Gendered Implementation of the Global Fragility Act: A Case for Haiti

Marvin Dee Mathelier and Tahina Montoya

The Global Fragility Act (GFA) and its subsequent Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) constitute a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. government will act to address the root causes of violence in fragile states and stabilize conflict-affected areas. Given bipartisan support and congressionally mandated funding, the GFA is designed to produce a coordinated strategy that builds on lessons learned and prioritizes building partnerships with local communities and civil society actors. In terms of implementation, the GFA requires a whole-of-government approach and interagency process with regular reporting mechanisms applied to five high-priority countries over a ten-year period.

In Spring 2023, four years after the passing of the GFA, the U.S. State Department released a 10-Year Strategic Plan for four priority countries and one priority region. Haiti is one of the SPCPS-designated priority states, along with Libya, Mozambique, and Papua New Guinea, as is the region of Coastal Western Africa (which includes Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo). The SPCPS specifically links the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) to its work, recognizing that the root causes of violent extremism are gendered and thus intimately linked to structural inequalities and discriminations that must be addressed to reduce state fragility. Haiti’s own 10-Year Strategic Plan identifies severe gender inequality and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as elements that undermine Haiti’s stability. 

With the SPCPS specifically calling attention to drivers of conflict that are deeply gendered, this policy brief argues that country implementation plans must consider a whole-of-government (WOG) approach that integrates a gender perspective. Haiti’s implementation plan must also recognize Haiti’s complex history and how it has contributed to the gendered dimensions of Haiti’s current violence—political, economic, cultural, and structural—and integrate these factors into the tailored approach emphasized in the GFA’s strategic documents. 

The policy brief begins with an assessment of current conditions in Haiti and then turns to the question of why current conditions are so intractable. Using Haiti as a case study, the policy brief shows how consideration of a country’s history and gender-specific issues are factors that must be considered when developing tangible solutions, as doing so is necessary to promote long-term stability. The policy brief then presents a set of recommendations that can strengthen the Haiti implementation plan and programmatic objectives in critical areas: formalize the informal sector workforce to empower women, reform education policy, increase support to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and mobilize the Haitian diaspora in support of U.S. assistance to Haiti.

Haiti: The Current Situation

In addition to the 2020 COVID pandemic, 2021 was a devastating year for Haiti. Multiple protests and demonstrations have since occurred in response to high inflation and rising food and gas prices. The poverty-stricken country also saw an alarming increase in criminal and gang activity, a sign of the weakening authority and the incapacity of the Haitian National Police to control the gangs. Tensions escalated when, on July 7, 2021, a group of 28 foreign mercenaries broke into the home of President Jovenel Moïse and assassinated him. Only five weeks later, on August 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the southern claw of Haiti, causing billions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage and affecting the lives of over 1.2 million people.  

In the wake of these political, economic, and social crises, human rights violations over the past two years have escalated and accelerated. Women and children are particularly vulnerable. The number of kidnappings and abductions has tripled since 2021 as gangs use women and children for financial gain or tactical advantage. Of the 5.2 million Haitians requiring humanitarian aid (nearly half the population), three million are children. Severe malnutrition and cholera outbreaks are overtaxing a failing healthcare system, and gender-based violence is rampant.

It is estimated that gangs control 90% of the capital, Port Au Prince, instilling fear through the use of violent tactics such as kidnapping, rape, and murder to control areas. Occasionally, to further aggravate the populace, and in an attempt to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry from power, these gangs block off access to fuel and goods, preventing access to other parts of the country. This further exacerbates food shortages that, if left unchecked, can lead to a man-made famine. The international community’s hesitancy to get involved has left citizens with few choices, leaving many to combat gangs on their own. Some citizens have retaliated by taking extreme actions of their own, such as burning gang members in the road as a deterrent.

On October 23, 2023, after intense pressure from both the Haitian government and human rights organizations, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved a Kenyan-led security mission to help the Haitian National Police combat gang violence. However, on October 24, 2023, Kenya’s High Court blocked the deployment of Kenyan police to Haiti after a petition was filed challenging the government’s deployment decision, and Kenya’s parliament has yet to schedule a debate on the issue, a ruling the High Court is expected to make on November 9.

Roots of Systemic Failure          

For Haiti, the current violence that handicaps efforts to stabilize the country and protect at-risk groups has roots in Haiti’s tumultuous history, which has been shaped by foreign intervention and occupation, crippling debts, weak governance structures, and devastating natural disasters.

Independence and Struggle: 1800-1900. Haiti became the first free Black republic on January 1, 1804, when a band of slaves raised an army to defeat France. To recoup and compensate for its economic losses, the French demanded reparations totaling 150 million francs ($20-30 billion in today’s currency). Debt payments consumed over 80% of Haiti’s revenues for the subsequent 122 years. The fear of political contagion from Haiti’s successful slave rebellion led countries, including the United States, to withhold recognition of Haiti’s sovereignty or offer any support for the young country.

U.S. Occupation: 1915-1934. The U.S. occupation of Haiti was designed to quell the political and economic turmoil plaguing Haiti and, through a campaign known as the Banana Wars, to protect U.S. financial assets and economic growth in the Western Hemisphere. Many atrocities and human rights violations, including torture, forced labor, and religious persecution against voodoo practitioners occurred during the U.S. occupation of Haiti. Additionally, under the guise of protecting Haiti’s financial assets, the U.S. took custody of over $500,000 from Haiti’s national bank, roughly equivalent to $15,351,300 billion in current dollars. The loss of these funds had significant impacts on the country’s economic development and stabilization, and especially on Haiti’s social fabric and education system.

Despite promoting the goal of creating 1,074 schools in Haiti, the U.S. built only 306, much lower in comparison to schools constructed by the U.S. in Cuba (2,600) and the Philippines (1,000). For children in those countries, this support resulted in a significant increase in access to both schools and education. Rather than develop schools to promote education for all Haitians, the U.S. provided agricultural training for predominantly black Haitians, while their mixed-race peers continued their education at the limited and exclusive French-based curriculum schools in Haiti. This specifically limited black Haitians’ ability to acquire critical skills and knowledge, further widening the education and socio-economic gaps for black Haitian children.

The Duvalier Regime: 1957-1986. The 30-year reign of terror of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier that led to the killing of over 50,000 men, women, and children contributed to a massive exodus of Haitian citizens. This “brain drain” of highly educated and skilled Haitians had a devastating effect on the country’s social and economic development and placed the country in a perpetual cycle of poverty. Haitian citizens continue to struggle while members of the Haitian diaspora secure more economic growth and send remittances back to Haiti, often the only income many families have. Women, in particular, were severely affected by the impacts of emigration and economic crises, as most were forced to work almost exclusively within the informal sector. Statistics show the staggering cost: in 2021, the World Bank reported that “vulnerable employment” among Haitian women had reached 83.5%. 

2004 and Beyond: 2004 ushered in a crushing series of humanitarian, political, and economic crises that continued to disproportionately impact women and children in Haiti. This began with the second coup of Haitian President Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004, which in the wake of Aristide’s ouster led to the establishment of the UN peacekeeping mission Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH). Peacekeeping forces worked with the Haitian National Police to support police efforts to reduce violence. Unfortunately, trust in MINUSTAH evaporated as tensions grew. Corruption and GBV were endemic; serious incidents of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers against local citizens occurred, but few were held accountable for their actions. A severe cholera outbreak traced back to a sewage leak from a MINUSTAH base resulted in the loss of over 10,000 lives, and the UN was slow to accept responsibility. The withdrawal of MINUSTAH troops in 2019 left much destruction, loss of life, and a glaring security gap, creating an opening for gangs to take control of the country.

Finally, with more than 96% of its population exposed to hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, Haiti has become even more vulnerable to natural disasters. A 2010 earthquake killed 222,570 people, injured over 300,000, and displaced 3.5 million Haitians. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed around 250,000 people and wiped out 120% of its GDP. The destructive earthquake that hit Haiti on August 14, 2021, was followed two days later by Tropical Storm Grace, causing massive flooding and landslides and worsening the already desperate conditions on the ground. 

All these systemic issues and intractable problems, combined with a lack of faith in the government, have forced Haitians to fend for themselves. For women, this meant relying increasingly on the informal sector, primarily selling goods on the street and making the hard decision to use their financial resources to feed their children, pay for medical bills, or decide which of their children was most eligible to go to private school. This overwhelming conundrum created a practice with serious repercussions for poorer Haitians. With little money to send their children to school, a legalized form of child labor or slavery called Restavèk developed. With the creation of this system, limited resources drove many families to send their children to other, presumably wealthier, families who had the relative means to provide education, shelter, and food in exchange for their children’s service.

Current Impact on Women and Children

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

With the ongoing turmoil in Haiti, marginalized groups such as women and children continue to be disproportionally impacted. GBV and violence against women and children are used as a deterrent to control a community. A Health Policy Watch study that evaluated the use of rape as a weapon of war in Haiti stated that “80% of the women and girls who participated in this research had been victims of one or multiple forms of sexual violence by one or more perpetrators. In 33% of the cases, the assailants were described as bandits, gang members, or kidnappers. 14% of the victims were only 10 to 18 years old.”  

Unemployment Rate & Informal Work Sector

Haiti’s unemployment rate is currently 15.73%. Women make up 62% of the labor force, and nearly half of the Haitian women are heads of households, but they do not work in the formal sector. Women constitute more than 75% of the informal economy in Haiti, where they sell produce and other items on roadsides to support their families with no benefits, health insurance, or other job protections.  

Lack of Representation in Politics

Unsurprisingly, women’s political representation in Haiti is negligent. In 2019, women constituted only 2.54% of the Haitian parliament, though as of January 2023, there is no functioning parliament at all in the country. Haiti established a Gender Equality Policy in 2014 and the Haitian Ministry for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights (MCFDF) in 1994. Nevertheless, the plan has not been effectively implemented, and the MCFDF faces chronic underfunding (0.01—0.05% of the national budget), government and parliamentary hostility, and little political will to change the status quo. 

Restavèk System

As noted, a modern version of child slavery known as Restavèk remains prevalent in Haiti. Studies have shown that male and female children who have been “restavèks” (more than half of whom are girls) likely never attended school and are more prone to experience sexual, physical, and emotional violence in childhood than non-restavèk children (See Figure 1). Some children do return home, but with few options available to them, many turn to prostitution, join gangs, or become beggars, which only continues the poverty-stricken cycle in Haiti. The Haitian government has attempted to crack down on this practice, but many families continue to resort to the only means they can afford to feed their children and families. 

                     Figure 1: Restavèk vs Non-Restavèk Children

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Access to Education

Education in Haiti is valued but not accessible to all since 85% of schools in Haiti are private schools. Families understand the power and opportunities an education can bring and, if they have the means, are willing to pay more than 40% of their income to send their children to school. In families with multiple children, children may skip a year to let their siblings go to school or, as is often the case, preference is given to boys under the assumption that it will be easier for them to find jobs. Parents often have no money to pay for their daughter’s education, and it has been known that some girls ask their male counterparts for money in exchange for sex in hopes they will make enough money to afford an education. Additionally, while the global average for “mean years of schooling” is 8.7 years, Haiti’s is a mere 5.6 years, placing it 124th out of 150 countries.

An Opportunity for Change: The Global Fragility Act

The U.S. 10-year Strategic Plan for Haiti identifies key factors that contribute to Haiti’s fragility (including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and increased criminal gang activity) and delves into gender-specific issues that continue to contribute to the countries’ instability, namely, GBV and gender inequality that disproportionately impacts women and girls. It specifically highlights the creation of a working group that consulted 230 individuals from different facets of the Haitian government and civil society. But gaps remain. 

