Despite increasing awareness of gender issues in most aspects of conflict processes, it remains largely absent in the pre-conflict context, and the limited, speculative research that does exist suggests that the modelling and analysis of conflict early warning practices would be improved if gender-based perspectives were included. In response, this paper from International Alert and Swisspeace presents an initial framework on how to ‘engender’ conflict early warning.
The paper is divided into two parts: Part one offers a brief overview of definitions, processes and development of conflict early warning. Part two examines links between gender and early warning, and identifies areas where the integration of a gender perspective can improve existing models. By drawing on the experiences of a number of different conflicts throughout the world, a list of gender-sensitive early warning indicators are proposed for the purpose of verification and expansion. The paper concludes with a set of recommendations for future research and action, with particular emphasis on conducting empirical tests on the assumptions put forth.
Early warning and conflict prevention is still largely male dominated, and therefore male biased. However, the heightened visibility of gender-based violence, such as the deliberate use of rape and sexual assault during the conflicts of Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, has pushed the need to better understand gendered forms of violence into the consciousness of policy makers. In addition:
- Incorporating gender-sensitive indicators into information collection and subsequent analysis allows for previously overlooked signs of instability to be taken into account and concentrates early warning at a grassroots level, anticipating conflict before it spreads to high politics
- Incorporating gender analysis and perspectives into the formulation of response options ensures discriminatory policies are not perpetuated in post- conflict situations, or new found freedoms reversed
- Engendering early warning also ensures that responses at a political and humanitarian level address the vulnerabilities specific to women and men but also has far reaching benefits that go beyond the protection of vulnerable groups.
A process of positive discrimination is necessary in order to speed up gender mainstreaming and to integrate the different perspectives women can bring. However, simply pushing women into politics will not make for better early warning. Meaningful contributions to conflict prevention through gender mainstreaming will only be achieved if convincing evidence of the benefits of equality between the sexes is demonstrated. In view of the male dominance of early warning and conflict prevention there is a need to increase the numbers of women in agencies working in the field, particularly at decision making levels, who would:
- Work on committing the responding institutions to mainstream gender into their operations, to ensure that preventative mechanisms are gender- sensitive and work on achieving gender balance
- Aim to eliminate existing inequalities and build a critical mass of women who could affect and influence structural processes
- Develop working relationships between governments, large intergovernmental organisations and more decentralised organisations such as NGOs and local networks including women’s organisations
- Develop effective systems that proactively draw on micro-level, grassroots efforts involving the larger population, rather than top-down approaches that tend to focus solely on high politics.