lists, levels of in-country violence, and five indices (see Box 2), referred to as “recognized global fragility lists.”39 A careful review of these five indices reveals that while some of them mention gender-related information, none of them use gender-related indicators to determine their country rankings. For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) States of Fragility Report cites gender statistics for fragile states, like maternal mortality ratios, in its infographics, but it sources this information from other databases and does not actually gather its own data on gender.40 More specifically, none of these indices directly measure gender equality or genderbased violence (GBV).41 The Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index mentions countering GBV as one of its organizational missions, but the index itself does not include data or GBV as an indicator.

Improving on the GFA, the GFS adds seven additional indices to be referenced when selecting countries (see Box 2).42 However, while these indices consider women’s wellbeing in their mission statements or vision, none of them gather detailed gender-disaggregated data on women’s safety. Further, the GFS document does not highlight rates of GBV as indicators of violence, meaning GBV may not be meaningfully integrated into implementation strategies. Reliance on indices that do not measure GBV or violence against children means that these forms of violence will not substantially influence country selection.

Box 2: Recognized Global Fragility Lists
GFA Listed Indices: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development States of Fragility ReportFund for Peace Fragile States IndexThe World Bank Harmonized List of Fragile SituationsThe Institute for Economic and Peace Global Peace IndexThe U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Early Warning Project Risk Assessment GFS Listed Indices: The Armed Conflict and Location Event Data ProjectFund for Peace Fragile States IndexFreedom House Freedom in the World IndexLegatum Institute’s Prosperity IndexThe U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Early Warning Project Risk AssessmentVarieties of Democracy ProjectUNDP’s Gender Inequality IndexWorld Bank’s Worldwide Governance IndicatorsWorld Justice Project Rule of Law Index

Why Focus on Women?

Put bluntly, gender does not equal women. However, policymakers often focus on women as victims during stabilization and reconstruction, instead of also considering their contributions to peace negotiations or the duration of peace settlements. In fact, data show a positive link between women’s activities and conflict stabilization:43

  • Peace Negotiations Succeed More Often. Peace deals that include women in negotiations have higher chances of success and are more likely to bring armed groups to the negotiating table. An Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative study of 40 peace deals since 1990 has shown that parties were significantly more likely to reach an agreement when women’s groups had strong influence on the negotiation process.44
  • Peace Settlements Last Longer. Women’s participation had a statistically significant and positive impact on the duration of peace.45 After analyzing 181 peace agreements signed since 1989, researchers found that agreements resulting from negotiations that directly included women were 35% more likely to last beyond 15 years.46 This is because women who are actively involved in negotiations often have decision-making authority or access to those involved in peace implementation.47
  • Women’s Advocacy Yields Direct Benefits for All. Women advocate for specific provisions or work that addresses the roots of conflict or builds programs for other social groups in need. This is because, in addition to advocating for women’s rights, women also advocate for measures that help prevent relapse into violence, contributing to a broader change in power relations and benefiting the broader community.48 As an example, “in Burundi women succeeded in inserting into the peace agreement provisions on freedom of marriage and the right to choose one’s partner [regardless of gender].”49

The active participation of women in all aspects of stability and development increases the likelihood of positive change. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize that there are societalbased differences in gender, reflected in practices, customs, and law that have important political consequences for nation-states.50 The  U.S. will not succeed in achieving basic stabilization goals if its implementation strategy does not integrate critical gender components.

Policy Recommendations

Integrating a gender-sensitive approach into GFA implementation will improve conflict prevention and stabilization and set ground-breaking precedent for future missions. The ten-year plans presented to Congress for each selected country should integrate the following recommendations, taking care to customize them to each country’s cultural context rather than apply a one size fits all approach.

1. Use Gender-focused Indices to Identify GFA Priority Countries and Inform Analysis

A gender-focused index with gender-disaggregated data should be used in identifying priority regions and countries for GFA implementation. None of the country selection indices listed in the GFA or GFS account for rates of GBV or violence against women (VAW) and do not present genderdisaggregated data.51 Relying solely on the existing indices will make it impossible for analysts to gain a comprehensive picture of the status of women in different countries, especially in relation to conflict and violence. Fortunately, the GFS leaves an opening for other “third-party data sources and indicators to help inform selection of priority countries and/or regions and monitor overall progress.”52

We recommend including the WomenStats Database, the Women Peace and Security Index, and the World Bank Gender Data Portal. The WomenStats Database assesses the relationship between security, stability, and gender and proves it is possible to predict organized violence based on the mistreatment of women.53 Vetted at the UN, the DOD, and Congress, with over 350 indicators for 176 countries, the WomanStats Database is “the largest cross-national compilation of data, statistics, and maps on the status of women worldwide.”54 The Women Peace and Security Index, maintained by the Georgetown Institute of Women Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Centre for Gender Peace and Security, measures inclusion, justice, and security for women using 11 indicators for 170 countries.55 This index is unique in that it offers a snapshot of women’s status in a country based on numerous social realities and could directly inform progress on WPS commitments made by the  U.S. and partner countries. A third option is the World Bank Gender Data Portal, which is the World Bank Group’s most comprehensive source for “sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics covering demography, education, health, access to economic opportunities, public life, and decision-making and agency.”56 Mandating the inclusion of one or more gender-specific indices will ensure that gender programming is informed by a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between women and country-specific violence.