It is particularly important that a detailed implementation plan arising from interagency discussions successfully integrate a gender perspective. However, a growing list of documents referenced for GFA implementation (see Figure 3) has made an already complicated effort more onerous. 

Figure 3: U.S. Government Documents: WPS and GFA

December 2017The United States Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017
June 2019The United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security
December 2019Global Fragility Act
December 2020The U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability
December 20202020-2024 The USAID Strategic Framework: Haiti
April 2022Announcement of GFA Priority Countries and Regions
March 2023U.S. Department of State Integrated Country Strategy
March 2023Publication of Country and Regional Plan Summaries

Despite multiple failed attempts by Haiti and the international community to address existing complex conflict dynamics, the Global Fragility Act and its 10-Year Strategic Plan for Haiti offers an opportunity to course-correct if implemented with a gender-sensitive lens alongside the people of Haiti. We offer four tangible recommendations that help codify how gender-conscious GFA implementation could look like in Haiti. They provide a unique and crucial approach to stabilizing Haiti’s fragile situation through the lens of gender-centric solutions.


Recommendation 1:  Increase Women’s Economic Agency in the Workforce

Through the support of the DoS, DoD, and USAID under the GFA, the Haitian government should create a joint coalition with the Haitian Ministry of the Economy, local government officials, and local NGOs to develop a pilot project for supporting the women-led informal sector. While most plans would center their efforts in the capital, specifically in Port-au-Prince, this plan is better suited for development and implementation in Cap Haitian, the second-largest city in the country.  With over 190,000 people, Cap Haitian is in the northern tip of Haiti and has thus far been shielded from the violence currently engulfing key cities in Haiti. Through monitoring mechanisms and data collection, a pilot case will provide lessons learned for implementing programs tailored to support women’s agency in more fragile and conflict-ridden environments. This approach has positive multiple effects, and it will address the persistent insecurity women face socially and economically and help ensure they are in a space that enables economic growth for their families and encourages career development.               

Recommendation 2:  Enhance the Ministry of Women’s Affairs

While the Haitian government has established laws addressing gender equality, policymakers are noncompliant with the laws. Enhancing the capability of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is needed to oversee and enforce these laws, though it is doubtful the Haitian government will extend the resources and staff to support the Ministry’s work. International assistance can provide financial support for the Ministry’s activities, such as developing education and gender awareness programs for men, women, and children or building women’s economic empowerment. Collaboration among diverse international stakeholders that provide training, business advice, and increased access to financial resources or that work to build women’s business leadership and ownership in emerging markets will strengthen the Ministry’s capacity to empower more women.

Recommendation 3:  Education for Children

Education is the key driver to economic growth within a country. A highly educated and skilled labor force will increase the quality of work in all sectors and will contribute to increased income, tax revenue, and better-quality public education. To get there, with the help of GFA entities, Haiti should establish an education initiative similar to the approach conducted in the High Performing Asian Economies (HPAE) that includes Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Although different in culture, government structure, and region, these countries were able to shift from developing countries to leading economies within half a decade. With high rates of investment in education, the governments were able to reallocate funds towards human capital such as schools and other necessary training, which helped each respective economy grow. This is a challenge for Haiti–not just because of government instability and scarce resources for education, but because of structural inequalities in the education system itself that must be eliminated to spur greater economic growth in the country. Nevertheless, making progress towards quality universal education must be a political priority.

Recommendation 4: Mobilizing the Haitian Diaspora

Despite significant international assistance to Haiti–$13 billion between 2011 and 2022 alone–Haiti remains an impoverished failed state. Earlier efforts have failed for many reasons, among them, poorly managed projects, local capacity limitations, corruption, and a political and economic elite complicit in gang violence and unwilling to implement structural changes to address state instability. An approach that has not been optimized is leveraging the Haitian diaspora to advance develop-driven, long-term solutions for Haiti, with the diaspora working hand in hand with the U.S. government and Haitians on the ground. Outside of the Haitians on the ground, there is no other group that understands the complexity and issues within the island nation or that contributes more to Haiti’s GDP: around two-thirds of Haiti’s GDP comes from remittances, showing that the Haitian diaspora not only influences but drives and deeply cares about Haiti’s success.

The Global Fragility Act and the 10-year strategic plan for Haiti can lead to novel implementation approaches by incorporating members of the diaspora while engaging with Haitian civil society organizations, and do so with the intent to leverage Haitian diaspora expertise. This includes engaging with organizations like the U.S. National Haitian Elected Officials Network (NHEON), a U.S.-based organization of Haitian-American politicians who can be an additional voice and liaison between Haitian citizens and U.S. organizations working towards implementing the GFA. We also recommend exploring the opportunity to grant voting rights to Haitians living abroad. While Haitians living abroad are eligible for dual citizenship, they cannot currently vote in Haitian elections. Doing so would insert a diversity of views and weaken the ability of corrupt politicians to manipulate voters, in the hope that diaspora voters would help to push the Haitian government to be more accountable to its citizens.


While Haiti’s history has contributed greatly to its current situation, and prior policies (with the best of intentions) have failed to alter Haiti’s current state, the Global Fragility Act is, undoubtedly, currently the best option to address fragility in Haiti. Though a challenge, cooperation between U.S. government agencies working with Haiti’s citizens and the diaspora to develop and implement the above-listed recommendations would contribute to addressing key concerns of GBV, employment, education, and safety, all of which are discussed in the guiding frameworks that have been identified as key documents for GFA implementation in Haiti. Despite the delay in implementation, the GFA is a policy that provides a significant opportunity for change. If implemented alongside the people of Haiti in a gender-sensitive way, the GFA can address fragility in innovative ways that will work for Haiti and its people.

Joan Johnson-Freese, Susan Markham 


There are currently two main frameworks regarding gender equality and women’s participation in international policy and conflict resolution: the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) framework, codified in the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in 2000, and the feminist foreign policy framework (FFP) that became prominent in 2014 when Sweden became the first government to formally adopt a feminist foreign policy. Over the past decade, a tension has existed between the civil society advocates who were/are involved in the development, passage, and implementation of UNSCR 1325 and those academics and practitioners who favor the newer, feminist framework. Surprisingly (or not), an unpublished mapping exercise in 2019 between the two groups found very few people who worked on both frameworks or who were using the WPS framework as a foundation for the newer FFP. What we argue here is that the goals of both frameworks—gender equality and peace—are the same, and that the tension largely rests on differences in approach. In this piece, we provide background on both frameworks, what they have in common, some critiques, how they might approach current events, and recommendations on a way forward. What we suggest is that while these differences in approach are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from greater acknowledgement of and closer coordination with the other, so that more progress can be made within the gender equality movement.


Women, Peace and Security

The opening for ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both in 1966, in many ways represented the heyday of human rights activity at the United Nations. Unfortunately, however, it was quickly realized that many of the countries that had voted in support of those treaties had not assumed and did not recognize that the treaty provisions would also apply to women. Human rights were not inherently considered women’s rights. The United Nations subsequently followed up with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Though as of 2015, 189 countries have signed and ratified CEDAW (the United States signed but never ratified), many have done so with qualifications that render their commitments toothless. Hence when First Lady Hillary Clinton declared “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are woman’s rights” at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, she was stating what many had thought obvious decades before but had since come to understand as a continuing battle. 

Civil society groups continued to carry on the battle for gender equality through the United Nations, doing so not “just” as a matter of social justice, but as a security issue as well. An increasing amount of case study and empirically-based research demonstrated the multiple roles of women in security-related affairs, the gendered differentiated effects of conflict on men, women, boys and girls, and the linkage between gender equality, stability, and good governance. Regrettably, social justice issues are too often considered “desirable” though expendable issues on governmental agendas, or “just too hard.” Security issues, however, tend to resonate more strongly with decisionmakers. Ultimately, through the efforts of civil society groups, UNSCR 1325 was unanimously passed in 2000.

Implementation of UNSCR 1325 was left to states, through National Action Plans (NAPs). As of 2021, 98 countries have adopted NAPs. Many of the early countries to adopt NAPs were Scandinavian countries already strong in gender equality. It took the United States 11 years to do so, finally accomplished while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Of those countries with NAPs, only 36 percent have budgets attached, evidencing that the Women, Peace and Security framework has seen much more rhetorical than actual support in many countries.

The first iteration of the Women, Peace and Security Act in the United States was introduced in 2012.  It was again initiated by a coalition of civil society organizations that championed the cause to bi-partisan congressional members and staffers. The Act was revised and reintroduced in both the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 sessions of Congress, eventually gaining bi-partisan sponsorship in both the House and the Senate. In 2017, the U.S. Congress passed the Women, Peace and Security Act. It was signed by President Donald Trump, making it the law of the land. Passage of the Act in 2017 was symbolically important as it provided support for those in government seeking to take action regarding gender equality. It gave them a “hook” on which to hang actions. The Act also required the president to submit a government-wide implementation strategy to Congress.  Initially, however, the Act was passed without funding attached. For a President who was confronted at the White House in 2017 by a crowd of protesting women estimated at three times the number who attended his inauguration, signing the Women, Peace and Security Act was a no-cost act of support for women.

After an implementation strategy for the Women, Peace and Security Act was delivered to Congress in 2019, the federal agencies charged with its execution (the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Homeland Security) began working on their individual implementation strategies. The Defense Department, for example, outlined three objectives: 1) to exemplify a diverse organization that allows for women’s meaningful participation across the development, management, and employment of the Joint Force; 2) that women in partner nations meaningfully participate and serve at all ranks and in all occupations in defense and security sectors; and 3) that partner nation defense and security sectors ensure women and girls are safe and secure and that their human rights are protected, especially during conflict and crisis.[1] Regrettably, in many instances support has been slow and often more rhetorical and performative than actual, as indicated by budgets, policies, and women’s representation in decision-making roles. In performative allyship, those with privilege and position profess solidarity with a cause or policy, often to distance themselves from potential scrutiny or to position themselves for praise. This vocalized support is disingenuous and potentially harmful to marginalized groups by signaling to subordinates that real action is neither needed nor sought and that no one will be held accountable for inaction. That makes active oversight by Congress imperative.

Feminist Foreign Policy

Feminist foreign policy theory was born of the academic ideas of ethical foreign policy and feminist international relations and became prominent in 2014 when the Swedish coalition government, led by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, adopted a feminist foreign policy.[2] In this first practical application, feminist foreign policy is posited on the conviction that sustainable peace, security, and development cannot be achieved if women, who comprise half the world’s population, are excluded. As the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s website states, “The policy is a response to the discrimination and systematic subordination that still characterises everyday life for countless women and girls all over the world. Feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change to strengthen the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls.”[3] Regarding rights, the Swedish Foreign Service promotes all women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights, which includes combating all forms of violence and discrimination that restrict freedom of action. Regarding representation, the Swedish Foreign Service promotes women’s participation and influence in decision-making processes at all levels and in all areas, and seeks dialogue with women representatives at all levels, including in civil society. With respect to resources, the Swedish Foreign Service works to ensure that government resources are allocated to promote gender equality and equal opportunities for all.[4] In the first three years of implementation, Sweden worked to raise the visibility of and combat destructive masculine norms and to strengthen countries’ capacities to prosecute perpetrators, assist crime victims, and reintegrate soldiers. Sweden also contributed to a growing body of knowledge about the link between the uncontrolled spread of weapons and sexual violence against women.[5]

Since 2014, several countries have announced different versions of a feminist foreign policy. Norway has developed both an Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020 and a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.[6]Canada’s feminist International Assistance Policy, announced in 2017, targets gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at its core: “This is a matter of basic justice and also basic economics. We know that empowering women, overseas and here at home, makes families and countries more prosperous.”[7] The French government’s feminist foreign policy, adopted in 2019, says that gender equality should be considered in all issues, from poverty reduction to sustainable development, peace and security, defense and promotion of fundamental rights, and climate and economic issues.[8] Other countries have followed suit (Mexico in 2020, Luxembourg in 2021, Spain in 2021, and Germany in 2022).

