The below article is the third installment in a three-part series. The first and second installments were published on Tuesday, April 21st and Thursday, April 23rd, respectively.
3) Shaping Security Sector Reform (SSR)
Conflict exacerbates distrust between civilians and security institutions, notably the military and the police. Reforming the security sector is critical to instilling trust and building an inclusive society, as well as preventing recurring conflicts. Women have an important opportunity to take on roles in policing and the armed forces. Research also shows that female uniformed personnel are more likely than their male counterparts to de-escalate tensions and are less likely to use excessive force.
Women’s roles and contributions to SSR
Women can foster local ownership of SSR by facilitating dialogue between the local community, policy makers, and the security sector. In post-civil war Liberia, women’s groups were successful in changing public perceptions of the military and the police, participating in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process, and recruiting women into the armed forces and police. They also made concrete policy recommendations to enhance the effectiveness and gender-responsiveness of the SSR process, including a penal reform to address the needs of men, women, and youth prisoners; trauma counseling training for security forces; and anti-corruption measures.
Women in security forces can also effectively address gender-based violence and the security needs of women and youth. Evidence from post-conflict DRC and Sierra Leone shows that female victims of sexual violence were more likely to go to a female officer than a male officer. Liberian women also contributed to the establishment of a Women and Children Protection Section within the national police in 2005. This section trained officers to handle cases of sexual and gender-based violence, leading women to feel more confident to report such crimes.
The effectiveness of gender-mainstreaming and inclusion mechanisms
While most post-conflict states have not been able to fully reach gender quotas in the security sector mandated by UN peace operations—even with such modest targets of 20 and 30 percent—quotas in security services and other gender-mainstreaming mechanisms remain promising approaches to boost women’s participation.
In Liberia, the institution of a 20 percent quota for women in police and armed forces contributed to the rise in women’s representation in the national police from 2 percent to 17 percent between 2003 and 2013. When the UN’s first all-female peacekeeping unit was deployed in Liberia in 2007, the Liberian security sector received three times more female applicants in the month following the deployment of the all-women peacekeeping unit. The establishment of this all-women unit was associated with a major decline in reported cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, from forty-seven in 2005 down to eighteen in 2009.
Similarly, in Sierra Leone, the creation of Family Support Units (FSUs) in 2001 to combat violence against women and children came with a database on reported crimes and gender-based violence, training modules on gender and human rights, and the adoption of a formal quota (30 percent) for female officers. As of 2006, women represent 16 percent of police officers and 40 percent of FSU officers.
Overcoming barriers to women’s participation in SSR
Around the world, male-dominated cultures and social attitudes that often pervade the security sector prevent women from effectively participating in SSR and achieving gender equality. In some countries there is also a lack of women trained to occupy the senior ranks of security services.
Effective strategies to enhance women’s participation in the security sector include promoting the recruitment and training of women; ensuring gender-mainstreaming in resource allocation, planning, implementation, and evaluation of SSR; and promoting local ownership to address grievances that led to conflict in the first place, such as in Liberia and Timor-Leste.
In sum, the reshaping of political, economic, and security institutions after violent conflict is a critical period for fostering sustainable peace, economic opportunity, and democratic governance. It is also an important moment to capitalize on women’s leadership and full participation in order to realize these goals. As evidence demonstrates, from the constitution-drafting process to infrastructure rebuilding and security sector reform, women have been key players in post-conflict reconstruction in critical sectors. The effective strategies for overcoming barriers and advancing their participation shown here should be incorporated and enhanced to ensure that conflicts do not recur, that peace endures, and that futures with opportunity for all can prosper.
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Ambassador Melanne Verveer is the Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS). She also serves as the Special Representative on Gender Issues for the OSCE Chairmanship. Amb. Verveer previously served as the first US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, a position to which she was nominated by President Obama in 2009. From 2000-2008, she was the Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO that co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders. During the Clinton administration, she served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Amb. Verveer has a B.S and M.S from Georgetown University.
Agathe Christien is the 2019-2020 Hillary Rodham Clinton Research Fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. Agathe’s research at GIWPS focuses on women’s participation in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction. Her expertise also includes women and countering violent extremism, and international migration. Prior to joining GIWPS, she worked with the Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship (LIFE) Project, a food business incubator program for refugees and host communities in Turkey. She holds an M.A. in Arab studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a master’s in International Relations from Sciences Po Lyon, France.