In addition to using the indices listed in the GFA, researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs suggest establishing “critical criteria” to guide country selection.57 Establishing critical criteria that are deliberately gender-inclusive (like rates of GBV) would take analysis one step further by ensuring that the treatment of all gender identities, not just women, are included in GFA decisions.

  • Enhance Coordination and Gender Integration Through a New Interagency Task Force

The GFA requires robust interagency coordination, and the GFS outlines a senior-level steering committee for oversight, the creation of a working-level secretariat—managed by DOS with members from relevant implementing agencies—and one in-country designee for field-level planning, nominated by the chief of mission.58 However, this plan needs details on tactical and operational level personnel, and on the type of expertise the in-country designee should have. It also neglects to address gender training. To enhance interagency coordination and efficiency, the secretariat should also establish an interagency task force composed of teams both in Washington, D.C. and in each chosen country. In addition to adding gender and M&E leads, task force teams should include leads from the three primary implementing departments.

Under the staffing structure currently proposed in the GFS, personnel would undertake GFA activities as additional or collateral duties. In contrast, task force personnel will be dedicated to GFA activity, serving as full-time staff focused on overall implementation that are independent from individual programs. This will empower a centralized group to gather best practices and guarantee more continuity of bandwidth and institutional knowledge throughout the ten-year duration of GFA. It will also prevent the shortage of coordination, gender expertise, and M&E resources that has plagued gender programs in stabilization missions, such as Afghanistan. Together a steering committee, secretariat, and interagency task force will fulfill strategic, operational, and tactical dimensions of implementation.

  • Apply Intersectional Analysis to Ensure Diverse Civil Society Engagement

The GFA and GFS require engagement and consultations with civil society in the development of in-country programming, offering the chance to amplify intersectionality along with gender-inclusivity. The GFA and GFS specifically acknowledge the need to work with civil society and local groups led by underserved populations, like women and youth, to advance inclusive peace and women’s leadership “in all aspects of conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.”59 This is important, but the ten-year plans should mandate that consultations be held with intersectional groups made up of diverse women of various races, ethnicities, religions, classes, and sexual orientations.60 Utilizing intersectionality in this way will meaningfully incorporate different perspectives in the design of programming, ultimately enabling programs to reach and benefit women from more backgrounds, an achievement missing from past conflict and stabilization efforts but crucial for the future. It will also create space for more women to influence decision-making at the local level.

In order to do this correctly, U.S. personnel should hire local representatives who understand the intersecting identities within the communities where programming is conducted. Local consultants will be able to provide crucial background knowledge on community identities and more easily secure participation from targeted groups than foreign officials. The GFA provides for this in its calls for future strategies to identify the “authorities, staffing, and other resources” needed to effectively implement the GFS.61

  • Leverage and Connect Existing PoliciesStrategically and efficiently, the GFS asserts it will draw on existing U.S. legislation and directives throughout its programming process, which creates a chance to streamline gender agendas across government entities and policy topics. The GFS already mentions the 2019 U.S. Women, Peace and Security (WPS) strategy, which is a great start.62 The process would also benefit from including the comprehensive WPS implementation plans that the USAID, DOS, and DOD each created in response to the passage of the WPS Act of 2017. The DOS plan, for example, sets clear objectives for increasing women and girls’ safety and participation in peace efforts and lays out M&E metrics to achieve these objectives.63 Thus far, GFA implementation strategies do not include this degree of specificity; they lack clear objectives or indicators for women’s rights, empowerment or safety, and details on how these will be measured to determine GFA programming success. Relying on existing policies that have already been integrated into the three primary implementing departments would be a tactical way to take a more gender-sensitive approach.64

The GFA should also build upon the recently released National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, drawing on the White House, its resources, and the attention of the current administration to advance gender equality. This first-of-itskind gender strategy also emphasizes a whole of government approach, stating: “in order to mainstream gender equity and equality across our domestic and foreign policy, we will elevate gender in strategic planning and budgeting, policy development, management and training, and monitoring and evaluation efforts.”65 The strategy is especially forwardthinking in that it promotes a focus on intersectional identities, something currently lacking from the GFA, and interprets them broadly to include sexual orientation.66 In fact, one of the strategy’s objectives—to elevate gender equality in security and humanitarian relief—is already poised to correct a GFA gap by committing to using diplomatic fora and resources to support the leadership of local civil society groups led by women.67 Building on this strategy, a stated priority of the Biden administration, will make for more harmonious domestic and foreign policy.