In addition, there are discussions about incorporating a feminist approach to foreign policy taking place in the European Union, Chile, Denmark, Malaysia, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[9]Governments, however, are many-armed creatures, sometimes with activities of one arm having no relation to another. Interest in or adoption of a feminist foreign policy does not inherently mean a gender-equal society, or even full government support of women. Mexico, for example, has expressed interest in a feminist foreign policy, though it has one of the highest global rates of violence against women.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a non-profit center headquartered in Washington, D.C., hosts both the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States and the Global Partner Network, which consists of more than 30 governments and leading civil

society groups who are working to advance the field of feminist foreign policy. The working definition the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States uses for feminist foreign policy: “Feminist foreign policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes peace, gender equality and environmental integrity; enshrines, promotes, and protects the human rights of all; seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchal and male-dominated power structures; and allocates significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision. Feminist foreign policy is coherent in its approach across all  its levers of influence, anchored by the exercise of those values at home and co-created with feminist activists, groups, and movements, at home and abroad.”[10]

In 2020, ICRW separately released a global framework for feminist foreign policy that was developed following more than a year of research and global consultations with over 100 organizations in more than 40 countries. In order to inform the fledgling field of feminist foreign policy, this framework attempts to provide an outline, including five key ingredients necessary for countries considering a feminist foreign policy: the purpose of the policy within the government’s specific context; the definition of feminist foreign policy for the government; the scope or reach of the policy (what parts of the government will be impacted?); the  intended outcomes of the policy and benchmarks to achieve over time; and a government plan to operationalize it.[11]


While there are differences in the WPS and FFP frameworks, both seek to expand global peace and security, increase women’s participation and leadership, integrate gender into humanitarian responses, and change the political and governance structures that reinforce gender inequality.

Peace and Security

One major commonality between the WPS and FFP frameworks is a redefinition of the concepts of peace and security. Norwegian peace activist Johan Galtung first differentiated negative peace and positive peace in the 1960’s. Negative peace is defined as the absence of violence but without a society’s tendencies toward harmony and stability, whereas positive peace is more lasting and built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions and characterized by societal attitudes that foster peace.[12] WPS exemplifies positive peace through inclusiveness and consideration of gendered perspectives of policies and programs that lead to increased stability of all political orders.  Yet a critique of the WPS framework is its focus on the protection of women and girls. The argument is that the WPS framework not only solidifies the militarized state but, in some cases, provides justification for conflict. The U.S.-led War on Terror, for example, was at least in part framed as a “fight for the rights and dignity of women.”[13]  University of Sydney Professor Laura Shepherd argues that multiple logics behind the “prevention” pillar—a logic of peace, a logic of militarism, and a logic of security—creates a paradox that “collapses back into a logic of security”[14] contrary to the ultimate goal of peace. That is, in order to have peace, security must be obtained and retained through a heavy military presence and potentially military action, thus justifying such.

In a similar vein, feminist foreign policy seeks to change the very definition of “security” to go beyond the absence of armed conflict to include economic and political security, freedom from a fear of a global pandemic and climate change, and the feeling of safety within one’s own community and home. The “security” issues discussed in FPP would be broadened to include access to drinkable water, the ability to walk home at night safely, the number of weapons in a country outside of the military, and many others. Likewise, the solutions considered would be more diverse. Data used to make those decisions would include information about human rights abuses, rates of child marriage, levels of gender-based violence, and other issues that Texas A&M Professor Valerie Hudson and other scholars have pointed to in several publications that show the connection between gender equality and state stability.[15] Decisions made to protect the interests of a country would cover not only military personnel but civilians on all sides. The voices of those impacted by military activities, sanctions, or other actions would be included. In response, WPS advocates argue that working first on the protection of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups is a necessary precondition to inclusive gender equality and diversity. Women’s safety—the goal of protection—is necessary to ensure that women and girls have the ability to work toward other goals of economic and political power and can use their agency to shape their lives.

Women’s Representation

To reach the goals of gender equality and peace, both the WPS and FFP frameworks aim to increase the representation of women in country and global policy-making processes and activities. One of the four core pillars of the Women, Peace and Security framework focuses on the increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making in conflict prevention, management, and resolution, and in post-conflict relief and recovery efforts. But the WPS framework works within conventional peacemaking and post-conflict governance structures that accept conflict as inevitable. Subsequently, this framework has been criticized by Melbourne Law School Professor Dianne Otto, who argues that “the WPS agenda has served to refocus feminist attention from … making armed conflict impossible, to making armed conflict safer for women … as an end in itself.”[16]Thereby, WPS can be perceived as a more incremental approach to positive peace, whereas FFP is more transformational.

Like WPS, the goal of FFP is to increase the number of women serving in elected and non-elected political and government positions, in peace processes, in military and peacekeeping missions, and in development and humanitarian activities. FFP seeks to increase the number of feminist voices that will advocate for gender equality in all sectors, beyond peace and security, such as in the economy and climate adaptation, including a country’s own government as well as its government partners. A critique of this approach is that feminist foreign policy is too broad; it can’t just add more women and change everything all at one time – change requires incrementalism. The real-world implications of executing a feminist foreign policy are complicated. For instance, in Sweden, even with female leadership and a feminist foreign policy, the government has struggled to find a balance between human rights and its own arms industry.[17]

Post-conflict and Humanitarian Settings

UNSCR 1325 urges local actors, Member States, and UN agencies to adopt gendered perspectives in peace operations, negotiations, and agreements, in acknowledgement that policies and programs affect men, women, boys and girls differently, and to include women in the resolution and recovery phase of conflict. It identifies women as active agents rather than passive recipients. This is important because it identifies women’s participation as a right, not something that men are giving women out of goodwill, and as a post-conflict benefit to all parties. Research has shown that including women in peace negotiations increases the potential of peace agreement lasting two or more years by 20 percent, and increases by 35 percent the probability of peace agreements lasting 15 years or longer.[18] Additionally, including women starts to erode the idea of women as weak, meaning that the feminine will no longer be synonymous with weakness and fragility. The resolution empowers women and allows them to demand that they are heard and incorporated into processes at all levels.[19] The critique here is that the considerations of women and girls are rarely included in peace negotiations and simply haven’t been taken into account, and that there is no mechanism for holding countries or other implementing organizations accountable for including women and gendered perspectives in peace negotiations.

Similarly, the FFP framework calls for a feminist approach to humanitarian response that at its core centers the experience of women and people subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This focus highlights a wider array of concerns than considered in traditional paradigms, including the threat of gender-based violence, access to sexual and reproductive health, access to education, and the burden of unpaid care responsibilities in times of crisis. It urges the U.S. government to take steps to change its own humanitarian approach as well as pushing for change throughout the global humanitarian system.

Institutional Change

Both frameworks agree that reframing the discussion of peace and security involves shaking the very foundations of the patriarchy, a system that until recently was the exclusive purview of men and that deploys decision-making power through warlords, political elites, government security communities, and the intricately linked military-industrial machine. Within the WPS framework, protection does not inherently or exclusively refer to women being physically (or any other way) being protected by men. It does, however, recognize that there are individuals made vulnerable through cultural, political, legal, economic, gender-related and sexual-orientation structures. It creates agency because it is only through agency that women will have the opportunity to participate in the kind of preventive actions that can lead to positive peace. 

In response, FFP would argue that this approach is too focused on the individual rather than the system. The FFP framework seeks to change the institutions and processes themselves. It wants to diversify more than just the voices in the room; it wants to expand the information collected, analysis conducted, and solutions considered to go beyond the traditional decision-making process. This strategy covers defense, development, and diplomacy programs conducted in other countries and how governments operate internally. Resources, both in terms of budget allocations and human investments, would be redistributed to reflect governments’ different priorities. Less would be spent on weapons and more would be spent on human infrastructure; more would go to multilateral organizations and those focused on global goals. WPS critics would say that even with provisions for structural agency, the entrenched nature of those in power through cultural norms and expectations forces a process of slower, more incremental change.



In 2021, the annual Democracy Index found that less than ten percent of countries worldwide were considered “full democracies” and rated the United States a “flawed democracy” for the fifth year in a row. Though countries leaning toward populism and authoritarianism vary in many aspects, what they share are leaders who identify as rebels, bullies, and tough guys who flaunt authority, disregard civility, and encourage others to do so as well, such as Presidents Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Further, as American journalist Peter Beinart pointed out, authoritarian leaders “use gender to discredit one political order and validate another.”[20] Many have targeted women, individually or as a group, as their evil-elite punching bags.

To address this issue, the WPS framework would return to concepts within UNSCR 1325 that have been fleshed out through nine additional security council resolutions: participation of women in all levels of decision-making, protection from sexual and gender-based violence, prevention of violence, and advancement of relief and recovery measures. Within this context, FFP would go beyond a focus on increasing individual women’s political participation to disrupt the colonial, racist, patriarchal, and male-dominated power structures. It would support human rights activists and civil society organizations engaged in women’s rights movements globally, alter patriarchal political institutions, including parties and parliaments, and address issues such as violence against women in politics that serve as barriers to women serving in public life. 

Reproductive Rights

The United States was considered a global leader in women’s reproductive rights five years ago, considered a critical aspect of women’s individual agency, but it became a global outliner with deep regression in that area during the Trump administration.[21] The Biden-Harris administration took several key actions to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in its first year, trying to reverse the Trump Administration rollback. In his second week in office, President Biden issued an executive memorandum on women’s health at home and abroad which stated that it is the policy of the U.S. government to support sexual and reproductive health and rights. It rescinded the global gag rule, withdrew the United States from the so-called Geneva Consensus Declaration, and directed the U.S. Secretary of State to restore funding for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).[22] But, based on the leaked Alito-authored draft court decision, Trump-appointed conservative Supreme Court justices appear ready to take American women’s reproductive rights back to the 1970’s by overturning Roe v Wade (1973).  The implications are staggering, not just regarding reproductive rights, but as a further indication of the U.S. moving away from democratic rule to populist authoritarianism.[23]

The WPS framework does not address reproductive rights or abortion in UNSCR 1325 or in any of the subsequent resolutions, or in the U.S. Women, Peace and Security Act. Feminist Foreign Policy, on the other hand, includes bodily autonomy and freedom from discrimination, violence, coercion, exploitation, and abuse as a key tenet. And while the current U.S. administration has taken steps to stop or reverse U.S. government backsliding on the issue, including potentially after the judicial demise of Roe v Wade, FFP advocates continue to push for more, such as a permanent repeal of the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy.[24]


The U.S. government’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 was an utter failure by most accounts. While 124,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan before the last troops flew out on August 30, 90 percent of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders were left behind with their families. The number of Afghans who remain in danger because of their association with the 20-year American presence in their country must be counted in the hundreds of thousands.[25]Afghanistan is now facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Afghan economy has no cash to pay salaries or buy food. Western aid has been suspended because the Taliban government includes designated terrorists, and as a result, millions of Afghans face acute malnutrition and starvation in the coming months.[26]

In this case, within the WPS framework, the U.S. government would have included a push for women to be involved in the negotiations with the Taliban in 2019-2020. Many Afghan, global, and U.S. activists did make the case before and during the negotiation process, during which the Trump administration ignored implementing its own (bi-partisan, Trump-signed) WPS Act.[27] A Feminist Foreign Policy would have gone further. The scope of the issue would have been expanded from ending the war to ensuring strong Afghan institutions that serve its citizens and turning the country back over to its people. The balance of power and those engaged in the negotiation process would have been modified to include both the American and Afghan people rather than the U.S. military and the Taliban. 


