Gender, Justice, and Accountability: Atrocity Crimes and the Protection of Witnesses and Survivors

By Ana Blatnik

By Ana Blatnik

As it turns out, gender stereotyping and biases that have had a serious impact on women’s safety in the physical world now appear in our social media feeds. This may not be surprising in itself, but the severity of consequences brought about by these threats is. From the 2016 US presidential elections to a year-long Ukrainian smear campaign against a woman parliamentarian, we now have recorded examples of gendered disinformation campaigns that successfully framed public debates about politicians and, terrifyingly, influenced voters’ views. As such, this article focuses on highlighting the threat to democracy posed by online gendered disinformation campaigns targeting women politicians and explores potential solutions.

What is gendered disinformation?

To begin with, two main differing terms co-exist under the umbrella of what is colloquially known as fake news:  misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is the word used for “false information shared with no intention of causing harm.”[1] Disinformation, on the other hand, contains the intent to harm in some way.[2] Because a growing body of research shows that false information is directly used with the intent to negatively impact the person concerned, especially when it comes to gendered falsehoods, this article uses the term disinformation throughout.

Disinformation is gendered if it targets women on the basis of their identity as women.[3] Research shows at least one of two contrasting approaches is usually taken when it comes to online attacks on women politicians. First, there is the presentation of women leaders as enemies and, secondly, as victims without agency.[4] In doing so, rather than directly attacking the policy decisions women make, as is the case with male politicians, gender stereotypical characteristics (like being emotional or polite) and physical appearance are used instead to challenge female politicians.[5] Such disinformation may come in different forms, from harmful graphics to conspiracy theories. A known example of graphics usage is the case of Ukrainian parliamentarian Svitlana Zalishchuk who, following a pro-women’s rights UN speech, experienced a year-long social media disinformation campaign consisting of fabricated sexualized information and images.[6] Sadly, this is just one of many examples, with research showing that nearly 42% of women politicians have seen “extremely humiliating or sexually charged images of themselves” online.[7] A well-researched instance is the 2016 US presidential election, when Hillary Clinton was demonized through fabricated evidence of involvement in trafficking scandals and misconstrued videos about the state of her health.[8] In either case, the disinformation focused on objectification and reinforcement of gender stereotypical characteristics.

What does it mean for women?

As highlighted above, a common result of disinformation campaigns is that the female politician’s fitness to lead is undermined. An obvious consequence of such is that negative public debate surrounding her is either initiated or amplified and that the woman politician concerned will find it harder to work effectively.[9] Another devastating consequence is that women who observe these attacks happening to others may hesitate entering politics in the first place. This kind of effect has been seen in the Georgian pre-election period when several female politicians signaled their intention to run and became targets of a smear campaign filled with fabricated intimate videos.[10] One research study that interviewed over eighty women politicians and experts shows gender-based abuse and disinformation in the digital space presents a serious “barrier for women who want to engage in politics and a serious disincentive for young women to consider a political career.”[11] Therefore, the direct negative consequences for the women targeted also confirm this chain effect as a challenge for women pursuing a political career.

What does it mean for democracy?

Any disinformation campaign that targets politicians should also be of utmost concern because of its serious implications for democracy. As part of a democratic society, voters can participate in public debates as well-informed citizens and have full freedom of expression in doing so.[12] In facilitation of these rights, voters must have access to impartial, fact-based sources of information so they can form their opinions in the first place.[13] When people are disinformed, however, this is not possible, and so the democratic process is directly impeded. In many cases, this kind of influence on people’s minds can also be seen as election interference – a goal of many state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.[14] The risk of having disinformed voters can hardly be ignored when online campaigns usually target marginalized groups, such as women, and where stereotypes and biases are more often than not already present in voters and therefore easily amplified and abused.

What are the possible solutions?


When it comes to moderating information available online, there are ongoing debates about the most productive and ethical approach. The first and milder form is information regulation, where the content flagged as false is accompanied with fact-checked information.[15] Certain social media platforms have experimented with this system during Covid-19: any mention of the pandemic on the platform would include a link to a credible source of information.[16] An alternative to platform-led regulation is co-regulation, where requirements for posting of fact-checked information are mandated by legislative and regulatory bodies.[17] At the same time, however, it is important to note that some research suggests corrective techniques have questionable effectiveness because people are often “resistant to information correction.”[18] This has proven to be especially relevant when it comes to psychological biases, such as gender bias, and suggests other methods need to be considered as well.