  • Employ Gender-inclusive Language in Future Strategy Documents and Reports

This brief has largely focused on women because U.S. gender policies usually target women’s issues. However, GFA strategy documents, including revisions made to the GFS, country plans, or biennial reports, should use language that serves people belonging to all marginalized gender identities. For example, the Act should have stated that it serves to empower “groups underserved for their gender” rather than just “women” in GFA programming implementation.68 More inclusive language will encourage gender programming to be designed for any group that may need protection or empowerment because of its gender identity or expression. Additionally, to prevent GBV from being conflated with VAW and to acknowledge that all genders can experience violence, future documents should define each term and use them deliberately.

Lastly, language that essentializes groups, such as use of the word “vulnerable,” should be left out of future documents.69 Using the word “underserved,” for example, instead of “vulnerable” better showcases that certain groups face difficult circumstances not because of their own actions but because a system or society has failed to adequately support them. This kind of language underscores a structural problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a group that needs to be saved.


U.S. efforts to integrate and implement gender programming in conflict settings need a new approach to improve the lives of women and other marginalized gender groups. The GFA is an innovative policy with a progressive approach to solving violent conflict, but thus far the implementation process is predominantly gender blind. A course correction is still possible. The GFA’s ability to drive change will be determined by its implementation, and country strategies that incorporate intersectional and gender-sensitive lenses will strengthen the Act’s efficacy and better serve groups in need. This unique lens will also promote more accurate conflict analysis because women are important contributors to conflict resolution, despite also being targets of violence. If implemented properly, a gender-sensitive GFA promises a fresh start for stabilization efforts and, hopefully, human rights on the ground.

This policy brief was prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the official views or policy of WIIS or the Embassy of Liechtenstein.


  1. This report employs the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of gender as “the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed […] gender interacts with but is different from sex, which refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons.” See “Gender and Health,” World Health Organization, 2021, gender#tab=tab_1.
  2. Addressed hereafter as GFA or The Act.
  3. This also coincides with Biden-Harris Administration’s immediate priorities, which include COVID-19, climate, racial equity, economy, health care, immigration, and restoring America’s global standing. See “The Biden-Harris Administration Immediate Priorities,” The White House, n.d.,
  4. A Framework for Maximizing the Effectiveness of U.S. Government Efforts to Stabilize Conflict-Affected Areas (U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Department of Defense, 2018), p. 1,
  5. Framework for Maximizing Effectiveness, p. 4.
  6. Pascrell, Bill Jr., Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116–94, § 502, 1321 (2019), STAT. 3060, bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1865/text.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Pascrell, STAT. 3064.
  9. Pascrell, STAT. 3063.
  10. Pascrell, STAT. 3064.
  11. Pascrell, STAT. 3066.
  12. Pascrell, STAT. 3065-3066.
  13. Ibid.14. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Deniz Kandiyoti, “Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women’s Rights,” Third World Quarterly, 28:3 (2007): 503-517,
  16. John R. Allen and Vanda Felbab-Brown, “The Fate of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan,” Brookings Institution, September 16, 2020, https://www.
  17. Bateman, Kate, Samantha Hay, Mariam Jalalzada, Matthew Rubin, and Sarah Rababy, Support for Gender Equality: Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan Lessons Learned Reports. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), February 2021, p. xxii; Haque, Tobias, Afghanistan’s Development Gains: Progress and Challenges, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 2020, p. 10, https://
  18. Bateman et. al., p. 28.
  19. Ibid; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021, p. 79, pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Bateman et. al, p. 29.
  22. SIGAR, What We Need to Learn, p. 79.
  23. Allen and Felbab-Brown. “The Fate of Women in Afghanistan.”
  24. Greg Myre, “Everything You Wanted To Know About An Afghan Loya Jirga,” National Public Radio (NPR), November 21, 2013, https://
  25. Cheryl Benard et. al., Women and Nation-Building (RAND Cooperation, 2008), p. 120, pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG579.pdf.
  26. U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 504(c) of the Global Fragility Act (September 15, 2020), p. 1, https://www.
  27. Alliance for Peacebuilding, No Time to Waste to Implement the Global Fragility Act, September 16, 2020, no-time-to-waste-to-implement-the-global-fragility-act-b3c79f7bceae.
  28. Teresa Welsh, “U.S. State Department Releases Global Fragility Strategy,” Devex, December 19, 2020,
  29. U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, December 18, 2020, pp. 1-2, https://www.state. gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/us-strategy-to-prevent-conflict-andpromote-stability.pdf.
  30. Ibid., p. 3.
  31. The WPS Strategy emphasizes proactively integrating the needs and perspectives of women and ensuring their participation in the prevention and resolution of conflict.
  32. Ibid., p. 15.
  33. Ibid., p.14.
  34. Christine Pedersen, How to Center Women in the Global Fragility Act (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, March 13, 2020),
  35. Ibid.
  36. “Fact Sheet Conflict Sensitivity,” Center for Peacebuilding (Swiss Peace, 2004), pp. 2-3, pdf/KOFF/KOFF_Documents/KOFF_Factsheet_Conflictsensitivity.pdf.
  37. Heidi Hudson Source.
  38. Pascrell, STAT. 3063.
  39. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, States of Fragility 2020 (OECD), September 17, 2020), ba7c22e7-en.
  40. Gender-based violence (GBV) is “violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex or gender identity. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.” See Women for Women International, What Does That Mean? Gender-Based Violence, June 4, 2021, https://www.
  41. U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 13.

