Gender analysis often fails to acknowledge that men also possess gender identities: the term gender encompasses social, cultural and economic considerations and (changing) power dynamics between and among men and women. This brief highlights that taking a more inclusive view of gender roles in conflict, and recognising that these roles are dynamic, can lead to more informed research strategies and more productive policy interventions.
Gender analysis is now widely recognised in international and national arenas as an integral component of effective and sustainable peacebuilding efforts. However, ‘gender’ is often used as another term for ‘women’. Expanding the scope of gender analysis to include masculinity issues acknowledges that gender roles are relational, dynamic and often change during conflict. For example, men may lose their traditional roles as providers, and women may become combatants in armed groups and may directly participate in sexual violence.
Membership in an armed group involves individual identity formation, and may also involve various norms about sexual violence that are inculcated by the armed group’s commanders. The policies of the armed group, relayed through the command structure, can replace or reinforce norms about violence held by individual combatants. However, gender-based violence is not limited to the conflict period, nor only committed by active duty combatants:
- In the post-conflict period, damaged social and economic systems may contribute to the disempowerment of men seeking to return to traditional or customary roles – as provider, for example. Coupled with the enduring impacts of trauma, the threat of emasculation can result in high levels of violence in the household.
- The rapid change in gender norms caused by conflict may provide women with new economic opportunities, especially as heads of household.
- However, once the protection of social and cultural norms is removed, particularly in displacement settings, women may also be subjected to heightened violence.
- Sexual- and gender-based violence during conflict can perhaps best be viewed as a point along a continuum.
Expanding the gender lens to encompass more inclusive research and policy does not come at the expense of women. Rather, as the evidence base grows, strategies can be better tailored to reflect the reality of shifting norms and roles for men and women in conflict zones. In addition:
- To effectively combat instances of extreme gender violence, a more nuanced understanding is needed of the actors involved.
- Examining the motivations and belief systems of armed combatants can provide insight into the origins of sexual- and gender-based violence in conflict.
- Within armed groups, understanding the command structure and individual actors’ motivations and beliefs can indicate possible intervention points.
- In the post-conflict period, programmes that focus on women’s economic empowerment must increase surrounding protections to reduce their vulnerability, including safe spaces to conduct business and the ability to exert some control over the business and income generated.
- Providing concrete and participatory economic opportunities for disempowered young men may bestow greater benefit on young women.
- The various roles men experience during conflict must also be addressed. More attention needs to be paid to the experiences of male relatives witnessing sexual violence against a wife, mother or child, and to male victims of sexual violence.
- Efforts to capitalise on men’s potential to assist in preventing sexual- and gender-based violence might include the establishment of male leadership programmes in conflict zones.