Mandated removal of disinformation is a potential alternative in cases where the addition of fact-checked information is not deemed to be productive. In such cases, the legislative and regulatory bodies set the parameters for social media platforms or independent bodies to carry out the regulations.[19] Governments in countries like France, Germany, and Canada have attempted to adopt this approach. Their efforts range from empowering authorities, removing false information, and imposing fines on platforms for not removing the deceptive material.[20] For gendered issues specifically, however, training would also be necessary to ensure the programs and individuals responsible for spotting false information take into account the fact that gendered speech has become the norm on many platforms.[21] At the same time, this process requires clear proportionality boundaries between the impact of any piece of false information and preservation of free speech, which is subject to ongoing debate.

Awareness Raising

At the same time, the effectiveness of gendered disinformation campaigns is fully dependent on the impact it has on voters. If every person used critical thinking when engaging online, the prevalence of such campaigns would likely decrease. As such, states and social media platforms must also focus on awareness-raising and the critical involvement of informed citizens. In fact, several countries have implemented cyber education initiatives.[22] For example, Belgium has invested in projects that inform people about disinformation and include them in finding solutions.[23] The UK’s education secretary announced in 2019 that online safety, including about false information, will be taught in schools.[24] Ahead of the latest European Union elections, the Dutch government launched a social media campaign with the goal of increasing users’ awareness about false information.[25] If such initiatives reach enough people, they can become a powerful tool in ensuring that voters are equipped to spot the disinformation online when other options for correction or removal have been exhausted.

What about a gendered lens in solutions?

However, it is important to point out that these initiatives rarely include considerations of gender, despite the fact that identity-based attacks have specific working mechanisms. Given the presence of subconscious biases, many voters may already hold some of the beliefs being perpetuated by such disinformation. In a similar vein, social media platform moderators may fail to spot the disinformation because stereotypes and biases about marginalized groups have not been adequately flagged in their systems.[26] For these reasons, it is all the more important that the issue of disinformation and the potential solutions start to be analyzed through a gendered lens at the policy making level and within social media platforms.

For that to happen, raising more awareness about the unique dangers faced by women politicians online needs to occur, and more pressure must be put on social media platforms to ensure moderation mechanisms spot gendered disinformation in the first place. While the US Democratic Women’s Caucus, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and over a hundred women politicians across the world, sent a letter urging Facebook to do their part in curbing gendered disinformation campaigns already, by no means should this be a battle fought only by women politicians.[27] As this article and much of the research looking at the impact of gendered disinformation makes clear, the campaigns also infringe on voters’ rights and can have lasting impacts on democracy. As such, curbing gendered disinformation online should be everyone’s concern.

What you can do today:

  • Find fact-checking websites relevant to your region and topics of interest. For example, if interested in the European Union politics, EU Fact Check looks at the accuracy of political statements made about current issues.
  • If available, always check multiple sources on the same topic when reading the news.
  • Look into and, if possible, support organizations that recognize gendered disinformation is a problem and advocate for solutions. An example of such is the EU Disinfo Lab, which has studied and written about gendered disinformation campaigns to highlight the issue.
  • Research the ways in which you could bring up the issue to relevant authorities in your country of residence and challenge your public representatives on what they have done to address disinformation and to support women politicians who are the targets of disinformation campaigns.
  • Most importantly, continue to educate yourself about gender stereotypes and biases so you can recognize them when interacting with news about women politicians online, especially in election periods. The WIIS website has a Resources page that may be a good starting point in that regard.

The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Women In International Security or its affiliates. 


[1] Sharia Hinds, “The European Union approach to disinformation and misinformation: The case of the 2019 European Parliament elections,” University of Strasbourg (2019), 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maria Giovanna Sessa, “Misogyny and Misinformation: An analysis of gendered disinformation tactics during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disinfo Lab EU (December 4, 2020),

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lucinda Di Meco and Kristina Wilfore, “Gendered Disinformation is a a national security problem,” Brookings (March 8, 2021); Jackie Speier et al., “Democratic Women’s Caucus, Speaker Pelosi Send Letter to Facebook Demanding it Stop the Spread of Gendered Disinformation and Misogynistic Attacks Against Women Leaders,” Congresswoman Jackie Speier in letter to Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg (August 6, 2020),

[6] Jankowicz, Nina, et al. “Malign Creativity: How gender, sex and lies are weaponized against women online” Wilson Center, (January 2021),; “Gendered disinformation and what can be done to counter it,” Media Support (May 4, 2021).;

Nina Jankowicz, “HOW DISINFORMATION BECAME A NEW THREAT TO WOMEN,” World Policy (December 20, 2017),

[7] Jackie Speier et al., Democratic Women’s Caucus.