Five years after the passage of the WPS Act in the United States, with the subsequent government-wide 2019 strategy and departmental strategies now in place, incremental progress in implementing the WPS framework is evident. Funding is being approved and allocated, for example, to offer meetings, workshops, and courses on Women, Peace and Security to members of security communities from many other countries, both in the U.S. and abroad. Those who participate in these events (men and women) say that attendance, and the gender push for gender empowerment from U.S. organizations, including the military, is making a slow but positive difference in their militaries and countries. A Women, Peace and Security Congressional Caucus was formed in 2020. Its focus is “to ensure that progress towards women’s empowerment and inclusion is a strong priority of U.S. foreign policy.”[28] Efforts of the Caucus have included receiving briefs from various departments on their efforts to implement the Women, Peace and Security framework and expressing support for women in Afghanistan during the evacuation operations in 2021. Ensuring progress of the WPS Act, at home and abroad, requires proactive measures and holding those responsible for implementation accountable.

As this work continues, those pressing the U.S. government to adopt a feminist foreign policy need to acknowledge the work of those who developed and implemented the WPS Act. That legislation took more than a decade to be created and passed in a bi-partisan fashion. Newer actors in this space might benefit by engaging with the activists who started their work around the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and then focused on the UN Security Council before turning to country-specific NAPs and legislation. There must be lessons learned about Hill staff and member relationships, allies in non-traditional departments and offices, messages that were effective, and budget strategies that have worked.

Moreover, the combined community can work together to increase women’s representation in U.S. foreign policy through the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS), the Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, or the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States. Research and advocacy must continue to make the link between both frameworks and the promotion of democracy. And both WPS and FFP advocates can continue to push for the integration of the needs of women and girls in humanitarian and post-conflict settings and programs.

So far, however, Women, Peace and Security framework implementation seems to have remained focused on work done or to be done “over there,” wherever outside of the United States that happens to be, neglecting the important point that there are internal as well as external components to WPS. Similarly, one of the core principles of FFP is that there is coherence across all aspects of foreign policy that extends across domestic and foreign policy, with both realms embracing the same feminist values. That means structural and cultural constraints to gender empowerment within U.S. institutions must be addressed as well. For example, while women in the military are no longer denied access to combat positions, they still do not receive the same encouragement and support necessary for success to join those previously prohibited positions as men do.

While differences in approach for WPS and FFP are not insignificant, both frameworks would benefit from closer coordination with the other. There are many opportunities to support the work of the other, as much progress is still needed in the United States and globally to reach gender equality, women’s empowerment, and a safer world.

This publication was prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the official views or policy of Women In International Security.

About the Authors

Joan Johnson-Freese is a Senior Fellow with Women in International Security, a University Professor at the Naval War College in Newport, RI and teaches Women, Peace & Security at Harvard University. She is the author of multiple articles on the topic, as well as Women, Peace & Security: An Introduction (2018) and Women vs Women: The Case for Cooperation (April 2022). The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the U.S. government, Department of Defense or the Naval War College.

Susan Markham is a partner at Smash Strategies, a strategic advisory firm helping businesses, non-profit organizations, and philanthropists who want to leverage their commitment to empowering women and girls. She is the author of multiple articles on feminist foreign policy, gender equality, women’s political participation, and economic empowerment.

[1] Department of Defense, “Women, Peace & Security Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan,” June 2020, p. 7,


[2] Karin Aggestam, Rosamond A. Bergman, Annica Kronsell, “Theorising Feminist Foreign Policy,” International Relations. 2019;33(1):23-39. doi: 10.1177/0047117818811892.

[3] Government of Sweden:

[4] “Handbook for Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy,”—swedensfeminist-foreign-policy—english.pdf.

[5] Government of Sweden:–examples-from-three-years-of-implementation/.

[6] Norway, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Women’s Rights and Gender Equality,”

[7] Government of Canada, “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,”

[8] France, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, “Feminist Diplomacy,”

[9] Soto, Daniela Sepulveda. “The Pandemic Underscores the Need for Feminist Foreign Policy,” The Gender Policy Report, University of Minnesota, July 27, 2021,

[10] Rachel Clement and Lyric Thompson. “Toward a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States,” ICRW,

[11] “Feminist Foreign Policy: A Framework,”

[12] “Our understanding of the term ‘peace’ has evolved significantly over the last 2,500 years,”

[13] “War on Terror as a “fight for the rights and dignity of women”: a discourse analysis of the U.S. ‘liberation’ campaign for Afghan women,”

[14] Laura J. Shepherd, “The paradox of prevention in the Women, Peace and Security agenda,” European Journal of International Security, September 30, 2020,

[15] Books by Valerie Hudson and others include Sex & World Peace (2012) and The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide (2020).

[16] Dianne Otto, “Women, Peace & Security: A Critical Analysis of the Security Council’s Vision,” LSE blog, January 9, 2017,

[17] “Major arms exporter Sweden to put human rights before weapon sales,” Reuters, June 26, 2015,

[18] UN Women, “Women’s Engagement in Peace, Security and Recovery,” %20Brief-Peace-security-recovery.pdf.


[20] Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, 2019,

[21] Martha F. Davis and Fiona de Londras, “Most democracies are expanding abortion access. The U.S. is retracting it,” WBUR, October 21, 2021,

[22] “Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad,”

[23] Hanna Kozlowska, “Where Democracy Falters So Too Do Reproductive Rights,” Foreign Policy, March 16, 2022,

[24] “46 Senators Wage Campaign to End “Global Gag Rule” Restricting Abortion Access,”

[25] “The Betrayal,”

[26] United States institute of Peace, “Afghanistan,”,starvation%2 0in%20the%20coming%20months.

[27] Melissa Deehring, “Lessons Learned from Afghanistan: The First Political Order,” The Washington Quarterly, 44, 4, 2022, 7-28.

[28] Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, “Goals of the New Women, Peace and Security Congressional Caucus,” April 29, 2020,

Jessica Margolis and Tahina Montoya


Over the past several decades, the United States (U.S.) has worked to develop conflict mitigation and prevention strategies in response to growing crises and poor governance in conflict-affected states. These stabilization missions have given significant attention and resources to women’s rights and gender programs, but U.S. gender policy has had varied and limited success.1 Well-intentioned programs were marred by poor coordination and expertise, as well as a lack of integration throughout all aspects of the stabilization process. The last twenty years of Afghanistan reconstruction offer numerous examples, and recent developments underscore an urgent need for the  U.S. to review its approach to stabilization, especially when it comes to gender and women’s rights, and assess how to implement new strategies more effectively.

Fortunately, comprehensive bipartisan legislation that promises to serve as a mechanism for better stabilization programs is inching toward implementation. The Global Fragility Act (GFA) was signed into law in December 2019 and lays out a transformative and innovative approach for the U.S. government to prevent violent conflict and address the root causes of state fragility.2 Though lauded for its efforts to revise stabilization, the GFA reflects old thinking regarding gender relations. The Act ignores countless studies that prove the vital role gender sensitivity can and should play in successful peace processes and stabilization programs, as well as the importance of gender inclusion for conflict prevention.

Gender-sensitivity attempts to understand how the social hierarchies attached to stereotypes of gender exclude or endanger certain groups. This includes an analysis of how gender intersects with inequalities stemming from other socio-economic factors (intersectionality). Applying a gendersensitive lens to GFA implementation will put gender issues at the forefront of the policy-making process and enhance U.S. stabilization programs. This is more than just an opportunity to make more durable gains for women’s rights; it is essential to achieving the U.S. government’s overall stabilization goals, including a secure environment, a stable economy, general social well-being, and the rule of law. It will also allow the  U.S. to re-establish its credibility and commitment to stabilization.

GFA implementation strategies are still being crafted, hence action now will enable a gender-sensitive approach to shape both the beginning of the bureaucratic process and the tenyear period allotted for GFA goals. In addition to improving gender outcomes for future stabilization operations, a gendersensitive GFA will enable the  U.S. to redefine its international image and lead the development of a feminist approach to international development.3

This policy brief analyzes the shortcomings in the GFA process and policies regarding gender with specific reference to previous stabilization efforts, before outlining how a gendersensitive GFA can improve future U.S. stabilization and reconstruction programs. Gender issues are, of course, broader than just the experiences of women and girls; however, this brief focuses primarily on women because most U.S. “gender” programs are designed for women and girls. The GFA itself also specifically singles out women as a marginalized group to support because violence is so often perpetrated against women in fragile contexts.  It is our hope that enhanced programming for women and girls spurs more support for other underrepresented gender groups. Our analysis and recommendations emphasize actionable next steps for gendersensitive implementation, ensuring the GFA is effective and transformative. These recommendations include using gender-focused indices to identify GFA priority countries and analysis; enhancing coordination and gender integration through an interagency task force; applying intersectional analysis to ensure diverse civil society engagement; leveraging existing policies; and employing gender-inclusive language.

The GFA: Opportunity for Change

U.S. foreign policy has relied on a disparate, reactionary approach to assistance rather than a coordinated and proactive strategy that addresses the underpinnings of armed conflict. Short-term incentives have outweighed long-term goals. The difficulties experienced in countries like Afghanistan forced a revaluation of U.S. stabilization strategies in fragile and conflict-ridden countries. A new approach was needed.

Seventeen years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. government formally recognized that past stabilization efforts were limited by a “lack of strategic clarity, organizational discipline, and unity of effort.”4

The Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR), approved by the State Department (DOS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Defense Department (DOD) in 2018, was the government’s first joint step to reconsider stabilization and move towards a whole of government approach. The SAR defines stabilization as “a political endeavor involving an integrated civilian-military process to create conditions where locally legitimate authorities and systems can peaceably manage conflict and prevent a resurgence of violence.”5 This was followed by the GFA’s passage as part of the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019.6 As novel legislation that prioritized long-term strategy over short-term solutions, the Act sought to improve global, regional, and local coordination of multilateral development; expand and enhance the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance programs; support research efforts; and improve the tools for proper assessment and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).7

The Act mandates the U.S. government select at least three countries or regions for stabilization and three countries or regions for conflict prevention, guided by data in existing global fragility indices and U.S. watch lists.8 These sources address specific categories and levels of violence, including violence committed by state actors and extremist organizations, as well as violence committed against children and youth.9 The GFA also requires interagency coordination to streamline government efforts to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence and fragility globally.10 Lastly, the Act earmarks $230 million annually for five fiscal years to fund these efforts.11

Enacted in December 2019, the GFA was to be implemented along three key deadlines, all of which have been missed, postponing overall implementation.12  First, within 270 days after the GFA was enacted, in September 2020, lead organizations were to submit: a detailed strategy with department and staff roles and responsibilities; the identification of authorities, organizational steps, and processes; and a list of priority countries.13 Second, within one year after the establishment of the Act, in December 2020, the executive branch was required to submit to Congress a report detailing a ten-year plan for each country selected, along with updated conflict analyses and interagency plans, policies, and tools to implement the GFA.14 Third, within two years after submission of the ten-year plan, in December 2022, and every two years thereafter (for ten years), the president is to submit a biennial, unclassified report on progress and lessons learned with assessments to the Government Accountability Office for review.15

Excluding Gender: The Crucial Flaw

While the GFA is innovative in driving interagency coordination and requiring transparent reviews and reporting, it has one major flaw: it largely overlooks gender. The Act only mentions women once, when listing violence against women and girls as an area of concern in fragile countries, and never mentions the concept of gender more broadly. Box 1 provides an example of poorly coordinated gender programming during stabilization to contextualize the following discussion of how GFA implementation has fallen short on gender.

