Gender, Women and Security Sector Reform

Eirin Mobekk


This article examines gender and SSR, outlines the challenges of adopting a gender-sensitive SSR approach, and analyses gender-based violence (GBV) and justice reform as part of SSR.

The security needs, interests and priorities of women and men in any given context are different. These differences are especially acute in post-conflict situations due to high levels of insecurity. GBV is a particular problem. However, gender has been marginalised in SSR. Policy has changed since the adoption of UN Resolution 1325, but the gap between policy and practice remains significant. Immediately post-conflict, government and donors tend to focus on train-and-equip programmes for security forces. Gender issues and justice reform are marginalised as being lower priority, more political, and difficult to do. Where gender is considered, there is a tendency towards template approaches based on increasing the representation of women in security forces to 30 per cent or above.

Gender issues need more attention because giving them consideration can help build local ownership of SSR. There are several challenges to implementing gender-sensitive SSR in post-conflict countries, however:

  • The security needs and interests of external and local actors often differ and can be irreconcilable. External actors are usually interested in transnational crime and regional stability. They set the agenda because they provide funding.
  • Gender units in peace operations have extensive mandates but are often understaffed and lack resources.
  • Poor or absent coordination among donor support to SSR leads to overlap in some areas but critical gaps in others. This problem is exacerbated by the different views and values held by various actors.
  • The willingness of the local political and security sector leadership to take gender seriously in SSR is critical: SSR cannot be imposed from outside.

Policymakers still treat gender issues as an afterthought. Instead, gender should be treated in a wider context and should not be separated from other SSR matters. Template models based on women’s representation in security forces must be avoided. Policymakers need to assess the implications for both men and women of any planned policy or action, and make women’s as well as men’s concerns an integral part of policy and programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Such gender mainstreaming requires institutional change. It is more difficult than simply promoting equal participation of women in security institutions and oversight bodies (gender balancing). Specific policy pointers include the following:

  • The link between GBV and justice reform is crucial but frequently ignored in practice. Focusing on justice reform will have positive effects on broader SSR and could alleviate GBV in post-conflict societies.
  • Engaging civil society leads to more gender-sensitive approaches, a broader definition of security and threats to security, and better oversight and transparency.
  • Vetting during the reintegration of ex-combatants into security forces decreases corruption, abuse, mistrust and lack of legitimacy and may improve gender balancing and the participation of women in the security sector.
  • External actors can serve as both positive and negative role models.


Mobekk, E., 2010, 'Gender, Women and Security Sector Reform', International Peacekeeping, vol. 17, no. 2, pp 278-291