[8] Stabille, Bonnie, et al. “Sex, Lies, and Stereotypes: Gendered Implications of Fake News for Women in Politics.” Public Integrity, (2019),

[9] Lucinda Di Meco and Kristina Wilfore, Gendered Disinformation.

[10] Nina Jankowicz,  How Disinformation Became a New Threat.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Colomna, Carme, et al. “The impact of disinformation on democratic processes and human rights in the world.” European Parliament, (2021),

[13] Ibid; Sharia Hinds, The European Union approach:

“Digital Economy and Society Index 2018 Report.” European Commission (2018),

[14] Colomna, Carme, et al., The impact of disinformation.

[15] Helm, Rebecca K and Hitoshi Nasu. “Regulatory Responses to ‘Fake News’ and Freedom of Expression: Normative and Empirical Evaluation,” Human Rights Law Review, (2021),

 [16] “Keeping People Informed, Safe, and Supported on Instagram,” Instagram (March 24, 2020).; “Supporting our community through COVID-19,” TikTok (2021),

[17] Sharia Hinds, The European Union approach.

[18] Helm, Rebecca K and Hitoshi Nasu. Regulatory Responses to ‘Fake News.

[19] Sharia Hinds, The European Union approach.

[20] Helm, Rebecca K and Hitoshi Nasu, Regulatory Responses to ‘Fake News’

Sharia Hinds, The European Union approach: Melanie Ehrenkranz, “France’s President Macron Wants to Block Websites During Elections to Fight ‘Fake News’,” Gizmodo (2018),; Daniel Funke and Daniela Flamini, “A guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world. Poynter,” (n.d.).; Nagasako, Tomoko. “Global disinformation campaigns and legal challenges.” International Cybersecurity Law, (2020),; Rachel Aiello, “Feds unveil plan to tackle fake news, interference in 2019 election,” CTV News  (February 27, 2019),

[21] “Understanding the gender dimensions of disinformation,” Countering Disinformation (April 1, 2021),

[22] “Digital Economy and Society Index 2018 Report,” European Commission (2018),

“Bienvenue sur la plateforme fédérale de consultation citoyenne,” Stop Fake News (2021),; Jessica Murray, “Schools to teach pupils about perils of fake news and catfishing,” The Guardian (June 26, 2019),

[23] Stop Fake News, Bienvenue Sur La Platforme.

[24] Jesssica Murray, Schools To Teach Pupils.

[25] Rachel Aiello, Feds Unveil Plan To Tackle Fake News.

[26] Countering Disinformation, Understanding The Gender Dimensions.

[27] Jackie Speier Et Al., Democratic Women’s Caucus.

By Jeannette Gaudry Haynie and Chantal de Jonge Oudraat

As the idea that women can and should play pivotal roles in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) gains greater traction, decision makers and scholars must keep striving

toward a more nuanced understanding of the historical, cultural, and gendered contexts that enable extremist movements and organizations to grow. Without study, research, discussion, and stronger links with local actors and scholars to gain contextual understanding, U.S. analysts and policymakers risk creating a catalog of programs and policies internationally that include and empower women but fail to stem the tide of extremism and violence. Increasing women’s empowerment and strengthening their roles in community life, peace, and security are important steps, but even these can fail or backfire without deep cultural understanding.

In June 2016, Women In International Security (WIIS) facilitated a round-table event that explored how national gender-based P/CVE policies and programs have developed. Panelists discussed flaws, missteps, and successes in program development and implementation. In October 2016, a subsequent panel built on this earlier discussion by exploring the role of gender and gender considerations among extremist organizations and regions. By developing a stronger understanding of how gender roles and norms can differ between and even within extremist groups over time, scholars and policymakers can build more effective P/CVE programs that are tailored to local cultural and social gender norms. 

As observed in our earlier policy brief, “Women, Gender, and Terrorism: Policies and Programming,” programs that optimistically target gender or women specifically as agents and actors have suffered from four main problems.1

First, prioritizing female roles in P/CVE programs potentially has both risks and benefits, but without an established understanding of historical research and practice, scholars and practitioners might fail to understand the scale and magnitude of either. Focusing on one gender—women or men—creates or reinforces the expectation that all members of a gender share a set of abilities or characteristics while ignoring the possibility that members of the other gender(s) could possess those same characteristics or abilities. If program designers build the expectation that simply including women in P/CVE programs will increase program effectiveness, they risk reinforcing gender stereotypes, recruiting women who are ill suited to the task, and alienating or neglecting men who may be uniquely suited to the work in question.