  • Valerie M. Hudson et. al., “The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States,” International Security, 33:3 (2008): p. 12,
  • Hannah Beswick, Increasing the Participation of Women in Peace Processes: Reaching a Sustainable Durable Peace (EastWest Institute, June 20, 2018),
  • Marie O’Reilly, Andrea O Suilleabhain, and Thania Paffenholz, Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes International Peace Institute, March 2014, p. 12, uploads/2015/06/IPI-E-pub-Reimagining-Peacemaking.pdf.
  • “Women’s Participation and a Better Understanding of the Political,” in Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace, UN Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 2015),
  • Council on Foreign Relations, Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: Why It Matters. (n.d.)., accessed December 11, 2020, https://
  • O’Reilly, et. al., p. 11.
  • Ibid.
  • Hudson et. al., p. 12.
  • The United Nations recognizes violence against women (VAW) as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” It is important to understand the difference between VAW and GBV; the former refers to violence committed against individuals that identify with the specific gender group “women,” while the latter includes violence committed against any individuals because of their gender identity or expression, not just women. See United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Again Women,” December 20, 1993, pages/violenceagainstwomen.aspx.
  • U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 13.

p. 12.

  • Ibid., p. 7.
  • Civil society engagement is essential to equitable GFA implementation, but care should be taken not to further endanger underserved groups with overtly public consultations. Consideration of the health and safety of local groups should drive methods of engagement.
  • Pascrell, STAT. 3062.
  • U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 20.

By Felicia Dede Addy and Shikshya Adhikari

Ghana is one of the biggest producers of gold in Africa and the world.1 Gold contributes significantly to Ghana’s economy, and small-scale mining—an important means of income for many low-income Ghanaian households—produces about 30 percent of Ghana’s total gold output.2 Under Ghanaian law, small-scale gold mining is reserved for Ghanaians, but the boom in gold prices in the 2000s and Ghana’s unprotected gold wealth drew thousands of Chinese miners to Ghana who started mining for gold illegally.3 Known locally as galamsey, illegal gold mining by Chinese migrants in Ghana has had devastating effects on the economy, the environment, communities, and women’s security.

The Ghanaian government has adopted several measures to curb the proliferation of illegal mining, but these measures have been ineffective because of government incompetence, severe corruption, a weak judiciary system, rampant violence in communities, and the complicity of locals.

Civil society can play an important role in dealing with the adverse effects of galamsey. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are particularly important in raising awareness in communities, helping curb violence, protecting women and pressuring the government to be accountable and transparent. This policy brief looks at small-scale mining in Ghana and the growing problems associated with illegal Chinese miners. It lays out the obstacles that government and local communities face in curbing galamsey and relates how CSOs are pushing for solutions. We conclude by providing recommendations for more active civil society engagement, both nationally and transnationally.

Small-Scale Mining in Ghana

Indigenous small-scale mining dates back to the 15th century in Ghana. It is an important means of livelihood for many rural people, who use the income from mining to supplement meagre farming income. Ghanaian small-scale mining may be second only to agriculture in its ability to create jobs and boost the economy.4 About one million people work directly in the sector, and approximately four million work in services dependent on small-scale mining.5

With so many Ghanaians practicing small-scale mining, the government felt the need to regulate mining practices to streamline the sector’s contribution to the economy, regulate the use of resources by small-scale miners, and provide official marketing channels for gold that the sector produced.6 In 1989, the government passed the Small-Scale Gold Mining Act, which introduced a licensing process. However, the process is highly bureaucratic, expensive, time-consuming, and riddled with corruption. Only those with money and political connections can secure licenses. Thus the process discourages many Ghanaians without money and influence from applying for and obtaining legal licenses. Since villages depended greatly on the mining sector, unlicensed smallscale mining continued.7

The scale of illegal mining expanded greatly in the 2000s, when Ghana’s gold reserves and the surge in gold prices attracted many foreign miners from neighboring Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and countries such as Russia, Armenia, and China. Ghana saw an especially large influx of experienced Chinese miners.

Two main reasons explain the influx of Chinese miners.8 First, China’s economic liberalization led many Chinese migrant workers to come to Africa for work in a range of industries. With its ample unprotected gold reserves, Ghana proved attractive to Chinese gold diggers. Second, the majority of the Chinese miners in Ghana come from the Guangxi autonomous region in China, a region with a long history of gold mining and expertise in advanced mining techniques. About 50,000 Chinese miners have flocked to Ghana over the past decade and have been illegally mining gold.9

Effects of Chinese Illegal Mining

Unregulated and illegal mining by Chinese migrants has severely challenged the Ghanaian government, local communities and rural populations. It has compromised the local economy and security, particularly the well-being and security of women. In response, the government passed the 2006 Minerals and Mining Act, which “reserved” small-scale mining for Ghanaian citizens, and instituted the Alternative Livelihood and Community Mining Program, which sought to diversify sources of livelihood in mining areas. But because of widespread government corruption among national and local officials, their implementation was unsuccessful.10 Therefore, Chinese miners’ galamsey continues.