The September Report and Global Fragility Strategy

The GFA strategy documents offer some improvements from the Act regarding women and girls but neglect to consider their rights in a way that will catalyze durable change. Furthermore, implementation of the GFA has been slow, and priority countries are yet to be identified.

Box 1: Afghanistan’s Troubled Gender Policy
Afghanistan offers many lessons for why gender— specifically the experiences of women and girls—needs to be better integrated into U.S. stabilization policy and practice. The reconstruction and stabilization process in Afghanistan was well-funded, extensive, and explicitly mandated to incorporate gender mainstreaming, though almost all its gender programs were built for women and girls. This led to some achievements in education, employment, and health. Women were able to attend universities and girls’ access to education expanded, with a 23% increase in the number of girls enrolled in primary school between 2003 and 2017.16 By 2019, 25% of civil service jobs were held by women, and maternal mortality had declined significantly, moving from 1,100 to 396 per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2015.17 However, despite the attention and resources, U.S. government gender policy in Afghanistan had limited success overall. Reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reveal that the  U.S. lacked a comprehensive and coordinated gender strategy as well as staff with gender expertise. It took more than ten years for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to create the first mission-wide gender policy and a unified understanding of gender priorities.18 Along with poor coordination was a shortage of gender expertise. USAID only required that gender be addressed in its programs in 2008, and “it was not until 2014 that USAID placed staff with gender expertise in each of the agency’s technical offices in Kabul.”19 This meant that gender analysis was often delayed or ineffective.20 Conditions improved with the creation of an Afghanistan Gender Task Force in Washington, D.C. and a Gender Working Group in Kabul, but the utility of this system was impaired by inconsistent support from senior leadership.21 U.S. officials often failed to understand and address the underlying social and cultural context that fueled gender inequality in Afghanistan, consequently designing programs that did not reach a diversity of women.22 Gains were primarily felt by women in elite urban areas, while many women in conservative, rural, and ethnic minority communities continued to live with genderbased restrictions that limited their access to services.23 Furthermore, Afghan women were often excluded from leadership or decision-making roles, especially at the local level where decisions can have a more immediate impact on daily life. Analysts sometimes highlight women’s participation in Loya Jirgas (“grand council”) meetings of the country’s regional leaders and the national parliament as evidence that they held positions of power.24 However, even when women were in decision-making positions, they comprised a significant minority and had difficulty gaining respect or garnering support for their ideas.25

To comply with the GFA, the “Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 504(c) of the Global Fragility Act” (hereafter referred to as the September Report) was sent to Congress on September 17, 2020.26 The September Report was supposed to present a comprehensive strategy but, on many levels, failed to do so.27 Only five pages long, it briefly summarized the 2017 National Security Strategy and identified four goals—prevention, stabilization, burden-sharing (multilateral coordination), and management (internal coordination)—but did not provide details on how to achieve these goals.28 Additionally, while the September Report mentions both “women” and “gender,” it does so in a cursory, and arguably performative, manner.

A second document, “The  U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability,” also known as the Global Fragility Strategy (GFS), was released on December 18, 2020. This marked “the first time that the  U.S. has had a strategy, an enduring—a 10-year strategy—to address conflict prevention and stabilization.”29 This unique strategy was intended to address fragility at its core and encourage the development of strong and secure countries that could be U.S. partners.30 The GFS elaborates on the four goals mentioned in the September Report by committing to developing new partnerships with civil society, the private sector, regional partners, and bilateral and multilateral contributors, with an emphasis on “supporting locally driven political solutions.”31 Though it still does not widely address gender, the GFS specifically highlights the need to meaningfully engage women and girls and promote their rights, which is more detail than contained in the GFA and September Report. It also describes the need to strengthen local civil society organizations that are inclusive of women, address the WPS strategy, and consider the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Inequality


Here, the GFS provides needed details on, for example, the creation of a working-level secretariat and a senior-level GFA Steering Committee composed of USAID, DOS, DOD, the Department of Treasury, and the Office of Management and Budget, convened by the National Security Council. Additionally, it identifies the Chief of Mission as the lead for field-level planning and declares U.S. embassies responsible for coordination of national government counterparts and local civil society organizations.33 Finally, the GFS highlights “compact-style country and regional partnerships” to promote mutual accountability and the facilitation of political dialogue.34

As a stabilization document, the GFS is far more promising in bringing women and gender to the forefront. However, a strategy is meant to have implementation guidance, and despite a greater emphasis on gender, the GFS fails to address how the GFA will integrate gender throughout its activities.

Gender-Sensitive Implementation Can Close the Current GFA Gap

The gender gaps in the GFA and GFS include using genderblind language, confusing gender-based terminology, and using indices that do not measure gender. As a starting point, using language that acknowledges different gender groups and their needs when implementing the GFA will prove critical for the legislation’s success, because fragility and conflict affect women and girls differently than men and boys.35 Failure to deliberately consider the needs of women specifically will stymie intended change. Researching the lived experiences of underserved groups helps “fill a gap in the understanding of conflict and instability and improve[s] conflict-sensitivity of policies and programs.”36 This type of analysis is necessary to understand the consequences of outside intervention on stopping or changing an ongoing conflict, which is vital to the GFA’s goals.37 Paired with gender, this will reveal how “women’s everyday experiences with broader regional and global political processes and structures inform violence.”38

As a final example of how the GFA overlooks gender, countries or regions for GFA implementation are to be selected based upon several sources, including U.S. government conflict and atrocity early warning lists, levels of in-country violence, and five indices (see Box 2), referred to as “recognized global fragility lists.”39 A careful review of these five indices reveals that while some of them mention gender-related information, none of them use gender-related indicators to determine their country rankings. For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) States of Fragility Report cites gender statistics for fragile states, like maternal mortality ratios, in its infographics, but it sources this information from other databases and does not actually gather its own data on gender.40 More specifically, none of these indices directly measure gender equality or genderbased violence (GBV).41 The Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index mentions countering GBV as one of its organizational missions, but the index itself does not include data or GBV as an indicator.

Improving on the GFA, the GFS adds seven additional indices to be referenced when selecting countries (see Box 2).42 However, while these indices consider women’s wellbeing in their mission statements or vision, none of them gather detailed gender-disaggregated data on women’s safety. Further, the GFS document does not highlight rates of GBV as indicators of violence, meaning GBV may not be meaningfully integrated into implementation strategies. Reliance on indices that do not measure GBV or violence against children means that these forms of violence will not substantially influence country selection.

Box 2: Recognized Global Fragility Lists
GFA Listed Indices: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development States of Fragility ReportFund for Peace Fragile States IndexThe World Bank Harmonized List of Fragile SituationsThe Institute for Economic and Peace Global Peace IndexThe U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Early Warning Project Risk Assessment GFS Listed Indices: The Armed Conflict and Location Event Data ProjectFund for Peace Fragile States IndexFreedom House Freedom in the World IndexLegatum Institute’s Prosperity IndexThe U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Early Warning Project Risk AssessmentVarieties of Democracy ProjectUNDP’s Gender Inequality IndexWorld Bank’s Worldwide Governance IndicatorsWorld Justice Project Rule of Law Index

Why Focus on Women?

Put bluntly, gender does not equal women. However, policymakers often focus on women as victims during stabilization and reconstruction, instead of also considering their contributions to peace negotiations or the duration of peace settlements. In fact, data show a positive link between women’s activities and conflict stabilization:43

  • Peace Negotiations Succeed More Often. Peace deals that include women in negotiations have higher chances of success and are more likely to bring armed groups to the negotiating table. An Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative study of 40 peace deals since 1990 has shown that parties were significantly more likely to reach an agreement when women’s groups had strong influence on the negotiation process.44
  • Peace Settlements Last Longer. Women’s participation had a statistically significant and positive impact on the duration of peace.45 After analyzing 181 peace agreements signed since 1989, researchers found that agreements resulting from negotiations that directly included women were 35% more likely to last beyond 15 years.46 This is because women who are actively involved in negotiations often have decision-making authority or access to those involved in peace implementation.47
  • Women’s Advocacy Yields Direct Benefits for All. Women advocate for specific provisions or work that addresses the roots of conflict or builds programs for other social groups in need. This is because, in addition to advocating for women’s rights, women also advocate for measures that help prevent relapse into violence, contributing to a broader change in power relations and benefiting the broader community.48 As an example, “in Burundi women succeeded in inserting into the peace agreement provisions on freedom of marriage and the right to choose one’s partner [regardless of gender].”49

The active participation of women in all aspects of stability and development increases the likelihood of positive change. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize that there are societalbased differences in gender, reflected in practices, customs, and law that have important political consequences for nation-states.50 The  U.S. will not succeed in achieving basic stabilization goals if its implementation strategy does not integrate critical gender components.

Policy Recommendations

Integrating a gender-sensitive approach into GFA implementation will improve conflict prevention and stabilization and set ground-breaking precedent for future missions. The ten-year plans presented to Congress for each selected country should integrate the following recommendations, taking care to customize them to each country’s cultural context rather than apply a one size fits all approach.

1. Use Gender-focused Indices to Identify GFA Priority Countries and Inform Analysis

A gender-focused index with gender-disaggregated data should be used in identifying priority regions and countries for GFA implementation. None of the country selection indices listed in the GFA or GFS account for rates of GBV or violence against women (VAW) and do not present genderdisaggregated data.51 Relying solely on the existing indices will make it impossible for analysts to gain a comprehensive picture of the status of women in different countries, especially in relation to conflict and violence. Fortunately, the GFS leaves an opening for other “third-party data sources and indicators to help inform selection of priority countries and/or regions and monitor overall progress.”52

We recommend including the WomenStats Database, the Women Peace and Security Index, and the World Bank Gender Data Portal. The WomenStats Database assesses the relationship between security, stability, and gender and proves it is possible to predict organized violence based on the mistreatment of women.53 Vetted at the UN, the DOD, and Congress, with over 350 indicators for 176 countries, the WomanStats Database is “the largest cross-national compilation of data, statistics, and maps on the status of women worldwide.”54 The Women Peace and Security Index, maintained by the Georgetown Institute of Women Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Centre for Gender Peace and Security, measures inclusion, justice, and security for women using 11 indicators for 170 countries.55 This index is unique in that it offers a snapshot of women’s status in a country based on numerous social realities and could directly inform progress on WPS commitments made by the  U.S. and partner countries. A third option is the World Bank Gender Data Portal, which is the World Bank Group’s most comprehensive source for “sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics covering demography, education, health, access to economic opportunities, public life, and decision-making and agency.”56 Mandating the inclusion of one or more gender-specific indices will ensure that gender programming is informed by a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between women and country-specific violence.

