Security and Gender-Based Violence – What is
1the significance for development interventions?
Lata Narayanaswamy and Charlie Sever
; Security means more than ‘national security’ and can include personal safety and freedom
from violence at any time or in any context.
; Insecurity has different effects on women and men as a result of gender roles, relationships
; Gender-based violence (GBV) increases at times of social and political instability and
understanding GBV is therefore crucial to understanding the ways in which security issues
are different for men and women.
; GBV is used as a deliberate strategy of war by opposing forces.
; GBV also increases within people’s own communities including in the home, due to
increases in tension and escalation in violence more broadly.
; Displacement also leads to heightened risk of GBV due to tensions, poor welfare services
and the breakdown of social networks.
; Peacekeeping forces contribute to GBV in the form of forced slavery, abduction and rape. ; GBV causes a range of physical and psychological effects including rejection by family or
community and increases in HIV infection.
; Progress towards gender equality is significantly impeded by the failure to recognise GBV
as a human rights violation and/or to enforce laws which prevent it.
; The absence of women in peace processes is a significant barrier to long term security.
Their involvement in reconciliation can in fact promote more effective rebuilding and
; Reconstruction efforts following conflict and instability can create opportunities at the
national or regional level to establish more gender-sensitive political and legal structures.
1. What is the relationship between gender and security?
Understandings of security have historically been ‘states-based [and] militaristic’ (Hillyard and
Ward, 2004: 1). Increasingly however, this perspective has been replaced by the concept of human
and personal security which is now being seen as key to development. The UN defines human security as it relates to the safety of people (particularly disadvantaged people) from ‘such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression . . . [and] from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in jobs or in communities’ (UNDP 1994: 23). The human
security approach is based on the assumption that all people ‘have basic human rights and should
1 This document was prepared for DFID using one day of BRIDGE client helpdesk research time. November 2004.
enjoy these rights regardless of who and where they are’ (ibid). Security therefore refers not only to
war and violent conflict, but also to political instability, the rise of fundamentalisms, ethnic or communal divisions and other types of upheavals such as natural disasters, as well as those chronic threats to people’s security such as poverty, malnutrition and ill-health. It also means
therefore that notions of promoting security are broadened to encompass both macro social, political and economic security and micro-level concerns such as ensuring access to food, water, shelter, sanitation and basic education.
This more holistic view of security is closely linked to a gendered interpretation of what constitutes ‘security’. Insecurity may have different effects on women and men, boys and girls due to their gender roles, relations and inequalities. Women’s role caring for the household means their burden
increases in the case of deprivation, trauma and ill-health among family members (Jolly, 2004). Insecurity can, on the one hand, intensify existing inequalities – for example security concerns may
restrict women’s mobility. At times of insecurity, women’s movements and solidarity may fragment as previous alliances are torn apart by political or ethnic divisions. Women may have to cope with the shift in gender relations due to the fact that as men – whose more public, visible roles leave
them open to persecution – may disappear and/or become victims in combat. In their absence, the survival of the family becomes dependent on women and women begin to take on functions in the public sphere. Crises can also therefore create opportunities for potentially positive shifts in gender roles.
This overview will look at how understanding security in terms of dangers faced by individuals both inside and outside their households and not just (usually male) combatants at times of ‘national
conflict’ can help to understand the insecurities faced by women in their daily lives – and in
particular the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) which is increasingly understood as undermining fundamental notions of human security and as a destabilising force in society.
2. Understanding the linkages between gender-based violence and security
The term gender-based violence is used to refer to any violence that is directed at a person because of their gender. Violence against women is its most common form, however it must be noted that men also suffer from GBV. Women are often seen as the ‘carriers’ of national and
cultural identities which puts them at increased risk of GBV at times of conflict and political instability for a number of reasons. There is growing evidence to suggest that GBV increases at times of social and political instability, either because men feel helpless to protect families and communities which leads to violence, or where men feel that GBV inflicted on ‘their women’ at the
hands of the ‘enemy’ has dishonoured the family. This in turn leads to the infliction of further
violence or abandonment of women to preserve family honour or as punishment. Often government institutions are unable to counteract such practices at times of instability and lawlessness and a climate of violence and militarisation can have impacts on the entire society’s ways of resolving disputes and conducting public and private relationships.
HIV infection is increasing in conflict and post-conflict areas. Many conflicts are raging in areas where HIV infection is already very high and such infection rates are exacerbated by GBV. HIV infection is often considered to be primarily a medical issue that is not a priority in conflict and its links to unstable social, economic and political circumstances can be overlooked. Both women and men are unlikely to talk openly about their concerns due to social stigma and there is consequently an even greater need to reach out to those affected. This is particularly the case with women, who are typically unable to access medical services.
GBV, including rape and forced pregnancy, forced sex work and sexual slavery, is increasingly identified as a deliberate strategy of war that is meant to inflict psychological and social harm, resulting in cycles of violence, both within and outside the home. The perpetrators can be ‘peacekeepers’, police or occupying forces. There are also implications of the rise in the use of
small arms and light weapons since the widespread ownership of guns has meant that sexual abuse is now far more likely to be experienced at gun-point in many countries.
Gender-based violence in conflict situations – some statistics
- Trafficking of women and girls was reported in 85% of the conflict zones (Save the Children
- In the Democratic Republic of Congo 5,000 cases of rape, corresponding to an average of 40 a day, were recorded in the Uvira area by women associations since October 2002 (UN 2003).
- In Rwanda between 250,000 and 500,000 women, or about 20% of women, were raped during
the 1994 genocide (International Red Cross report, 2002).
- In Sierra Leone 94 per cent of displaced households surveyed had experienced sexual assaults, including rape, torture and sexual slavery (Physicians for Human Rights, 2002).
- In Iraq at least 400 women and girls as young as eight were reported to have been raped in Baghdad during or after the war, since April 2003 (Human Rights Watch Survey, 2003).
- Every 14 days a Colombian woman is a victim of forced "disappearance" according to a 2001
report by the Women and Armed Conflict Work Table (UNIFEM 2001).
- In Bosnia and Herzegovina 20,000 - 50,000 women were raped during five months of conflict in
1992. (IWTC, Women's GlobalNet #212. 23rd October 2002).
- In some villages in Kosovo, 30%-50% of women of child bearing age were raped by Serbian
forces (Amnesty International, 27 May 1999).
Source: Amnesty International, 2004, 'Stop Violence Against Women Press Pack':
Although conflict and instability are largely experienced in public, the effects of the violence also appear in the private sphere. Increased tension and reduced communication among family members can arise due to the stress and depression experienced during the crisis. This is particularly the case amongst men who feel helpless because they are unable to protect their homes, families and communities. Women may be less likely than men to take out their frustrations on other family members because they tend to draw more on social support networks and are often more willing to talk about and share the burden of the problems they face.
Men are undeniably the primary perpetrators of violence, but may themselves be victims of GBV, such as rape, torture or imprisonment if they resist violence or conscription. Men also suffer gender-based violence and can be targeted if they are pacifists, gay or do not conform to aggressive male stereotypes.