Economic and Environmental Impacts

Chinese investors bought up plots of lands from local farmers and landowners and replaced farmlands with gold mines. Farmhands lost their jobs, and overall food production declined. In addition, the influx of Chinese miners increased housing prices, which in turn led to an increase of homeless people.11 Lastly, Chinese miners introduced technologies such as dredging and advanced excavators, replacing lowtech, traditional mining techniques, increasing productivity and making it difficult for Ghanaian small-scale miners to compete with them.

The use of advanced technology has also polluted remaining farms lands and rivers nearby with dust, cyanide and mercury.12 Major rivers such as the Pra, Ankobra and Birim— essential for supplying water in Western and Eastern Ghana— have been polluted by mining runoff.13 This pollution has depressed farm productivity and the livelihoods of people who depend on farming. In addition, the consistent use of mercury in gold extraction has also harmed people’s health, which in turn has made them unable to work and earn a living.14

Community Security

An increase in robberies, violence, and other criminal activity accompanied the influx of Chinese miners. Attacks on Chinese migrants increased as local resentment grew. In response, the Chinese miners acquired weapons to protect themselves.15 Some became involved in the illegal buying and selling of arms.16 In many mining communities, the use and trafficking of narcotics also increased.17

Some observers worried that the loss of local livelihoods and the increase in security problems were bound to multiply locals’ grievances, thereby making communities vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremist groups. Violent protests have on occasion broken out over grievances in local mining communities in Ghana.18

Impact on Women

The majority of women in Ghana’s small-scale mining communities work on cocoa farms under abysmal conditions. Many supplement their meagre farming incomes by working in illegal mines. Often, women force their children to work in the mines to help supplement the family income.19 Women’s weak economic standing has made them quite dependent on galamsey, and government crackdowns on Chinese illegal mining have hit them hard.20 Although the government has acknowledged women’s economic vulnerability, its efforts thus far have not been directed toward reducing women’s dependency on illegal mining.21

The arrival of Chinese miners has also led to increased prostitution and sexual exploitation and abuse. Some women provide sexual favors to miners in exchange for money. In so doing, they expose themselves to arrest, as prostitution is illegal in Ghana. As a result, they become vulnerable to extortion and corruption. Equally worrisome is the sexual abuse of women employed by Chinese miners.22 These women, as well as their children, are discriminated against and ostracized by local communities.23

Government Responses

Prior to 2013, the Ghanaian government paid little attention to the proliferation of Chinese migrants in the small-scale mining sector. Although the government did pass the Minerals and Mining Actin 2006, the law was undermined by corrupt officials taking bribes from Chinese miners to allow them to continue mining.

When news media began reporting on galamsey issues in

2013, the government felt pressure to respond. President John Mahama established a task force made up of military personnel and other state security forces.24 The task force was instrumental in deporting over 4,500 Chinese miners and the seizure of mining equipment, but it also attempted to curtail illegal mining by Ghanaians.25 During presidential and parliamentary electoral campaigns in 2016, however, the Mahama government held back on enforcement against Ghanaians due to pressures from some communities that threatened to vote against it for attempting to stop them from working in galamsey mines.26

After Mahama’s electoral defeat, the new government under President Nana Akufo-Addo nonetheless sought to reinforce the ban on illegal mining. In 2017, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining was set up to deal with the problem.27 The new government also launched Operation Vanguard, which deployed 400 military and police officials in centers of illegal mining.28 An Alternative Livelihood and Community Mining Program is also in place to train those previously involved in small-scale mining for work in other sectors. All have failed to curb illegal mining.

Obstacles to Curbing Galamsey

The lack of government success in curbing galamsey is due to a variety of reasons, key among them are the corruption of government officials and heavy-handed crackdowns by the security forces. Other reasons include a weak judicial infrastructure and complicit local populations that directly benefit from illegal mining.

Corruption. Some task force officials and local police take bribes to “look the other way” and thus reap the benefits of illegal mining.29 Chinese miners boast about their “good working relationships” with local police. Indeed, Chinese miners who are caught and detained are usually let go after they pay fines and are thus free to resume their illegal activities. The lack of law enforcement transparency around who is arrested and released makes it difficult for civil society actors to protest or counter illegal mining. On occasion, prosecutions of Chinese miners have been halted without reasonable justification and their seized equipment returned to them.30

Weak enforcement of anti-galamsey laws and complicit officials make combating corruption particularly difficult. In January 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, which has oversight over the galamsey issue, revealed that about 500 excavators seized from illegal miners had gone missing, calling into question the vigilance of local authorities in policing the galamsey problem.31 Miners have relocated to more remote areas where authorities are less likely to discover them. This move “underground” to wait it out shows that the security forces’ vigilance waxes and wanes, making efforts to combat illegal mining inconsistent and, therefore, ineffective.32