In addition to using the indices listed in the GFA, researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs suggest establishing “critical criteria” to guide country selection.57 Establishing critical criteria that are deliberately gender-inclusive (like rates of GBV) would take analysis one step further by ensuring that the treatment of all gender identities, not just women, are included in GFA decisions.

  • Enhance Coordination and Gender Integration Through a New Interagency Task Force

The GFA requires robust interagency coordination, and the GFS outlines a senior-level steering committee for oversight, the creation of a working-level secretariat—managed by DOS with members from relevant implementing agencies—and one in-country designee for field-level planning, nominated by the chief of mission.58 However, this plan needs details on tactical and operational level personnel, and on the type of expertise the in-country designee should have. It also neglects to address gender training. To enhance interagency coordination and efficiency, the secretariat should also establish an interagency task force composed of teams both in Washington, D.C. and in each chosen country. In addition to adding gender and M&E leads, task force teams should include leads from the three primary implementing departments.

Under the staffing structure currently proposed in the GFS, personnel would undertake GFA activities as additional or collateral duties. In contrast, task force personnel will be dedicated to GFA activity, serving as full-time staff focused on overall implementation that are independent from individual programs. This will empower a centralized group to gather best practices and guarantee more continuity of bandwidth and institutional knowledge throughout the ten-year duration of GFA. It will also prevent the shortage of coordination, gender expertise, and M&E resources that has plagued gender programs in stabilization missions, such as Afghanistan. Together a steering committee, secretariat, and interagency task force will fulfill strategic, operational, and tactical dimensions of implementation.

  • Apply Intersectional Analysis to Ensure Diverse Civil Society Engagement

The GFA and GFS require engagement and consultations with civil society in the development of in-country programming, offering the chance to amplify intersectionality along with gender-inclusivity. The GFA and GFS specifically acknowledge the need to work with civil society and local groups led by underserved populations, like women and youth, to advance inclusive peace and women’s leadership “in all aspects of conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.”59 This is important, but the ten-year plans should mandate that consultations be held with intersectional groups made up of diverse women of various races, ethnicities, religions, classes, and sexual orientations.60 Utilizing intersectionality in this way will meaningfully incorporate different perspectives in the design of programming, ultimately enabling programs to reach and benefit women from more backgrounds, an achievement missing from past conflict and stabilization efforts but crucial for the future. It will also create space for more women to influence decision-making at the local level.

In order to do this correctly, U.S. personnel should hire local representatives who understand the intersecting identities within the communities where programming is conducted. Local consultants will be able to provide crucial background knowledge on community identities and more easily secure participation from targeted groups than foreign officials. The GFA provides for this in its calls for future strategies to identify the “authorities, staffing, and other resources” needed to effectively implement the GFS.61

  • Leverage and Connect Existing PoliciesStrategically and efficiently, the GFS asserts it will draw on existing U.S. legislation and directives throughout its programming process, which creates a chance to streamline gender agendas across government entities and policy topics. The GFS already mentions the 2019 U.S. Women, Peace and Security (WPS) strategy, which is a great start.62 The process would also benefit from including the comprehensive WPS implementation plans that the USAID, DOS, and DOD each created in response to the passage of the WPS Act of 2017. The DOS plan, for example, sets clear objectives for increasing women and girls’ safety and participation in peace efforts and lays out M&E metrics to achieve these objectives.63 Thus far, GFA implementation strategies do not include this degree of specificity; they lack clear objectives or indicators for women’s rights, empowerment or safety, and details on how these will be measured to determine GFA programming success. Relying on existing policies that have already been integrated into the three primary implementing departments would be a tactical way to take a more gender-sensitive approach.64

The GFA should also build upon the recently released National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, drawing on the White House, its resources, and the attention of the current administration to advance gender equality. This first-of-itskind gender strategy also emphasizes a whole of government approach, stating: “in order to mainstream gender equity and equality across our domestic and foreign policy, we will elevate gender in strategic planning and budgeting, policy development, management and training, and monitoring and evaluation efforts.”65 The strategy is especially forwardthinking in that it promotes a focus on intersectional identities, something currently lacking from the GFA, and interprets them broadly to include sexual orientation.66 In fact, one of the strategy’s objectives—to elevate gender equality in security and humanitarian relief—is already poised to correct a GFA gap by committing to using diplomatic fora and resources to support the leadership of local civil society groups led by women.67 Building on this strategy, a stated priority of the Biden administration, will make for more harmonious domestic and foreign policy.

  • Employ Gender-inclusive Language in Future Strategy Documents and Reports

This brief has largely focused on women because U.S. gender policies usually target women’s issues. However, GFA strategy documents, including revisions made to the GFS, country plans, or biennial reports, should use language that serves people belonging to all marginalized gender identities. For example, the Act should have stated that it serves to empower “groups underserved for their gender” rather than just “women” in GFA programming implementation.68 More inclusive language will encourage gender programming to be designed for any group that may need protection or empowerment because of its gender identity or expression. Additionally, to prevent GBV from being conflated with VAW and to acknowledge that all genders can experience violence, future documents should define each term and use them deliberately.

Lastly, language that essentializes groups, such as use of the word “vulnerable,” should be left out of future documents.69 Using the word “underserved,” for example, instead of “vulnerable” better showcases that certain groups face difficult circumstances not because of their own actions but because a system or society has failed to adequately support them. This kind of language underscores a structural problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a group that needs to be saved.


U.S. efforts to integrate and implement gender programming in conflict settings need a new approach to improve the lives of women and other marginalized gender groups. The GFA is an innovative policy with a progressive approach to solving violent conflict, but thus far the implementation process is predominantly gender blind. A course correction is still possible. The GFA’s ability to drive change will be determined by its implementation, and country strategies that incorporate intersectional and gender-sensitive lenses will strengthen the Act’s efficacy and better serve groups in need. This unique lens will also promote more accurate conflict analysis because women are important contributors to conflict resolution, despite also being targets of violence. If implemented properly, a gender-sensitive GFA promises a fresh start for stabilization efforts and, hopefully, human rights on the ground.

This policy brief was prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the official views or policy of WIIS or the Embassy of Liechtenstein.


  1. This report employs the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of gender as “the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed […] gender interacts with but is different from sex, which refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons.” See “Gender and Health,” World Health Organization, 2021, gender#tab=tab_1.
  2. Addressed hereafter as GFA or The Act.
  3. This also coincides with Biden-Harris Administration’s immediate priorities, which include COVID-19, climate, racial equity, economy, health care, immigration, and restoring America’s global standing. See “The Biden-Harris Administration Immediate Priorities,” The White House, n.d.,
  4. A Framework for Maximizing the Effectiveness of U.S. Government Efforts to Stabilize Conflict-Affected Areas (U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Department of Defense, 2018), p. 1,
  5. Framework for Maximizing Effectiveness, p. 4.
  6. Pascrell, Bill Jr., Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116–94, § 502, 1321 (2019), STAT. 3060, bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1865/text.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Pascrell, STAT. 3064.
  9. Pascrell, STAT. 3063.
  10. Pascrell, STAT. 3064.
  11. Pascrell, STAT. 3066.
  12. Pascrell, STAT. 3065-3066.
  13. Ibid.14. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Deniz Kandiyoti, “Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women’s Rights,” Third World Quarterly, 28:3 (2007): 503-517,
  16. John R. Allen and Vanda Felbab-Brown, “The Fate of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan,” Brookings Institution, September 16, 2020, https://www.
  17. Bateman, Kate, Samantha Hay, Mariam Jalalzada, Matthew Rubin, and Sarah Rababy, Support for Gender Equality: Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan Lessons Learned Reports. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), February 2021, p. xxii; Haque, Tobias, Afghanistan’s Development Gains: Progress and Challenges, The World Bank, Washington, DC, 2020, p. 10, https://
  18. Bateman et. al., p. 28.
  19. Ibid; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021, p. 79, pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Bateman et. al, p. 29.
  22. SIGAR, What We Need to Learn, p. 79.
  23. Allen and Felbab-Brown. “The Fate of Women in Afghanistan.”
  24. Greg Myre, “Everything You Wanted To Know About An Afghan Loya Jirga,” National Public Radio (NPR), November 21, 2013, https://
  25. Cheryl Benard et. al., Women and Nation-Building (RAND Cooperation, 2008), p. 120, pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG579.pdf.
  26. U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 504(c) of the Global Fragility Act (September 15, 2020), p. 1, https://www.
  27. Alliance for Peacebuilding, No Time to Waste to Implement the Global Fragility Act, September 16, 2020, no-time-to-waste-to-implement-the-global-fragility-act-b3c79f7bceae.
  28. Teresa Welsh, “U.S. State Department Releases Global Fragility Strategy,” Devex, December 19, 2020,
  29. U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, December 18, 2020, pp. 1-2, https://www.state. gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/us-strategy-to-prevent-conflict-andpromote-stability.pdf.
  30. Ibid., p. 3.
  31. The WPS Strategy emphasizes proactively integrating the needs and perspectives of women and ensuring their participation in the prevention and resolution of conflict.
  32. Ibid., p. 15.
  33. Ibid., p.14.
  34. Christine Pedersen, How to Center Women in the Global Fragility Act (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, March 13, 2020),
  35. Ibid.
  36. “Fact Sheet Conflict Sensitivity,” Center for Peacebuilding (Swiss Peace, 2004), pp. 2-3, pdf/KOFF/KOFF_Documents/KOFF_Factsheet_Conflictsensitivity.pdf.
  37. Heidi Hudson Source.
  38. Pascrell, STAT. 3063.
  39. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, States of Fragility 2020 (OECD), September 17, 2020), ba7c22e7-en.
  40. Gender-based violence (GBV) is “violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex or gender identity. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.” See Women for Women International, What Does That Mean? Gender-Based Violence, June 4, 2021, https://www.
  41. U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 13.

  • Valerie M. Hudson et. al., “The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States,” International Security, 33:3 (2008): p. 12,
  • Hannah Beswick, Increasing the Participation of Women in Peace Processes: Reaching a Sustainable Durable Peace (EastWest Institute, June 20, 2018),
  • Marie O’Reilly, Andrea O Suilleabhain, and Thania Paffenholz, Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes International Peace Institute, March 2014, p. 12, uploads/2015/06/IPI-E-pub-Reimagining-Peacemaking.pdf.
  • “Women’s Participation and a Better Understanding of the Political,” in Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace, UN Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 2015),
  • Council on Foreign Relations, Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: Why It Matters. (n.d.)., accessed December 11, 2020, https://
  • O’Reilly, et. al., p. 11.
  • Ibid.
  • Hudson et. al., p. 12.
  • The United Nations recognizes violence against women (VAW) as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” It is important to understand the difference between VAW and GBV; the former refers to violence committed against individuals that identify with the specific gender group “women,” while the latter includes violence committed against any individuals because of their gender identity or expression, not just women. See United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Again Women,” December 20, 1993, pages/violenceagainstwomen.aspx.
  • U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 13.

p. 12.

  • Ibid., p. 7.
  • Civil society engagement is essential to equitable GFA implementation, but care should be taken not to further endanger underserved groups with overtly public consultations. Consideration of the health and safety of local groups should drive methods of engagement.
  • Pascrell, STAT. 3062.
  • U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict,

p. 20.

Dr. Karin L. Johnston


Achieving gender equality is central to the values and aims of the European Union (EU). Advancing human rights and preserving democracy and the rule of law is embedded in the EU’s foundational treaties and in subsequent conventions, strategies, and action plans. In 2019, the EU witnessed the election of its first female president, Ursula von der Leyen, who has made gender equality and gender mainstreaming a top priority. In 2020, the EU extended its institutional commitment to gender equality, via its first Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and its external relations, through the EU’s third Gender Action Plan (GAP III), which embodies UNSCR 1325 and the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda to reduce violence against women and ensure women’s participation in peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts. Institutionally, the EU’s work on gender equality and women’s empowerment falls under the European Commission’s remit, while the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service, is tasked with implementing GAP III.

