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 Increasingly however, this perspective has been replaced by the concept of human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.
3. Tackling Gender-Based Violence in development interventions
Tackling GBV is an essential element to long-term security and is reinforced by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (2000), as well as certain elements of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995). However, despite the existence of such international laws and commitments, many states, international institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) ignore gender concerns including GBV, or attempt to work with women in limited or stereotypical ways. Many states and organisations do not recognise forced displacement and GBV as human rights violations. The tendency to treat these as cultural or private issues has made it difficult to tackle the problems. The unwillingness to recognise human rights violations coupled with poor enforcement of existing laws, blocks any real progress towards gender equality.
It is clear that gender concerns must be mainstreamed into all the structures that govern armed conflict, post-conflict reconstruction and long-term stability. Improved implementation and enforcement of existing international laws, such as UN Security Council Resolution 1325, by states and international institutions would offer increased protection, particularly for women, against human rights abuses. Focusing on gender concerns should also form a part of early warning systems. Such systems could look at, for example, the absence of measures to restrict GBV (such
as rape, abductions and abuse by security forces), and the existence of propaganda which emphasises aggressive masculinity, as potential indicators of future insecurity.
Humanitarian assistance, disarmament demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes for ex-combatants and other interventions can exacerbate gender inequality if they do not take gender roles and relations into account. Experience from Bosnia-Herzegovina also suggests states and international NGOs often overlook the potential contribution of local NGOs, particularly women’s groups, in ensuring that programmes are appropriate for the economic, political, social, cultural and religious context. Interventions by states and international NGOs wishing to address security need to involve local organisations – including women’s groups – in decision-making roles. In turn,
outreach and support for families and communities dealing with the trauma of conflict and political instability should reflect the priorities of local populations.
Coping with GBV in the context of political instability in Palestine
‘The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) is an independent Palestinian organisation that aims to contribute to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian society based on social justice and gender equality. Since it was set up in 1991, the organisation has been
working to shape a Palestinian feminist legal and human rights framework in conjunction with other human rights and women’s organisations. This is a considerable challenge given the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. WCLAC tries to address such problems
and support Palestinian women through guidance and counselling services, as well as social and legal aid for women who encounter psychological, verbal, physical or sexual violence and abuse.
We break the silence about GBV and encourage research and documentation of women’s rights violations’.
Source: Soraida Abed Hussein, 2003, ‘Promoting women’s human rights in the midst of conflict in Palestine’, Gender and Development In Brief 13, Brighton: BRIDGE/IDS
After incidences of sexual violence, women are often rejected by family or community. Despite pity for the trauma the women have suffered, society marks the victims as ‘damaged goods’. Women also have particular healthcare needs as a result of these violations. For example, they require additional nutritional and health support if they are pregnant or lactating. Food scarcity and inequalities in food distribution are exacerbated during periods of armed conflict, rendering women and girls more susceptible to malnutrition (UN 2002). The increase in the rate of HIV infection in conflict zones including in refugee camps is also a worrying trend – women face an increased risk,
and therefore need special psychological, health and social support.
3.1 Provision of services
Illness and poor health significantly reduce prospects for the long-term security and development goals for communities in crisis. Alleviating both short-term and chronic insecurity relies on the (re)establishment of basic services as well as additional targeted services to deal with the effects of GBV. Increased funding for such specialised, localised services is urgently needed. Services for women must include counselling and outreach to manage gynaecological/reproductive health concerns related to rape, forced pregnancy and sex work. Similarly, localised health and counselling services should be made available for men who become victims of physical and sexual violence.
Displacement disproportionately disadvantages women, because it often results in reduced access to resources to cope with household responsibility and increased likelihood of physical and emotional violence. Displacement also implies social exclusion and poverty, cutting people off from traditional support networks – conditions that are themselves likely to prolong insecurity. Displaced or refugee populations are at heightened risk of GBV – a fact which is exacerbated by poor health
and other welfare services and the fact that such populations may not have official legal status as displaced persons if they are internally displaced. Disruption and displacement caused by conflict may lead to greater risk of HIV infection as they cause changes in sexual behaviour, an increase in the rate of sexual abuse and to decreased access to blood screening facilities. Studies conducted in Rwanda and Sierra Leone found sexual favours were often demanded in exchange for food, which led to an increase in the number of women’s sexual partners.
3.3 Peacekeeping forces
Peacekeeping is often undertaken in what might be widely viewed as a ‘post-conflict’ period,
enforcing any agreement reached between warring sides and ‘protecting’ civilians from further
violence. There is, however, growing evidence to show that peacekeeping forces contribute to the breakdown of family units and exacerbate gender inequality through GBV in the form of forced slavery, abduction and rape, which often remains hidden due to social norms. As the following quotation demonstrates, the arrival of ‘peacekeepers’ may cause new types of social upheaval,
thus potentially limiting prospects for longer-term reconciliation and community rebuilding that would contribute to security.