Violence. Crackdowns by security forces have led to violence without effectively containing illegal mining. Both the Ghanaian and the Chinese communities have suffered the repercussions of this violence. Children and minors have been targets of violent raids. A 16-year-old Chinese boy was shot while fleeing a crackdown by Ghanaian forces.33 Families in China worry about family members who have been targeted in crackdown operations, as they receive no communication from Ghanaian authorities when their children or siblings are jailed or killed.34

Some aggrievedlocal authorities have incited young Ghanaians from the mining communities to engage in violence. In April 2020, a group of youth in eastern Ghana, with the support of a local assembly, set ablaze mining equipment belonging to Chinese miners and put the lives of many community members at risk.35

The ineffectiveness of government efforts has angered many local residents. In October 2016, some residents in Western Ghana violently demonstrated against Chinese miners, vandalizing government buildings and other infrastructure.36

Because miners carry cutlasses, shovels, and other mining equipment as weapons, they have been ready to attack at the slightest misunderstandings with communities or law enforcement officials, increasing the violence of attacks. Illegal miners have also armed themselves to protest closures of some illegal pits, causing panic and insecurity.37

Weak Judiciary. Those arrested on galamsey charges typically face minimal consequences. Beyond the problem of bribery, the legal and judicial process is slow. Thus many who are arrested post bail and quickly return to the field.38

Local Complicity. Galamsey provides ready income for many local people, much more than what farming offers or even compared with the government’s initiative on alternative livelihoods.39 Thus some individuals would rather sell land for galamsey, work in galamsey fields, or protect perpetrators by failing to report their activities. In some cases, community members clash directly with security forces seeking to prevent galamsey.40 Chiefs and family heads and custodians of communal and family lands in Ghana have seen large plots of land go to the highest bidder: foreign miners with no interest in sustainable mining to preserve the environment for future generations.41

In sum, illegal mining has not ceased despite some government efforts. Miners have become more likely to conceal their activities, however, making it more difficult for authorities to curb their activities or find other solutions.42 Ghanaian communities, meanwhile, have become more dependent on illegal mining, exposing them to violence and destitution.

The Role of Civil Society

CSOs can play an important role in curbing the proliferation of illegal Chinese mining activities in Ghana and alleviating its negative impacts on communities. CSOs have the standing to reach both the government and the people and can strategically position themselves as mediators.

Local civil society groups have been instrumental in pressuring the Ghanaian government to take action on illegal mining.43 Ghanaian CSOs have publicized the impact of galamsey on the environment and community security. They have worked to rehabilitate mined-out or degraded lands, and they have provided legal aid to those affected in galamsey communities while holding the government to its promises to curb galamsey.44

One such CSO, the Media Coalition against Galamsey, has been pressuring the Akufo-Addo government to take action. To promote reforestation and rejuvenation of galamsey sites, the nongovernmental organization Partners of Nature Africa initiated a project to plant rubber-tree seedlings on degraded land at a mining site at Peminanse in the Asiwa District of the Ashanti region.45 CSO Tropenbos Ghana has been helping local communities rehabilitate mined-out lands and teaching them to integrate good farming and settlement practices around the mining sites.46 The Centre for Public Interest Law provides courtroom representation and other legal services to those affected by mining operations and to those contending that the government or illegal mining operators encroached on their rights.47


Despite the meaningful work CSOs have been doing to curb and mitigate the effects of illegal small-scale mining, there is more to do: involve the affected communities in awareness raising, dialogue with the government and international community, create attractive alternative employment opportunities, and provide safe places for those who are physically or mentally abused. Moreover, the international community and the Ghanaian and Chinese governments should vigorously support the activities of CSOs.

Raising Awareness.One of the most important roles civil society can and should continue to play is to raise awareness regarding issues related to illegal mining. CSOs can raise awareness about environmental and security issues that may discourage local people from engaging in illegal mining. They can convene hearings and meetings for local people and government, including law enforcement officials, where all parties can raise issues and work toward resolving them. NGOs can appoint community mobilizers to talk to people, record their complaints, and present the results to government officials.

Dialogue with the Government and Local Officials. It is imperative that CSOs in Ghana engage the government in sustained dialogue on mitigating illegal mining. It is only through proper communication that people in affected communities will be able to understand the government’s perspective. While it may be difficult to prevent officials from taking bribes or becoming involved in corrupt activities, CSOs can highlight the corruption that does come to light and encourage transparency and accountability.

CSOs should increase efforts to engage local governments. Local officials are directly involved in the communities and sometimes facilitate illegal activities for profit. Engaging local government officials—and appealing for central government and law enforcement intervention where necessary—will increase accountability and transparency.

Programs to Develop Alternative Employment Opportunities. Civil societies can work with the local and central government officials to develop other opportunities for those who have lost their livelihoods due to illegal mining. Local and international NGOs working in Ghana should continue to offer skill-building training programs. It should prioritize women and men from marginalized backgrounds, female and single-headed households, people with disabilities, and others who may have a harder time coping with the loss of livelihood. These programs could help discourage criminal or extremist activity.