Second, program responses often do not differentiate between acts of radicalization and terrorism. Without a stronger understanding of what separates these concepts and how to address the overlaps and differences, programs can exacerbate existing tensions, as they have in some U.S. domestic programs designed to address extremism in regions that host higher numbers of Muslim immigrants. If a vulnerable individual (or community) is treated harshly or as a criminal but has not actually committed a terrorist act, treating him or her as a terrorist may harden any budding resolve. Vulnerable or radicalizing individuals and groups require a more nuanced approach than current counterterror capabilities allow.2

Third, programs often fail to recognize that including women is not a one-time silver bullet but a comprehensive policy shift that should be incorporated at every level, potentially alongside efforts to change the normalization of violence and social culture. Simply teaching a woman how to recognize the signs of growing extremism in her family or community does little if the security forces she reaches out to do not recognize her value as a human being or display respect for unconventional or more holistic means of addressing potential radicalization.

Finally, programs should seek out local actors and incorporate local programs for maximum benefit, since local practitioners will have the best contextual understanding and strongest local knowledge. Local community-based programs in Pakistan, for example, are often critically underfunded, and even those that find success are consistently at risk of folding due to lack of funding or management capacity.3

Program developers can alleviate some of these problems by learning more about the very specific contexts in which extremist organizations operate.

First, they must ask how and whether the organization uses the construct of gender to achieve its goals. Does it recruit men and women under different pretexts? Does its vision prioritize specific masculine or feminine roles? Does its vision involve a change in these roles over time or with successes toward its goals? For example, Boko Haram initially grew alongside Al Qaeda, training with Al Qaeda members before splitting from Al Qaeda around 2009. Al Qaeda does not use many female suicide bombers, since doing so would violate its precepts, but Boko Haram actively trains and employs women as suicide bombers.4 The Islamic State offers an example of the way gender roles can shift over time and as priorities and the security situation develops: until recently, Islamic State women were very active but primarily as traditional figures—fighters’ wives, for instance. However, in recent months, IS has employed women as fighters and suicide attackers in Libya, potentially an alteration of policy in the face of mounting losses.5

Second, scholars must ask how the society affected by or radicalized by an extremist organization constructs gender. Are roles traditional in nature? How do these roles differ from the gender norms of extremist organizations? How are women versus men affected similarly and differently by the conflict and violence? When norms already exist to subordinate women, as they did in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it could be easier for extremist groups to capitalize on those norms. However, in countries like Norway, right-wing extremist groups use gender equality as a norm under attack by immigrants who espouse more patriarchal norms. Groups that develop within more equal societies might also use gender norms as a recruitment tool. In sum, such groups will have to be approached differently.

Third, policymakers must assess whether the extremist organization wields influence over the surrounding or affected population, and if so, analyze the degree of that influence so that they can develop policies appropriately positioned to contest extremist influence. Have local gender norms and roles changed significantly with the advent of the extremist group? For example, IS radically changed the gender roles in local areas in a relatively short period, as did the Taliban in Afghanistan. In contrast, as Catholic men in Northern Ireland were incarcerated or otherwise removed from their homes during the Troubles, women stepped into traditionally male roles, and the Irish Republican Army and its offshoots did not specifically challenge the changing gender narrative (although the Catholic Church often did).6 Understanding this kind of influence and the depth of local impacts is critical to effective policy development.

Fourth, program staff must search for and enable local actors for peace and equality. Do such actors observe specific gender norms? What implications for local actors should be considered in any P/CVE programming? How can the international community assist local actors if they exist? If the international community can empower them in useful ways, local citizens who breach stereotypes and push back at extremism can provide deep and broad knowledge and can also be the critical means to fight extremism. These actors are also most likely to regularly face dangers and threats. Organizations like Take Back the Tech and the Ajoka Theatre Company in Pakistan are small endeavors with limited means that work quietly to counter extremist messages, but they often have limited means and operate at great personal risk.7 The need to gain contextual understanding is arguably even greater where no or few local actors exist. The international community must tread carefully to effect change in such a situation.