Acts of GBV committed by peacekeeping forces – the case of Kosovo
’In the second half of 1999, 40,000 KFOR troops were deployed and hundreds of UNMIK
personnel arrived in Kosovo along with staff from more than 250 international NGOs. Within
months of KFOR’s arrival, brothels were reported around the military bases occupied by international peace-keepers. Kosovo soon became a major destination country for women
trafficked into forced prostitution. A small-scale local market for prostitution was transformed
into a large-scale industry based on trafficking predominantly run by organized criminal
Source: Amnesty International, 2004, ‘Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro) "So does it mean that we
have the rights?" Protecting the human rights of women and girls trafficked for forced prostitution in Kosovo, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGEUR700102004?open&of=ENG-YUG
Training in identifying and addressing local gendered concerns is crucial for everyone involved, including women, in post-conflict reconstruction. Peacekeepers in particular need gender training to establish trust with local communities. There is also a need for improved reporting and policing mechanisms to address both the threat and the occurrence of GBV associated with all those charged with protecting post-conflict areas.
3.4 Long-term security
Regardless of whether interventions are understood as ‘technical’ or ‘social’, long-term security
measures that ignore gender power imbalances risk prolonging development processes. The absence of women in peace processes is frequently cited as an impediment to long-term conflict resolution. In fact much of the community reconciliation and rebuilding falls on the shoulders of women, either as part of social norms but also where men have been killed directly in battle leaving women and children behind to fend for themselves. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognised explicitly the vital role that women can play in the attempt to establish long-term peace and security.
Indeed, the need to promote gender equality as a strategy for long-term reconciliation, rebuilding and development was explicitly recognised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions of both Peru and South Africa, leading in the latter to support for gender equality as essential to long-term
2security being enshrined in the constitution.
2 For an overview of how gender was recognised as crucial to long-term peace and security in post-apartheid South Africa, see the Africa Policy E-Journal entry, TRC and Gender, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Statement, August 15, 1996 http://www.africaaction.org/docs96/trc9608.htm
Promoting gender-aware reconciliation processes – the case of Peru
’Between 1980 and 2000, clashes between state forces and insurgency groups in Peru resulted in
the violation of the human rights of thousands of people. The incorporation of a gender perspective into the investigations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru has formed an essential part of the work. It discredits the gender-blind belief that the human rights of women and men are
violated in similar ways with similar consequences….Recognising the importance of documenting women’s experiences, the CVR decided to establish the Gender Programme (la Línea de Género).
Its fundamental objective was to raise awareness of gender issues in the work of the Commission’s interviewers and the rest of its officials, in order to ensure a gender perspective would be present across all its work’.
Source: Julissa Mantilla, 2003, ‘Gender in Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, Gender
and Development In Brief 13, Brighton: BRIDGE: IDS
Promoting greater understanding in reconciliation and development processes of gender equality will also provide men with the resources to cope better with the upheaval in gender relations that invariably accompanies conflict. Without this understanding, reconciliation and long-term security may be threatened by cycles of violence.
In fact, the upheaval of armed conflict and political instability can create opportunities at the national or regional level to establish more gender-sensitive political and legal structures. The establishment of government bodies such as the Ministry of Gender and Women in Development (MIGEPROFE) in Rwanda and the Gender Affairs Unit in East Timor has ensured gender concerns are incorporated into all political and legal institutions. In East Timor, a Vulnerable People’s Unit staffed by women was set up in the capital Dili by the UN’s civilian police to handle cases of GBV, with district units across the country.
; Strategies for gender mainstreaming must be put in place in all structures that govern armed
conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, long term stability and early warning systems. ; Gender policies and strategies require resources and government commitment/political will.
Funding given to institutions must be contingent on their commitment to protecting women. ; The implementation of existing international laws such as UN Security Council Resolution
1325 must be promoted and supported.
; Measures which understand the nature and causes of GBV in such scenarios should take
steps to address GBV through provision of services and welfare, security for displaced
populations and monitoring the role and activities of peacekeeping forces. Interventions
must address the effects of violence through provision of shelters and education – but also
address the root causes such as aggressive masculinity and peacekeeping forces as
; Reforms are needed to political and legal systems including judicial, legal, police, penal and
military reform so they promote the rule of law and an end to human rights violations and
systematic discrimination which address long-term security goals. These must reflect a
gender perspective and tackle GBV including the need for targeted legislation on GBV. ; Women must be involved in institutional reform and capacity building.
; Training in identifying and addressing local gender concerns including GBV is needed for all
those involved in interventions such as humanitarian assistance, post conflict reconstruction,
peacekeeping and long-term security.
; The re-establishment of basic services must include provision of particular healthcare,
psychological and social support and education services which deal with the rise in GBV at
times of insecurity.
; Strategies to address HIV/AIDS need to take into account social and political circumstances
in which infection occurs, including its relationship to GBV which may affect how and when
people access services.
; Understanding family and domestic relationships and what type of intervention is culturally
and socially appropriate for women. This means consulting with the communities concerned
over outreach support and other services to ensure that such interventions reflect the
priorities of local populations.
; Alliances are needed with and between women’s and other civil society organisations. The
involvement of such organisations and networks can ensure programmes are context
specific and culturally sensitive.
; Promoting greater understanding and support for the need to tackle GBV can be undertaken
in the context of reconciliation processes. This can be achieved through the research and
documentation of GBV and other human rights abuses followed by the establishment of
good awareness-raising and communication processes.
Amnesty International, 2004, 'Stop Violence Against Women Press Pack':
Amnesty International, 2004, ‘Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro) "So does it mean that we have the rights?" Protecting the human rights of women and girls trafficked for forced prostitution in Kosovo, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGEUR700102004?open&of=ENG-YUG
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