What is gender?

The term ‘gender’ is often used interchangeably with ‘women’. However, gender refers to women and men, and the relations between them (UN OSAGI, 2001). Gender sensitivity ‘does not simply mean including women and girls into existing processes but also reassessing any given process with a view to understanding how it affects and is affected by existing gender roles and norms’. This entails considering how ‘activities impact on and are influenced by women, men, girls, and boys’ (SW, 2013, p. 2).

Why is a gender perspective important?

Applying a gender perspective can lead to a broadening of the issues that are considered relevant to safety, security and justice. This is because the safety, security and justice needs, interests and priorities of women, men, girls and boys are different in any given context, and the differences are more pronounced in fragile and conflict-affected environments due to high levels of insecurity (Mobekk, 2010). These differences reflect the fact that women are often more vulnerable to instances of sexual violence, gang violence, robbery, abduction, and honour killings, among other forms of insecurity (Bastick & Whitman, 2013, p. 4).

Women often have less access to justice than men. They face discriminatory societal norms, inadequate rights promotion and/or enforcement, and a lack of funds to seek justice or protection services. Incidents of insecurity and injustice, such as domestic violence, are likely to occur in private, and unequal power relations mean that men frequently mediate women’s access to security and justice providers (Douglas, 2007; Roseveare, 2013).

According to Douglas (2007), key areas in which women are marginalised from the justice process include family law, property and inheritance, and gender-based violence (GBV). In family law, legal discrepancies that prevent women from entering and leaving marriages and inheriting property, questions of paternity, and unequal child custody rights are particularly harmful. Discrimination against women in family law and property law reinforce each other, and can reduce women’s economic and physical security. For example, women may not be able to escape domestic violence. This can reduce the health and welfare of the household as a whole (Douglas, 2007, pp. 12-13).

Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG)

Addressing violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a crucial element of security and justice programming. Many forms of VAWG are not recognised as crimes, or are seen as a private matter by security and justice providers such as the police or the judiciary (Mobekk, 2010, p. 289).

There are particular challenges related to preventing and responding to VAWG in fragile and conflict-affected environments. Denney and Domingo (2013) note that VAWG can increase post-conflict through the availability of weapons, men’s reaction to loss of power, high levels of youth unemployment, and the legacy of conflict-related violence. The destruction of infrastructure makes many women and girls more vulnerable and increases the difficulty of providing services to survivors of VAWG. The displacement of communities and loss of social networks can contribute to an increase in tolerance of VAWG (Barnes, 2007).

Legal pluralism adds further complexity, because discriminatory practices exist at all levels of security and justice provision. In many contexts, criminal cases are primarily handled by non-state actors who are often governed by discriminatory norms and who may not be receptive to women’s concerns or may even abuse their rights (Mobekk, 2010), but state institutions may also exhibit high levels of tolerance for VAWG. Donor support that focuses on state institutions is unlikely to have much impact for women who live in areas with limited state presence (Denney & Domingo, 2013; DFID, 2012a).

Gender-based violence (GBV)

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a form of violence related to gender differences and inequalities. It affects women, girls, men and boys, one example being rape, and is linked to issues of power and gender identity. In many cases, women and girls are the majority victims. However, some forms of GBV affect men and boys more than women and girls, such as gun-related violence, and they may face greater barriers in reporting it and seeking justice. The active involvement of women and men is important in preventing GBV (Valasek, 2008; OECD-DAC, 2009).

What contribution can a gender perspective make to programming?

A gender perspective can help to ensure that the safety, security and justice needs of women and girls are given equal weight to those of men and boys (OECD-DAC, 2009). This contributes to a number of further programmatic outcomes:

  • Local ownership: Women’s organisations can help connect policy makers with the concerns of women and girls, and help ensure that security and justice provision is locally designed, managed and implemented (Valasek, 2008, p. 6).
  • Service delivery: Women are under-represented in security and justice institutions (Douglas, 2007). Increased female participation is necessary to create more representative institutions which, if they are more responsive to a diversity of safety, security and justice needs, increase trust and legitimacy (Mobekk, 2010).
  • Operational benefits: Women’s participation in security and justice provision can help make services more accessible to other women. For example, survivors of VAWG may feel more comfortable dealing with female police investigators, lawyers and judges (Douglas, 2007).
  • Oversight and accountability: Ensuring that oversight bodies (including parliaments, the executive and the judiciary) are representative increases their responsiveness to different needs and increases legitimacy and trust in state institutions (Luciak, 2008). Women’s organisations can also play important roles in monitoring, oversight and holding providers to account (Barnes & Albrecht, 2008).
  • Barnes, K. (2007). Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Sierra Leone: Mapping Challenges, Responses and Future Entry Points. London: International Alert.
    See document online
  • Barnes, K., & Albrecht, P. (2008). Civil Society Oversight of the Security Sector and Gender. In M. Bastick & K. Valasek (Eds.), Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit. Geneva: DCAF, OSCE/ODIHR, UN-INSTRAW.
    See document online
  • Bastick, M. & Whitman, T. (2013). A Women’s Guide to Security Sector Reform. Washington D.C.: The Institute for Inclusive Security and DCAF.
    See document online
  • Denney, L. & Domingo, P. (2013). A problem-focussed approach to violence against women: the political-economy of justice and security programming. London: ODI.
    See document online
  • DFID. (2012a). A Theory of Change for Tackling Violence against Women and Girls. CHASE Guidance Note Series No. 1. London: DFID.
    See document online
  • Douglas, S. (2007). Gender Equality and Justice Programming: Equitable Access to Justice for Women. UNDP Primer in Gender and Democratic Governance No.2. New York: UNDP.
    See document online
  • Luciak, I. (2008). Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector and Gender. In M. Bastick & K. Valasek (Eds.), Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit. Geneva: DCAF, OSCE/ODIHR, UN-INSTRAW.
    See document online
  • Mobekk, E. (2010). Gender, Women and Security Sector Reform. International Peacekeeping, 17(2), 278-291.
    See document online
  • OECD-DAC. (2009). Section 9: Integrating Gender Awareness and Equality. In Handbook on Security System Reform, Supporting Security and Justice. Paris: OECD.
    See document online
  • Roseveare, C. (2013). Rule of law and international development. London: DFID.
    See document online
  • SW. (2013). Advancing gender, peace and security in the new UK National Action Plan. London: Saferworld.
    See document online
  • UN OSAGI. (2001). Important concepts underlying gender mainstreaming. UN OSAGI fact sheet. New York: United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women.
    See document online
  • Valasek, K. (2008). Security Sector Reform and Gender. In M. Bastick & K. Valasek (Eds.), Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit. Geneva: DCAF, OSCE/ODIHR, UN-INSTRAW.
    See document online
  • Some donors tend to focus on ‘women, peace and security’ and VAWG. However, there are arguments in favour of shifting the focus towards a broader ‘gender, peace and security’ approach, which takes a broader gender perspective and includes issues such as violence against men and boys as part of efforts to prevent GBV. See SW (2013) for further coverage of this debate.