As the development of P/CVE programming and research about extremist organizations and their manipulation of gender norms moves forward, it will be important for gender to be operationalized and considered systematically and completely. Simply adding a female actor or gender advisor will be insufficient. Instead, successful policies and programs will be built on specific, actionable, and nuanced research on extremism and gender, will support local actors to the greatest extent possible, and will deeply reflect on what gender means in a given context, how it is constructed, and how it is and could be used to counter extremist narratives and actions in widely varied regions and cultures.

WIIS policybrief April 2017       2


1          Jeanette Gaudry Haynie and Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Women, Gender and Terrorism: Policies and Programming, WIIS Policybrief, January 2017.

2          Robert L. Mackenzie, Countering Violent Extremism in America: Policy Recommendations for the Next President, Brookings Report, 2016.

3          Hedieh Mirahmadi, Waleed Ziad, Mehreen Farooq, and Robert Lamb, “Empowering Pakistan’s Civil Society to Counter Violent Extremism,” Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 8, no. 1 (2016): 192.

4          Andrew Walker, What is Boko Haram? U.S. Institute of Peace, Special Report, 2012.

5          See also Hamoon Khelgast-Doost, Women in Jihadist Movements, WIIS Policybrief, May 2017.

6          Begona Arextaga, Shattering Silence: Women, Nationalism, and Political Subjectivity in Northern Ireland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

7          Karima Bennoune, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2015.

By Katelyn Jones and Julia Whiting

In October 2020, Chicago was headed toward an increase of at least 51 percent in the murder rate and a 52 percent increase in shootings by the end of the year, compared to

2019.1 The city’s advocates and social service providers projected that COVID-19 will also increase domestic violence, which is often referred to as the shadow pandemic.2 Researchers and policymakers are at a loss to explain the spike in homicides and gun violence in Chicago and other cities around the country, and thus cannot come up with clear suggestions on how to reduce these trends.3

Many Chicago nonprofit organizations are actively working to mitigate violence. A cursory review of prominent programs addressing gun violence in Chicago reveals that most focus their efforts on one type of actor: men, specifically cis men of color. The vast majority of these programs ignore how women are affected by and participate in violence.4

We argue that understanding the gendered dynamics of conflict helps us better understand increasing rates of violence and ways to mitigate it. A review of the data reveals that gun violence in the city is highly correlated to domestic violence, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Areas with increased rates of domestic There is a distinct lack of research examining the links between SGBV and urban gun violence in the United States generally. This absence of a gender lens for examining violence stands in stark contrast to what we have learned in conflict-affected countries around the world. Applying a women, peace and security lens to US urban violence can produce a better understanding of what factors contribute to spikes in violence in US cities and what could be done to mitigate them. As with any armed conflict, one cannot fully understand it without recognizing women’s and men’s experiences of it.6

violence also experience higher rates of gun violence.5 These trends indicate the need for more careful attention to the role of gender in the rising violence in Chicago: how and why women and men participate in violence, how and why women and men are victims of violence, and how gun violence intersects with other forms of violence—especially intimate-partner violence.

In this brief, we first justify our interpretation of Chicago’s gun violence as a form of armed conflict and explain how the women, peace, and security (WPS) lens can aid in its analysis. Second, we share results of a data analysis in which we map the prevalence and interconnectedness of domestic violence and gun violence across the city. We use domestic violence as a proxy to assess SGBV, as domestic violence measurements are the only available data that capture SGBV in Chicago. Third, we recommend shifts in data collection, research, and policies to take gendered dynamics into account and motivate more effective programming in Chicago and elsewhere.

Gun Violence as Armed Conflict

We maintain that gun violence in Chicago constitutes an armed conflict for two reasons. First, it meets the baseline intensity and organization requirements for armed conflict classification in Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II (APII) of the Geneva Conventions.7 Responses to gun violence have met the APII intensity requirement because military forces—not just police—have been deployed to mitigate and prosecute the violence.8 It has also met the organization requirement, as 61 percent of Chicago’s homicides are connected to gangs.9 Moreover, long-standing control over distinct territories, specifically neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city, is maintained by prevalent gun violence.10

Second, Chicago is described as a war zone in popular narratives. In 2009, local rapper King Louie coined the term Chiraq, equating Chicago with armed conflict in Iraq.11 The nickname gained popularity as a commentary on pervasive gun violence experienced by many communities. Chi-raq was also the title of a 2015 film adaptation of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata set on Chicago’s South Side.12 Although thearchetype of women withholding sex from men to achieve peace does not accurately represent women’s experience of gun violence in Chicago, the continued comparison of Chicago to widely acknowledged sites of armed conflict is noteworthy. These narratives elucidate how popular descriptions of Chicago as a war zone produce meaning and justify actions, including the involvement of federal forces to combat Chicago’s gun violence. 13

Recognizing gun violence in Chicago as armed conflict enables us to examine its gendered dynamics through the lens of the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda. Applying a WPS framework in our analysis means that we evaluate gun violence with special attention to the different ways men and women experience armed conflict in the city. Moreover, we examine how different experiences of gun violence are connected to other types of violence, especially SGBV.