This policy brief examines these EU moves to carry out its Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and GAP III. It focuses on gender equality and gender mainstreaming in EU institutions and in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). While the EU has made significant strides, its achievements have been unevenly distributed and implemented, both in terms of geographic distribution and in issue domains, particularly in the foreign and security policy arenas. The practical question is therefore what can be done to create greater momentum towards achieving greater gains in gender equality? The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic hardships have been devastating, especially for women, children, and other vulnerable populations. Leaders in all countries face difficult policy choices, and some countries have used the pandemic to reverse gains in human rights and gender equality. The EU is recognized and respected for its leadership and commitment to human rights and democracy, and so it is particularly important for the EU to continue its gender equality agenda both within and beyond its borders.

Gender Equality in the EU: Representation and Participation

Gender equality is enshrined in the EU’s foundational documents, whereby “In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality between men and women.”1 Early efforts at gender equality targeted socio-economic inequalities such as “equal pay for equal work” and labor market access.2 It was a gradual and functionalist progression, from wages and employment to areas of social and economic policy and other areas of gender inequality.3 In the 1990s, the EU’s commitment to gender mainstreaming provided the drive to integrate gender into the development field and then into the EU’s external actions and its peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts.

Although the EU has shown strong commitment to gender equality, developments have been uneven across member states and issue domains. The EU’s European Institute for Gender Equality’s annual Gender Equality Index catalogues gender gaps over time using a scale of 1 (total inequality) to 100 (full equality) measured in six domains: work, money, knowledge, time, (political) power, and health.4 Accordingly, gender equality in the EU has reached 67.9 points, but progress across the EU has varied considerably, from Sweden (83.6) and Denmark (77.5) to Hungary (51.9) and Greece (51.2). Although the political power measurement has seen the most improvement since 2005, moving 11.6 points since 2020, its score remains the lowest overall (53.5 points) of the six domains.5 It is thus in the realm of representation and access to political power where gender inequalities are especially pronounced.6 More discouraging is the report’s observation that the level of power improvement drove the overall increase in the Index score—obscuring the absence of real gains in the other domains.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 only reinforces the need to address the problem of representation. Of the four subindices the report uses to measure performance—health and survival, education, economic participation and opportunity, and political empowerment— the political empowerment subindex lags by an astonishing margin. The gender gap has nearly closed in health and survival (96%) and education (95%), while economic participation stands at 58%. However, political empowerment only reaches 22%—a drop of 2.4% from 2020. These sobering numbers show why efforts to increase women’s participation in the political field must be intensified.

The record isn’t much better in terms of women’s representation and participation in EU agencies. The numbers of women presidents and prime ministers among European countries remain disappointing. Though more women were elected heads of state between 2003 and 2018, the number never rose above 14%.7 Today, only four of the 27 heads of state or government are women, from Germany, Estonia, Denmark, and Finland—and soon to be three, since German Chancellor Angela Merkel will soon be replaced by the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz. Five EU member states have women defense ministers (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and Spain), and in the 47 states represented in the Council of Europe, only nine women serve as foreign minister (Albania, Andorra, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Lichtenstein, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).

The most important change, however, has occurred within the EU at the highest level of leadership, where for the first time in its history a woman now serves as President of the European Commission. Having assumed her duties on December 1, 2019, Ursula von der Leyen leads the institutional body that exercises executive power in the EU and that represents the interests of the EU on the international stage. Von der Leyen announced that gender equality would be one of her top priorities, enshrined within the new EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.8 She declared her intention to implement new anti-discrimination legislation, introduce pay transparency measures, establish quotas for gender balance on company boards, and achieve gender parity in EU institutions, starting with her own College of Commissioners.9 Von der

EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025
End gender-based violenceChallenge gender stereotypes Close inequalities in labor markets Achieve equal participation across economic sectors Address the gender pay and pension gaps Close the gender care gap Achieve gender balance in decision-making and  in politics

Leyen succeeded in her goal of a gender-balanced College of Commissioners, which is now made up of 13 women and 14 men, though many of the portfolios women hold are more traditionally “female.”10 In the Gender Equality Strategy, von der Leyen is committed to achieving more women in decisionmaking roles and to 50%-50% gender balance at all levels of EU management by 2024. The challenge is especially vital in the field of foreign and security policy: in an October 2020 statement, the European Parliament noted that women hold 40% of the positions in the Commission but only 31.3% of middle-management positions and 26% of senior management positions in the European External Action Service (EEAS), the diplomatic arm of the EU.11

One of the EU’s most powerful commissioners is Margrethe Vestager. As the EU’s commissioner for competition, she has taken on Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies, such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. In September 2019, Vestager was elected to an unprecedented second term as the EU’s competition commissioner and, in President von der Leyen’s newly reorganized Commission, acquired a second portfolio as “Executive Vice President of the European Commission for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age.”12 Thus, not only will Vestager continue to oversee the EU’s competition rules, she will supervise the EU’s overarching cybersecurity, industrial, and big data policies, coordinate the EU’s position on the taxation of digital companies, and have a hand in shaping a White Paper on artificial intelligence, a data strategy, and a common position of the risks linked to 5G networks. This is a powerful platform for decisions that will have a significant impact in shaping regulatory, technological, and trade and market rules and regulations in Europe and across the globe.

In the European Parliament, the record on gender equality is encouraging but, as in so many other issues, the devil is in the details. EU statistics show the number of women members of the European Parliament has risen from a low of 16.6% in 1979 to the current 38.9%—about the world average but still far from full equality. Once again, the differences are highly variable, by member state and party affiliation. The number of female members in the European Parliament by member state range from a high of 57.1% in Finland to 18.2% in Romania and no women at all for Cyprus.13 In terms of its parliamentary parties, gender equality is highest in the European centerleft, led by the Greens with 48.3% women, followed by other center-left political parties. Parties of the far-right lag far behind, ranging between 32.3 to 39.7%.14

The rise of right-wing populist parties that have weakened democratic institutions and governments across Europe has seen gender and women’s rights come under sustained attack, notably in Poland and Hungary.15 In November 2020, both states strongly objected to the GAP III draft promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in EU foreign and security policy and to protecting LGBTQ+ rights, despite gender equality and human rights protections being enshrined in EU treaty and basic EU law. These two governments also targeted gender equality. In July 2021, they lobbied to remove the term “gender equality” from a draft declaration to improve social cohesion.16 That same month, the European Commission took legal action against Hungary and Poland for what it deemed were violations of EU laws regarding non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation—against Hungary for passing an anti-LGBTQ+ law and against some communities in Poland that declared themselves “LGTBQ-free” zones.17

Finally, women are underrepresented in EU parliamentary committees and in ministerial portfolios. Only 35.2% of women lead EU parliamentary committees, and the gap is particularly evident in committees responsible for external affairs. Revealingly, women tended not to receive the highprofile portfolios but the “softer issue” socio-cultural portfolios of education, family and children, and health. In parliamentary committees focused on external affairs, representation ranges from 46% in the areas of international trade and development to 31% in foreign affairs and only 20% in the security and defense field.18

Studies of the EU’s track record on gender equality point to longstanding institutional and socio-cultural obstacles that continue to impede advancement toward full gender equality: the ongoing struggle for gender equality in middle and senior management in EU institutions (“think leader, think male”); work-life balance; a closed system of advancement; lack of political leadership and political will; poor implementation and weak enforcement mechanisms on legislation; insufficient resources and staffing; and little support for gender mainstreaming across EU institutions and issue areas.19 More difficult to address are the differences among member states in social and cultural norms and attitudes about gender that contribute to an “adoption-implementation gap” on gender equality issues within the EU.20

European Court of Auditors: Gender
Mainstreaming Recommendations
Strengthen EU institutional frameworkConduct gender analysisCollect and analyze sex-aggregated dataUse gender-related objectives/indicatorsImprove reporting on gender equalityAssess and report on whether resilience and recovery plans contribute to gender equality.

Multiple studies have concluded that implementation of existing gender equality and gender mainstreaming legislation remains a core problem, and hence many recommendations have an institutional focus. To address gaps in representation, for example, observers call for the EU to ensure genderneutral job descriptions and revise family and leave policy to address work-life balance. Other recommendations point to the need for better monitoring and evaluation and assessment systems, gender-disaggregated data, and better training at managerial levels to accelerate shifts in institutionalized structures of implicit bias and bureaucratic cultures. Deficits in the EU budget process are problematic, too. A 2021 EU auditing report concluded the EU failed to incorporate gender mainstreaming into the EU budget across the seven budget headings and thus failed to “live up to its commitment.”21 It calls for the Commission itself to comply with directives to integrate gender mainstreaming into the budget process and commit funding for gender-based initiatives.

Gender Equality in CSDP: Representation and Participation

The commitment to gender mainstreaming in EU institutions in the 1990s also expanded into the EU’s external relations, first to development aid and then to foreign and security policy, with UNSCR 1325 and the international WPS agenda providing important points of reference. But efforts to formalize gender mainstreaming in the EU Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) were not immediately successful. The “watershed” moment for the integration of the WPS agenda into EU foreign and security policy occurred in 2008 with the adoption of the “Comprehensive Approach on Women, Peace and Security” for EU implementation of UNSCR 1325 and 1820.22 Starting in 2010, the EU introduced three successive gender action plans (GAP) that provide a framework for the European Commission and the EEAS to advance gender equality and empowerment in its external


Value of Gender Equality Measurers in Missions
Effectiveness at the Tactical, Operational, and  Strategic Levels Secures access to groups and areas where male counterparts cannotEnhances situational awarenessCollects intelligence that helps challenge existing assumptionsHelps gain local trust in missionDemonstrates diversity benefits decision-making processesContributes to better work environment, more collaborative work dynamicsStrengthens credibility with host nationDemonstrated commitment strengthens EU legitimacyHelps overcome gender stereotypes within mission and outside mission.

Documents such as the 2015 Council Conclusion on CSDP and the EEAS EU Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) 2019-2024 continue to support the promotion of gender mainstreaming and a stronger role for women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts as well as all EU military and civilian missions.24 As of late 2021, the EU deployed seven military missions and 11 civilian missions in Europe, Africa, and Asia, with a combined strength of 5,000 personnel.25 Their stated objectives include conflict prevention, peacekeeping, strengthening international security and rule of law, and the prevention of human trafficking and piracy.26 Of the seven current military missions, four are training missions (Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Mozambique) and three are military operations with an executive mandate (Bosnia-Herzegovina and two naval force operations off the Somali coast and in the Mediterranean).

