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Bringing rights into resilience: revealing complexities of climate risks and social conflict

This paper takes a rights-based approach to understand how cultural, political and social norms and practices influence resilience.

Jon Ensor, John Forrester, Nilufar Matin / Published on 6 August 2018

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Ensor, J. , Forrester, J. and Matin, N. (2018), Bringing rights into resilience: revealing complexities of climate risks and social conflict. Disasters. doi:10.1111/disa.12304

Photo shows women in a river fishing in East Timor Photo: Flickr/GiantPandinha (CC.BY-NC 2.0)

In East Timor, the low status of women and patriarchal norms are a particular barrier to the representation of women’s interests by women within local councils. Photo: GiantPandinha / Flickr.

While the complex nature of the linkages between the human and the natural have been recognised for more than a decade, the integration of the cultural, political, and social context into resilience remains an outstanding challenge. This paper argues that a better understanding of this complex context is essential if the challenges of environmental change and disaster risk are to be addressed adequately in conflict and post conflict settings.

Marginalisation and exclusion are expressed in social conflict and are determinative in distributing risk and resilience. This paper builds on recent literature that has adopted a human rights lens to explore how resilience practice can better account for issues of equity and power. Using the illustrative case of Timor-Leste, it presents an analysis of how human rights principles play out in the settings in which rights are given meaning.

The approach reveals the reproduction of patterns of conflict and risk, and suggests two key priorities for resilience practice: first, recognising and responding to the deep-rooted narratives and procedures that normalise inequality and marginalisation at different scales; and second, allowing for transformation towards more equitable political and social arrangements as a part of resilience practice. Augmenting resilience with rights-based thinking can situate resilience practice, such that it responds to the complexity of social arrangements, reducing risk and social conflict.

SEI would like to express our heartfelt thanks for the life and work of our colleague and friend, Neela Matin, who passed away before this manuscript was accepted.

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SEI authors

Profile picture of Jon Ensor
Jon Ensor


SEI York

John Forrester
John Forrester

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI York

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