Mapping Gun Violence and SGBV

Scholars and policymakers have yet to adequately evaluate connections between SGBV and gun violence in Chicago, despite evidence that they are related. Between 2016 and 2019, shootings in which a woman was the victim increased 13.5 percent each year.14 Police typically described these victims as connected to a “gang lifestyle,” but some were also described as victims of crimes of opportunity, armed robberies, arguments that became violent, or domestic violence. There is also evidence that SGBV is more prevalent in Chicago neighborhoods with significant rates of both crime and poverty. Between 2002 and 2016, four neighborhoods in Chicago with the highest homicide rate also had the highest sexual assault rate. For example, West Englewood reported  50 homicides and 42 sexual assaults in 2016.15

While there is a paucity of research on these dynamics in Chicago, an ever-growing body of literature examines these dynamics internationally in conflict-affected settings. For instance, societies in other parts of the world that have higher levels of gender-based violence within households have been found to be more likely to engage in violent group interactions.16 Thus SGBV can be a useful predictor of violence outside of homes, and it suggests that these dynamics likely exist outside of conventional conflict areas. The 2020 US WPS index examines women’s status along the interconnected dimensions of inclusion, justice, and security at the state level. The report found that states that do well in one of these dimensions also do well in the others and vice versa, suggesting that systems of (dis)empowerment often reinforce each other.17

To analyze the relationship between Chicago’s gun violence and SGBV systematically, we mapped and compared the prevalence of both throughout the city. In particular, we asked: Do the same areas of the city have high levels of gun violence and SGBV? Or would the two variables appeared geographically unrelated?

We used citywide data on gun violence and SGBV over the same period. For data on gun violence, we used the city of Chicago’s Data Portal, which provides data on calls to the police (excluding homicides that include identifiable data for either victim or perpetrator) from 2001 to the present. The best publicly available data source for SGBV (and the only citywide source for domestic violence data) is the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) Domestic Violence Quarterly Statistical Report, which maps average daily calls to the police by police district for domestic disturbance, domestic battery, or violation of orders of protection during January 2014–September 2014.18 This report, therefore, includes domestic violence that might not necessarily be considered SGBV—such as elder abuse—andit is limited to crimes reported to the police. Because SGBV in particular is typically underreported, the report likely undercounts incidents of SGBV.19 While using domestic violence data as a proxy for SGBV’s prevalence in Chicago is not ideal, it is the best option at present.

Using R, we entered these daily averages as a new dataset in order to compare it with CPD crime data from the Data Portal.20 We filtered the raw CPD data by month to include only 1 January–30 September 2014. Within this time frame, we tallied all gun-related calls to the police, excluding possession, sale, or registration offenses, by police district. The remaining crimes are categorized in the database as assault, battery, robbery, sexual assault, and reckless or unlawful use of a

Table 1: Average Daily Domestic Calls and Total Gun-Related Calls to Police per Chicago Police District,  January 2014-September 2014
   Average Daily
Police DistrictTotal Gun CallsDomestic Calls
          6401-500 30-39
         20                    <100                      1-9
Source: Domestic Violence Quarterly Statistical Report,  Chicago Police Crime Data

firearm. This approach was meant to isolate incidents of gun violence, which has some drawbacks. First, some crimes in the CPD database, such as aggravated vehicular hijacking, may have but did not necessarily include a gun. Second, while illegal weapons sales are not directly harming someone, they contribute to an environment of armed conflict. Third, because homicides are not included in the data, a fatal dimension of gun violence is not included. Fourth, some crimes included in our measure of gun violence could also be considered SGBV. In particular, criminal sexual assault with a gun (total count: 50) and aggravated domestic battery using a handgun (total count: 3) are both included. While it is likely that many of these crimes also count as SGBV, we cannot be sure, as we do not have detailed information about these crimes.

