Conflict and insecurity affect women, men, boys, girls and sexual and gender minorities differently and this shapes the dynamics of every conflict. Conflict also disrupts the social interactions of everyday life – changing the roles men and women play and how they relate to each other in society. This interaction between gender and conflict has major implications for how we should think about conflict, security and opportunities for peace.
For example, socially and politically constructed notions of masculinity and femininity can fuel insecurity and conflict. In many pastoralist communities in the East and Horn of Africa cattle raiding is a rite of passage for boys and young men – but increases conflict. The cultural practice of paying for a bride with cattle further reinforces the cycle of cattle raiding and violence. Women often reinforce this notion of masculinity by shaming men who do not take part in cattle raids or come home empty-handed.
If gender dynamics play a part in what is driving conflict, taking a gender perspective is important to fully understand a conflict and to be able to design programmes that can effectively address it.
Furthermore, the process of rebuilding states and societies in the aftermath of conflict provides important opportunities for advancing gender equality. Women in fragile and conflict-affected states face a unique set of issues and challenges, some of which are recognised in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions. These resolutions are important because they recognise the importance of women’s participation in all efforts to prevent and resolve conflict and acknowledge the particular impacts of conflict on women. They also put in place measures to address gender-based crimes, such as sexual violence in conflict, which disproportionately affect women and girls, whilst recognising that men and boys may also be victimised.
Saferworld’s approach has been to support the inclusion of women and men from a diverse range of backgrounds in decision-making and processes to address conflict and security. We also support direct action to address domestic violence, sexual violence, bride kidnapping and other forms of gender-based violence – through community security initiatives. also Increasingly, we are investing in longer-term approaches to change attitudes and behaviours, challenging understandings of masculinity and femininity both in communities affected by conflict and among policymakers and peacebuilding actors at the national and international level..
Analysing gender norms that drive conflict
Thinking about gender when analysing the factors that cause conflict and identifying opportunities for peace is vital, and yet gender perspectives are often missing from conflict analysis. In 2016, Saferworld published a toolkit for working together with community members to analyse how gender norms – societal expectations of women and men – can fuel conflict, so that these can be addressed through peacebuilding initiatives. The first edition of the toolkit was tested in Uganda, focusing on conflicts over land and extractive industries in Karamoja. We are testing the toolkit in a range of different conflict contexts, with a view to refining the tools and developing new content.
Strengthening women’s public voice in the Middle East and North Africa
In 2012 we established a regional programme on women, peace and security focusing on Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Despite playing a significant role in the 2011 Arab Spring protests, demanding greater rights and freedom, women have been frequently side-lined in transition processes and women activists continue to face safety and security concerns including being harassed and beaten. Together with local partners Saferworld worked to address these security problems and building the capacity of local networks to strengthen women’s voices during this crucial phase. More recently, we have been working to improve police responses to violence against women in Egypt, and supporting women’s participation in local-level peacebuilding initiatives in Yemen.
Introducing a masculinities perspective
Saferworld has been working at local, national and international levels to ensure that efforts to integrate gender perspectives into peacebuilding take into account understandings of masculinity, in addition to – and as part of – efforts to advance the rights of women. At the international level, Saferworld has presented research outlining how masculinities can play a role in driving conflict and why it is important to promote non-violent, gender equitable masculinity as part of peacebuilding. We deliver training to government officials and civil society organisations on masculinities and peacebuilding, and advocate for policies which include a masculinities perspective whilst not diverting attention and resources away from activities to support women in conflict situations. In Nepal, we developed a participatory learning process for engaging boys and young men in reflection on their ideas about masculinity and how they understand gender-based violence.