CSOs that advance alternative employment opportunities in Ghana’s mining regions may also be able to prevent or reduce violence. Targeting female-headed households for alternate employment programs will help reduce the burden on women who are forced to work long hours in mining while also caring for children. Accountability and transparency mechanisms and other initiatives should supplement these efforts, and CSOs are in a key position to establish them.

Safe Houses. CSOs, including religious groups, should establish safe houses for survivors of assault, rape, or other gender-based violence. These organizations must also connect survivors of violence to appropriate services such as hospitals, counseling, police, and lawyers.

Transnational Advocacy.CSOs have immense potential to build transnational and regional advocacy networks. CSOs in Ghana should ally with CSOs elsewhere to jointly pressure their respective governments to resolve problems stemming from illegal mining. Civil societies can also press countries to take the matter to the United Nations, which can encourage the international community to devise solutions.48 For example, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation have supported CSO efforts to rehabilitate mined-out lands, providing resources for rehabilitation projects in galamsey areas.49


This policy brief proposes peaceful means for curbing Chinese galamsey in Ghana through greater reliance on CSOs. Forceful curbing of galamsey will only lead to more violence and abrupt loss of livelihoods. Grievances will increase, aggravating the challenges communities already face.

The government’s ban on illegal mining and violent crackdowns are compounding the problem while failing to tackle it systematically. The problem of Chinese illegal mining in Ghana is both serious and complicated. It secures livelihoods for some and destroys it for others. It creates dependencies, incites violence, reduces security, and severely depletes natural resources. By bringing together all stakeholders—the local mining communities, the Ghanaian government, and international actors—we believe mobilizing CSOs will help Ghanaian communities address the problem holistically.


  1. Fernando Aragon and Juan Pablo Rud, “Gold Mining and Living Standards in Ghanaian Households” (International Growth Center, January 2011–March 2012).
  2. Gordon Crawford et al., “The Impact of Chinese Involvement in

Small-Scale Gold Mining in Ghana,” E-33110-GHA-1 (International

Growth Center, May 2015); Gabriel Botchwey and Gordon Crawford, “Lifting the Lid on Ghana’s Illegal Small-Scale Mining Problem,”  The Conversation (September 25, 2019).

  • Botchwey and Crawford, “Lifting the Lid”; Jeremy Luedi,  “Galamsey in Ghana and China’s Illegal Gold Rush” (Asia by Africa, January 16, 2019).
  • “Ghana: Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Formalization,”Project Information Document, Report No: PIDISDSC25363 (Washington, DC: World Bank, January 23, 2019).
  • Gavin Hilson, “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and Agriculture: Exploring Their Links in Rural sub-Saharan Africa,” Issue Paper (London: International Institute for Environment and Development, March 2016).
  • Government of Ghana, “Minerals and Mining Policy of Ghana—Ensuring Mining Contributes to Sustainable Development” (November 2014),
  • Gavin Hilson and Abigail Hilson, “Entrepreneurship, Poverty and Sustainability: Critical Reflections on the Formalization of Small-Scale Mining in Ghana” (International Growth Center, April 10, 2015).
  • Gabriel Botchwey et al., “South‐South Irregular Migration: The Impacts of China’s Informal Gold Rush in Ghana,” International Migration Vol. 57, No. 4 (2019), pp. 310–28; Botchwey and Crawford, “Lifting the Lid.”
  • Luedi, “Galamsey in Ghana.”
  • Minerals and Mining Act in Ghana (2006), https:// Mining%20Act%20703%20Ghana.pdf; Gordon Crawford and Gabriel

Botchwey, “Conflict, Collusion and Corruption in Small-Scale Gold Mining: Chinese Miners and the State in Ghana,” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, Vol. 55, No. 4 (2017), pp. 444–70.

  1. “House Rent for Only Chinese,” My Joy Online (June 25, 2013).
  2. Hilson and Hilson, “Entrepreneurship, Poverty and Sustainability.”
  3. Crawford and Botchwey, “Conflict, Collusion and Corruption”; Stanley Martey, “Mud Instead of Clean Water!!! How GWCL Is Struggling Due to Galamsey Canker,” Peace FM Online News (June 8, 2019).
  4. Juliane Kippenbery, “Mercury, Ghana’s Poisonous Problem,” Graphic Online (October 10, 2014); Aboka Yaw et al., “Review of Environment and Health Impacts of Mining in Ghana,” Journal of Health and Pollution Vol. 8, No.1 (2018), pp. 43–42.
  5. Jeremy Luedi, “Chinese Galamsey and the Illegal Allure of Ghana’s Gold Rush (Part 1),” The Daily Statesman (October 2, 2019).
  6. “Chinese National Arrested for Selling Guns,” Graphic Online (November 1, 2016).
  7. Edward Burrows and Lucia Bird, “Gold, Guns, and China: Ghana’s Fight to End Galamsey,” (Geneva: Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime, May 30, 2017).
  8. “Police Storm Community as Angry Youth Burn Mining Equipment in Eastern Region,” GhanaWeb (April 12, 2020). Many policymakers and academics have argued that young unemployed people are prime recruitment targets for insurgent and terrorist groups. See Guy Lamb et al., “Rumors of Peace, Whispers of War: Assessment of the Reintegration of Ex Combatants into Civilian Life in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo,” Working Paper (Washington,