We sorted each district’s total gun-related calls by the  hundreds to create a categorical scale similar to the average daily domestic violence calls. Initially, we calculated each district’s daily average calls to the police regarding gun  violence to compare with the daily average calls to the police regarding domestic violence. Those averages were too small  for meaningful analysis—no district averaged more than  3 calls per day. Because of this, we opted to calculate total gun violence calls per police district instead. This suggests that, while gun violence in Chicago gets more publicity, domestic violence occurs much more frequently. Total gun calls to the police and daily average domestic violence calls per district are sorted by number of gun calls in descending order (table 1).

Table 1 and Figure 1 show that the districts with more gunrelated calls generally have more domestic violence calls. A few stand out: District 8 has the 10th highest number of

Figure 1: Police Districts with Higher Numbers of Gun Calls Tend to Have Higher Daily Rates of Domestic Violence Calls

<100                     101-200                201-300                301-400               401-500                  500+

Gun Calls

gun-related calls out of 22 districts but a relatively high average number of domestic violence-related calls. Districts 2, 5, 15, and 25 have lower daily domestic violence call averages but higher numbers of gun-related calls. Police District 7 has the highest number of gun-related calls and the highest daily average domestic violence calls to the police. This district includes West Englewood, one of four neighborhoods with the highest homicide and sexual assault rates from 2002 to 2016.21

We then created maps demarking CPD district boundaries that show ranges of gun-related calls to the police (figure 2) and daily average domestic calls (figure 3). To visualize  the relationship between gun violence and SGBV,22 we overlaid the hexcodes for the corresponding green and  blue for each district to get a combined map (figure 4).  The darker shaded districts have higher instances of both  gun violence and SGBV. These districts are concentrated on the South and West sides of the city, areas shaped by decades of racist housing and economic development policy.23  This analysis illuminates not only the interconnectedness  of gun violence and SGBV but also the critical need to address them concurrently in policies that take the city’s history into account.

Figure 2: Gun-Related Call Events to Chicago Police by District

Year to Date September 2014  

Source: Chicago City Data Portal

Figure 3: Domestic Violence Calls in Chicago by Police District

Year to Date September 2014  

Source: Chicago Police Department Quarterly Domestic Violence 

Statistical Summary

Figure 4: Overlaying the Maps for Gun-Related Calls and Average Daily Domestic Violence Calls Shows that Districts with High

Rates of One Type of Violence Tend to Have High Rates of Both

Source: Chicago City Data Portal and Chicago Police Department Quarterly

Domestic Violence Statistical Summary


In this brief, we have pointed to gun violence’s connections to domestic violence and SGBV. Our analysis underscores gun violence’s existence amid and in relationship to broader systems of violence. It also highlights the need for data disaggregation about violence to better understand the prevalence of SGBV. Much more needs to be done to address violence’s gendered dynamics and the ways that systems of violence intersect in Chicago. As such, we have several recommendations for policymakers, program directors, and researchers:

First, we recommend that policymakers and programs increase funding and support for women-focused efforts in existing gun violence programs. Programs must recognize men and women as differently involved in systems of violence and work to address the interconnectedness of these systems, especially SGBV.

Second, Chicago’s domestic violence data need to be disaggregated by type of violence—for example, separating elder abuse from spousal abuse—as well as by gender. This disaggregation is necessary to accurately assess the prevalence of SGBV in the city.

Third, data should track citywide experiences of violence per community area rather than police district.24 The  city’s 77 community areas are generally comparable to Chicago neighborhoods and have remained mostly unchanged since the 1920s, whereas police districts may touch multiple neighborhoods and may change in response to funding or other concerns. Tracking SGBV  by community area over time would build a more nuanced understanding of violence in the city than is currently possible.

Fourth, we encourage WPS practitioners to consider more carefully how a WPS framework can be applied to more local contexts, rural and urban. Some work has already been done on this regarding local action plans, especially in post-conflict settings, but we recommend this work be broadened to consider the gendered dynamics of violence in settings like Chicago that do not necessarily fall within WPS practitioners’ conventional understanding of armed conflict.25

The authors are especially grateful to Rashelle Brownfield and Nicole

Mattea for their research assistance. We also thank Mia Diaz and Tria Raimundo for their time spent providing feedback on earlier versions. Additionally, we are most thankful for Olivia Shinner’s help with research, revisions, and imagining what this project would look like. Lastly, we are grateful to Chantal de Jonge Oudraat for her insights and support.


