Does gender matter in fragile states? This policy brief from the Danish Institute for International Studies looks at gender relations in conflict and post-conflict situations. It argues that gender relations often matter more in fragile state than in other states, but are all too often ignored by policymakers. While conflict affects women in different ways to men, reconstruction provides new opportunities for transforming gender relations in a positive direction.
Conflict and post-conflict situations clearly affect men and women differently, with women suffering to a much greater degree in several areas. Women are not merely victims, however, but also agents of both war and peace. Women may be directly involved in fighting or may provide other types of support for warfare. They are often active in informal peace processes, but are still often marginalised in formal negotiations. In post-conflict situations, opportunities for transforming gender relations have largely been missed, with the political space gained by women being lost and masculine domination re-emerging.
Research shows that conflict and post-conflict situations affect gender relations in particular in relation to health and education, employment and income, and violence:
- Widespread poverty and violent conflict prevent access to education and health services. Women and girls are often disproportionately affected compared to men and boys. Women are often charged with caring for the wounded during conflicts.
- High poverty levels in fragile states push more women into income-generating work and for longer hours. Conflict can leave women with the sole responsibility for supporting a household. It can also create new employment opportunities for women.
- Violence in conflict-affected fragile states is gendered. Most combatants are men, and many die or are wounded. War often sees increases in prostitution and trafficking of women, as well as sexual violence.
Based on context-specific gender analysis, policymakers should clarify gender aims in fragile states: do they intend to transform gender relations or merely improve specific conditions? They should draw up and implement national actions plans on Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Policymakers should also:
- Support health and education services during conflict, taking special measures to ensure females’ non-discriminatory access. They should challenge perceptions that women’s informal work in these areas is a ‘natural’ extension of household roles;
- Support income-generating activities for women during conflict and for both men and women during displacement and upon return. They should support childcare facilities for working women;
- Promote reforms that protect informal and formal sector workers and the non-discrimination of women, through, for example, support to labour unions;
- Establish physical protection for women during conflict and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted. They should establish counselling services and raise awareness and capacity among health staff to deal with gender-based violence;
- Target both men and women in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes, making special efforts to track down women. They should redefine ‘female combatants’ to include those servicing and dependent on male soldiers; and
- Provide support for women’s organisations to take part in formal peace processes. They should ensure that gender is thoroughly integrated into peace accords and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.