DC: World Bank, 2012); Jairo Munive and Finn Stepputat, “Rethinking Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs,” Stability: International Journal of Security and Development Vol. 4, No. 1 (2015). Studies have established significant connections between unemployment amongst youths and attraction to terrorism activities in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan region. See Aniruddha Bagchi and Jomon A. Paul, “Youth Unemployment and Terrorism in the MENAP (Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) Region,” Socio-Economic Planning Sciences Vol. 64 (2018), pp. 9–20.

  1. Report of the UN Secretary-General on Social Analysis of Ghana’s Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector (2016).
  2. Tara Rava Zolnikov, “Effects of the Government’s Ban in Ghana on Women in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining,” Resources Policy Vol. 65, No. 101561 (March 2020).
  3. Sofia Christensen, “Ghana Just Scratching Surface of Illegal Gold

Mining,” VOA News (May 27, 2019); Stephanie Barrientos, “Women in

Cocoa Production: Where Is the Gender Equity?” The Guardian (March 8, 2013); Roy Maconachie and Elizabeth Fortin, “On Ghana’s Cocoa Farms, Fairtrade Is Not Yet Working for Women,” The Guardian (March 11, 2016).

  • “Illegal Mining in Ghana Will Create Risk to Social Stability,”  Mining Review Africa (May 28, 2018).
  • Jonas Nyabor, “Ghana’s ‘Galamsey Kids’: Children Left Behind by Chinese Miners,” Citi Newsroom (April 16, 2018).
  • Gordon Crawford et al., “The Impact of Chinese Involvement in Small-Scale Gold Mining in Ghana” (International Growth Center,  Dec. 1, 2013).
  • Afua Hirsch, “Ghana Deports Thousands in Crackdown on Illegal Chinese Goldminers,” The Guardian (July 15, 2013).
  • “Galamseyers Will ‘Fight to Death’—Aning,” Ghana Web (October 20, 2016); Abdulai Abdul-Gafaru, “The Galamsey Menace in Ghana: A Political Problem Requiring Political Solutions?” Policy BriefNo. 5 (University of Ghana Business School, June 2017).
  • “Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining to be Dissolved

Soon,” Modern Ghana (July 7, 2020). See also Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation, “Government Outlines Measures to Lift Small-Scale Mining,” press release(Accra: GNA, August 2018).

  • Dominic Moses Awiah, “Operation Vanguard Launched to Wipe Out Galamsey,” Graphic Online (August 1, 2017).
  • Edwin Appiah, “Operation Vanguard Soldier Allegedly ‘Pockets up to GH¢45k Biweekly’ from Illegal Miners,” Ghana Report (February 1, 2020); Burrows and Bird, “Gold, Guns, and China.”
  • “Lack of Prosecution Hindering Fight against ‘Galamsey’—Operation Vanguard,” GhanaWeb (February 4, 2020).
  • “Two Groups Question Government over Seized Galamsey Excavators,” Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (January 29, 2020).
  • Sefanam Agboli, “Excavators Are Not Mobile Phones, Find Them—Ashigbe Tells Minister,” Ghana Report (January 29, 2020).
  • “Chinese Boy, 16, Killed during Crackdown on Illegal Gold Mining in Ghana,” ABC News(October 15, 2012); “Ghana Probes Death of Illegal Chinese Gold Miner,” BBC(October 15, 2012).
  • Dan Levin, “Ghana’s Crackdown on Chinese Gold Miners Hits One Rural Area Hard,” New York Times (June 29, 2013).
  • “Police Storm Community as Angry Youth Burn Mining Equipment in Eastern Region,” GhanaWeb (April 12, 2020).
  • “Chinese Galamseyers Take Over Wassa Forests,” GhanaWeb (October 20, 2016).
  • Ishaq Akmey Alhassan, “Galamsey and the Making of a Deep

State in Ghana: Implications for National Security and Development,” Research on Humanities and Sciences Vol. 4, No. 16 (2014), pp. 47–56.

  • “Lack of Prosecution Hindering Fight,” GhanaWeb; “Operation Vanguard Ordered to Withdraw from All Illegal Mining Areas,” GhanaWeb (February 27, 2020).
  • Nathan Andrews, “Digging for Survival and/or Justice? The Drivers of Illegal Mining Activities in Western Ghana,” Africa Today 62, No. 2 (2015), pp. 3–24.
  • “Galamseyers will ‘fight to death’ ” GhanaWeb.
  • Alhassan, “Galamsey and the Making of a Deep State.”
  • James Boafo, Sebastian Angzoorokuu Paalo and Senyo Dotsey,

“Illicit Chinese Small-Scale Mining in Ghana: Beyond Institutional Weakness?” Sustainability 11, No. 21 (2019).