  1. Patrick Smith, “20% in 2020: Setting Goals for Reducing Murder in

Chicago,” WBEZ: NPR Chicago (January 28, 2020). See also Chicago Police Department, “CompStat Week 43: Report Covering the Week of 19-October-20 through 25-October-20” (Chicago: Chicago Police Department, October 27, 2020).

  • Kate Thayer, “ ‘Abuse Doesn’t Stop in Times of Pandemic’: Domestic Violence Advocates Trying to Serve Survivors during Coronavirus Pandemic,” Chicago Tribune (March 19, 2020).
  • Matt Ford, “What’s Causing Chicago’s Homicide Spike?” The Atlantic (January 24, 2017); see also Stef W. Knight and Michael Sykes, “The

Deadliest City: Behind Chicago’s Segregated Shooting Sprees,” Axios, August 14, 2018. This year, many cities have seen a summer spike in homicides, which experts are attributing in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Chicago, this is occurring on top of persistently high numbers. See Thomas Fuller and Tim Arango, “Police Pin a Rise in Murders on an Unusual Suspect: Covid,” The New York Times, October 29, 2020.

Up in Chicago’s Violence,” Chicago Tribune (June 28, 2019); Safia Samee Ali, “Sexual Violence Victims in Chicago’s Deadliest Neighborhoods Carrying Trauma on Top of Gun Crime,” NBC News, May 28, 2017.

  • See, for example, Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True, The Oxford

Handbook of Women, Peace, and Security (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 2019); Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2014[1989]); Jean Bethke-Elshtain, Women and War (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995[1987]).

  • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Geneva

Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of

War (Fourth Geneva Convention), August 12, 1949, 75 UNTS 287;

ICRC, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August

1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), June 8, 1977, 1125 UNTS 609. There is precedence for such an expanded definition of armed conflict. See Anna Applebaum and Briana Mawby, Gang Violence as Armed Conflict: A New Perspective on El Salvador (Washington, DC: Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, 2018).

  • NPR, “Strike force Is Created to Combat Chicago Gun Violence,” Weekend Edition Saturday, July 1, 2017.
  • ABC News, “Hidden America: Don’t Shoot, I Want to Grow Up,” October 18, 2011.
  • Jen Christensen, “Tackling Chicago’s ‘Crime Gap,’ ” CNN, March 14, 2014.
  • Derek Alderman and Janna Caspersen, “What’s in a Nickname? In the Case of Chiraq, a Whole Lot,” American Association of Geographers Newsletter (Washington, DC: American Association of Geographers, March 4, 2015).
  • Manohla Dargis, “Review: Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-raq’ a Barbed Takedown of Gang Wars, With Sex as the Weapon,” The New York Times, December 3, 2015.
  • Annick T.R. Wibben, Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach (New York: Routledge, 2011), p. 2.
  • Gorner and Lee, “Women Increasingly Caught Up in Chicago’s Violence.”
  • Ali, “Sexual Violence Victims in Chicago’s Deadliest Neighborhoods.”
  • Valerie M. Hudson et al., “The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States,” International Security 33, no. 3 (2009): 7–45.
  • Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS), The Best and Worst States to Be a Woman: Introducing the U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Index 2020 (Washington, DC: GIWPS 2020).
  • Chicago Police Department, Quarterly Domestic Violence Statistical

Summary—YTD September 2014 (Chicago: Chicago Police Department, 2014). It includes crimes not covered under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (which is included as a variable in the citywide crime data), making it impossible to replicate the report using what is publicly available. Further reports have not been released.

  1. Based on the 2018 survey, less than half (43 percent) of violent victimizations were reported to police, which was not statistically different from 2017 (45 percent). Criminal Victimization Report, 2018 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, September 2019).
  2. To perform the analysis, we used R packages tidyverse, ggplot2, sf, rgeos, rdgal, RColorBrewer, and readr.
  3. Ali, “Sexual Violence Victims in Chicago’s Deadliest Neighborhoods.”
  4. This was difficult using ggplot, the package used to generate the initial maps. To get around the package’s limitations, we created an index to track the hotline call average and number of gun-related incidents for each district.
  5. Eve L. Ewing, Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018); Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in

Chicago 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Sylvia Hood Washington, Packing Them In: An Archaeology of Environmental Racism in Chicago, 1865–1954 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004).

  • A good example of what this could look like is the Sinai Community Health survey (Chicago: Sinai Health System, 2016), reports available at
  • See, for example, Roslyn Warren et al., Women’s Peacebuilding Strategies amidst Conflict: Lessons from Myanmar and Ukraine (Washington, DC: GIWPS, 2017).