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Navigating Borders With Gender Dynamics

Borders are political-geographical constructs, often remnants of colonial-era demarcations that cut across social-geographical and historical heritage. The peripherality of borderlands has subjected these regions to marginalization and under-development, making communities reliant on strained pre-existing social, cultural, and economic relations. The borderlands in the Horn of Africa region are historically characterized by complex security challenges and conflicts, often involving gendered cross-border dynamics exacerbated by porous borders.

In November 2023 in Nairobi WIIS-HoA hosted a workshop dubbed Navigating Borders with Gender Dynamics which brought together five participating countries including government actors, private sector, international community and especially SWB partners across the region. The five countries represented were Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan and DRC, who came together to explore opportunities for regional cooperation in addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by women within and across borderlands.

The complexity of borders exposes both men and women to the ramifications of borderland isolation and marginalization, including conflicts, transboundary health and security challenges, violent extremism, climate change impacts like droughts and floods, and various forms of insecurity. The workshop aimed to better understand the factors which create vulnerability in the borderlands especially for women and girls and how to build their resilience.

Below is a synopsis of the challenges faced by women and their role in borderlands.


Women in the borderlands are disproportionately affected by various challenges such as food insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change. Patriarchal norms exacerbate these challenges, exposing women to elevated risks during conflict and insecurity and limiting their access to education, resources, healthcare, and employment opportunities. This results in poor resilience among women, who are further marginalized and left behind by various development projects. Other barriers to meaningful participation of women are factors such as gender inequality rooted in traditional gender norms, lack of training and skills, inadequate financial and physical resource support.

For instance, in the Horn region, women often bear the brunt of forced displacement due to conflicts, where they also have to take care of the children. They face heightened vulnerability during migrations, where they are at risk of gender-based violence and exploitation. Food insecurity disproportionately affects women, as they are primarily responsible for feeding their families and managing household food supplies. Environmental degradation and climate change further strain their capacity to provide for their families, as they rely heavily on rainfed agriculture.


Building resilience among women in the borderlands requires leveraging opportunities such as, education, dialogues, mediation, trade, community outreach, sensitization, and cultural events. Developing infrastructure to address legacies of marginalization can enhance connectivity and regional integration, helping to navigate structural challenges. For instance, during workshop the NEDI representative from the North East Development Initiative (NEDI) highlighted how through its HoA approach and cross-border support initiatives, NEDI has expanded trade between Kenya and Ethiopia at the Moyale border and supported cross-border peace agreements including the Moroto Declaration between communities along the Kenya-Uganda border, which has reduced cross-border cattle rustling, insecurity, and tensions.

Education empowers women with knowledge and skills, enhancing their ability to participate in economic activities and decision-making processes. Dialogues and mediation involving women can lead to more inclusive and sustainable peace agreements. Trade, particularly informal cross-border trade, provides women with income-generating opportunities, contributing to their economic empowerment.  

The participants were also given an example on Busia town along the kenya- Uganda border, where in a common market, both Kenyans and Ugandans trade together. This interaction has enhanced peace and unity between the two countries especially along that particular border. The NCIC’s expertise in conflict resolution and peacebuilding complemented the efforts of women discussed in the workshop. Regional integration was hailed as a transformation of borders from barriers to gateways of socio-economic development for mutual growth and cultural exchange of regional and borderland populations. Moreover, NCIC is working to promote inclusivity and cohesion among diverse communities living in borderlands, addressing issues of discrimination, promoting tolerance, and building bridges across different ethnic and cultural groups. 


During the workshop Sisters Without Borders (SWB), were able to share experience of how they undertook various activities with emphasis on borderlands, the activities which focused on peacebuilding included the innovative peace caravan and conflict mitigation. For instance, in Kenya’s conflict-hit North Eastern region, SWB developed solidarity with civil society organizations, political, religious and community leaders enhancing sustainable peace in the region. The recent one being an engagement that brought together women from two different clans to resolve inter-ethnic clashes. This initiative and others demonstrate the significant role women play. in cross-border peace and security, fostering resilience and regional development.

Involving women in harmonizing migration and formulating borderland governance policies can facilitate safer and more regulated cross-border movements, reducing the risks they face during migration. Improved service delivery in education, security, and healthcare ensures that women and their families have access to essential services, enhancing their resilience. Interventions addressing gender inequality, such as legal reforms and gender-sensitive policies, create an enabling environment for women’s empowerment.

In terms of opportunities, women in the borderlands have access to cross-border trade opportunities, peacebuilding and mediation opportunities to leverage on for an active and impactful role in peace and security. Further, cultural exchanges, creativity and innovation, and avenues for advocacy for inclusive policy reforms, are opportunities women in the borderlands may seize to promote peace and security goals. Through engaging with different people, they are able to promote a peaceful co-existence within the borders


The gathering which brought together five countries signified a collective commitment to empowering women and fostering peace and development in borderlands. As we continue to navigate the intricate borders with gender dynamics and regional cooperation, it is imperative to sustain this momentum and translate discussions into concrete actions. By leveraging knowledge, innovation, and collaboration, we create a more inclusive, resilient, and prosperous future for borderland communities across the Horn region.