Several studies on gender representation in EU military missions show there is a steep hill to climb. A 2018 SIPRI study of EU missions conducted between 2008 and 2017 noted that female personnel numbers varied considerably both in numbers and in missions, ranging between 5.3 to 8.4% for 2013-2017.27 Explaining such variation is difficult; some surmise it is related to the conflict intensity of the mission,28 but the lack of gender-disaggregated data seriously limits the conclusions that can be drawn with any degree of certainty.29 The proportion of female personnel did increase from 3.6% to 7.8%, but the available data lack sufficient detail to draw specific conclusions about gender and the impact of women on mission effectiveness.30

In response to the growing demand for more civilian mission capabilities, in November 2018 EU member states established the Civilian Common Security and Defense Policy Compact to strengthen civilian missions.31 Given this demand for civilian personnel, one might be tempted to assume that EU efforts at gender mainstreaming in civilian missions have advanced faster, but the EU’s record is mixed at best. The number of civilian women personnel (which includes uniformed police and non-uniformed civilian personnel) rose from 11.3% to 22.8% between 2008 and 2017. Within that number, researchers estimated that women police averaged around 10%.32 The numbers fluctuated significantly but they did increase in relative terms, though not in absolute terms, from 46 in 2008 to over 400 by mid-2010, before declining from 423 to 260 between 2013-2017. Although the data show the gender balance improving, they also show the number of male personnel falling sharply between 2011-2017, due mostly to scaling down of mission size. Thus, no actual increase in female personnel in civilian missions was observable.

Several factors influence the rate of female civilian personnel in EU missions. One is the CSDP recruitment system. Uniformed personnel, both military and civilian police, are deployed or seconded by member state governments, and governments also nominate the “seconded” civilian personnel. Not all governments are committed to full gender equality, and these attitudes impact on the number of qualified women who make it through the selection process. The remaining personnel are “international contracted” personnel recruited by the EEAS, an organization that itself has been criticized for its “add women and stir” approach to gender mainstreaming and poor hiring record, particularly in middle and top management positions.33 The SIPRI study also highlights one of the most consistent criticisms of military and civilian CSDP missions: the significant lack of EU gender-disaggregated data. For example, the authors reported that for the period 20062017, they were unable to find statistics on the representation of women in military operations.34

Despite some progress, the general conclusions of the 2017 parliamentary evaluation of women in CSDP missions remain valid today: “measuring the impact of women’s participation in CSDP missions and operations is challenging because of the relatively small number of women in CSDP and the overall lack of statistical data on their positions within the organizations.”35

As with gender equality generally, the reasons why so few women are deployed are familiar: attitudes and prejudices (soldiering is not a woman’s job, not physically capable), work-life balance, recruitment and retention policies, institutionalized constraints (gendered job descriptions), funding problems, under-representation, and lack of top leadership support.36 CSDP missions must also compete for personnel and funds against demands from other organizations, both internally

(FRONTEX, the EU’s border control agency) and externally (UN, OSCE, NATO). For military missions, inadequate training in gender mainstreaming can have deleterious effects: with training devoid of evidence of tangible strategic, tactical, and operational advantages of including women, planners may miss the relevance of gender mainstreaming and thus fail to utilize female personnel in ways that advance mission objectives. Especially relevant for CSDP missions and operations are calls for changes in the recruitment system, more deployed gender advisors, and the need for genderdisaggregated data collection.

Calls for institutional reform within the EEAS are also strong, including changing recruitment policies to address personnel deficits and promoting more women in middle and top management.37 The European Parliament’s report on gender equality in the EU’s foreign and defense policy was critical of the ongoing underperformance of the EEAS in meeting gender equality targets and, in particular, its inability to produce specific and measurable objectives to meet those targets, the lack of diversity, the lack of gender-responsive recruitment procedures, and absence of genuine genderresponsive leadership.38


The EU’s priorities in advancing gender equality have focused on helping close the gender pay gap and gaps in employment and pensions; expanding women’s representation and participation in decision-making; addressing gender-based violence; and promoting gender equality and women’s rights both within and outside of the EU. The EU’s Gender Equality Strategy, the Common Approach to WPS, and the new GAP III all demonstrate a strong institutional commitment to gender equality and gender mainstreaming.

The greatest obstacle, however, lies in the implementation of existing frameworks to realize their aims. A persistent gap exists between institutional statements and actual implementation of the EU’s framework for advancing gender equality and gender mainstreaming, which is still often seen as an “add-on” rather than a framework and guide for transformational change. Such change is required in the EU’s internal activities as well as its external foreign and security policies. Importantly, EU officials must also clearly convey to member states that gender equality and gender mainstreaming are core EU strategic aims. It is unclear where the EU’s recent legal actions against Poland and Hungary will lead, but such challenges to liberal democracy and the rule of law are also existential challenges for the EU and must be resolved in ways that uphold EU values, norms, laws, and way of life.

Fortunately, recommendations for implementing constructive reforms exist, which focus on concrete and binding objectives. Internally, the EU can:

  • Change institutional processes and policies such as promotion policies, job descriptions and requirements, and advancement opportunities;
  • Adjust training and curricula programs to maximize mainstreaming gender throughout the cycle of respective areas of competence;
  • Address work-life balance policies, taking onboard lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Implement the recommendations made by the European Court of Auditors to incorporate gender mainstreaming into the EU budget—and evaluate and monitor the progress. Externally, the EU can address shortfalls in its gender equality strategy by acting to:
  • Improve the EEAS’ poor record on gender recruitment by altering job descriptions and promoting gender equality in institutions that serve as pool for candidates, e.g., border police, law enforcement, and ministries of justice, defense, and interior;
  • Increase retention by establishing gender-responsive recruitment procedures, making family policies gender sensitive, altering promotion procedures, eliminating the pay gap, and improving work-life balance;
  • Reinforce leadership’s commitment to gender equality by eliminating toxic masculine environments;
  • Mandate gender equality training for all middle and senior EEAS management, head of mission and commanders of CSDP missions and operations, and including female trainers in mixed training teams, as well as role modeling in training;
  • Collect comprehensive gender-aggregated data on CSDP missions to enable evidence-based assessments of the impact of gender inclusion for mission success;
  • Ensure all military CSDP missions include a gender advisor, as already occurs in civilian missions.

Effective implementation of these recommendations requires the EU to “lead by example.” Strong leadership, in turn, depends on finding the political will to transform the EU’s culture and institutional structures that impede gender mainstreaming. One of the many challenges EU President von der Leyen faces is obtaining broader support among EU member states to prioritize policies that encourage gender mainstreaming in EU institutions and policies. This is a difficult task, especially in the security and defense arena, and while the current COVID-19 crisis and economic recession have put considerable pressure on EU resources. But these constraints do not justify rejecting these recommendations for gender equality, most of which can be enacted without significant expenditure. Indeed, times of crisis are the best time to lead by example.


  1. See Articles 8 and 19 of the Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, 2016, legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF n/?uri=CELEX:12012E/TXT&from=EN; Articles 2 and 3 of the Treaty on the European Union (1992) (principle of equality between men and women), html?uri=cellar:2bf140bf-a3f8-4ab2-b506-fd71826e6da6.0023.02/ DOC_1&format=PDF; and Article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000) (wages and work), https://www.
  2. Article 119 of the 1957 Treaty of Rome—the foundational document of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union—established the principle of equal pay for equal work for the sexes. See “Promoting equality between men and women,” European Parliamentary Research Service, June 2019, p. 2, BRIE/2018/628272/EPRS_BRI(2018)628272_EN.pdf
  3. Maria Villellas, Pamela Urrutia, Ana Villellas, and Vincenc Fisas, Gender in EU Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Policy and Practice

(WOSCAP, 2016), p. 5, Study%20-%20Gender.pdf


  1. “Fostering gender equality in the EU’s foreign and security policy,” European Parliament press release, October 23 2020, https://www. Individual country data for 40 countries in the Women in Diplomacy Index 2021 show wide variations, but Sweden tops the list with 48.1% women ambassadors. The Nordic countries as a group also lead in the sample, with 40.6%. For the EU, however, the number of women ambassadors is only 23.4%, while the number for Europe as a whole is 27.2%. See Women in Diplomacy Index 2021 (Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, March 2021), pp. 1, 3,
  2. “Margrethe Vestager gets second term in EU competition job,” The Guardian, September 10, 2019, world/2019/sep/10/margrethe-vestager-gets-second-term-in-eu-competition-job
  3. “Women in politics in the EU,” p. 2.
  4. “Women are doing better in European politics, but still not well enough,” Euractiv, December 2, 2019, middle-ground-politics/news/women-are-doing-better-in-europeanpolitics-but-still-not-well-enough/; see also “Women in parliaments” at a glance infographic, European Parliament, February 2020, https:// ATA(2020)646189_EN.pdf
  5. Hans von der Burchard, “EU’s foreign policy gender plan faces resistance from Poland and Hungary,” Politico, November 25, 2020, https://
  6. Gabriela Baczynska, “Poland, Hungary push against ‘gender equality’ at EU social summit,” Reuters, May 7, 2021, world/europe/poland-hungary-push-against-gender-equality-eu-social-summit-2021-05-07/
  7. “EU sues Hungary and Poland over LGBTQ discrimination,” Deutsche Welle, July 15, 2021,
  8. “Women in politics in the EU,” p. 3; “Women are doing better;” and “Promoting Equality in Decision-Making,” 2019 Report on equality between women and men in the EU (European Commission, 2019), pp. 27-43. For further discussion see “Which European country has the most female politicians?” The Economist, May 3, 2019, graphic-detail/2019/05/03/which-european-country-has-the-most-female-politicians; “These countries have the most women in parliament,” World Economic Forum, February 12, 2019, agenda/2019/02/chart-of-the-day-these-countries-have-the-most-women-in-parliament/
  9. For example, the Gender Equality Strategy 2020 introduces a new initiative to address pay transparency but elsewhere addresses older, outstanding issues, such as ensuring 40% female representation on corporate boards (a pledge made in 2012) and pressuring the six member states that have refused to ratify the 2017 Istanbul Convention to prevent and combat violence against women. See “EU sets out plans for gender equality, Politico, March 5, 2020,; “Promoting equality among men and women;” and Gender Equality in Europe: what progress in 2019? (Fondation Robert Schuman, Policy Paper No. 505, March 2019). For an assessment of the lack of gender equality initiatives in the EU budget, see “Gender mainstreaming in the EU budget: time to turn words into action,” European Court of Auditors, May 2021, https://
  10. Ekaterina R. Rashkova, “Talking the talk, but not walking the walk: gender equality in Eastern Europe,” East European Politics, 33:2 (2017), pp. 309-315.
  11. “Gender mainstreaming in the EU budget,” p. 5; “An EU budget that works for women’s rights and equality between women and men,” European Women’s Lobby, 2019, p. 1, ewl_an_eu_budget_that_works_for_women_s_rights_and_equality_between_women_and_men_-_november_2019.pdf
  12. Heidi Riley, “Towards inclusivity in the EU’s approach to women, peace, and security,” GLOBUS, May 11, 2020, news/2020/eu-women-peace-security-riley.html; Jutta Joachim, Andrea Schneiker, Anne Jenichen, “External Networks and institutional idiosyncrasies: the Common Security and Defence Policy and UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 30:1 (2017), p. 111.
  13. Hannah Neumann, “More Women, More Peace: Opportunities at the EU level,”, April 22, 2020, more-women-more-peace-opportunities-at-the-eu-level
  14. “Council Conclusions on CSDP,” European Council, 2015, https://; Annual report on the implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (European Parliament, January 20,

2021), paragraph 60,

TA-9-2021-0012_EN.pdf; EU Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) 2019-2024 (Council of the European Union, July 5, 2019), https://

December                   2017), STUD/2017/603855/EXPO_STU(2017)603855_EN.pdf

2018), 9__Civilian%20CSDP.pdf

  • Smit and Tidblad-Lundholm, Trends in Women’s Participation, p. 3.
  • Corinna Hörst, “A credible and accountable EU foreign service? Not yet,” EU Observer, March 11, 2020,; Laura Chappell and Roberta Guerrina, “Understanding the gender regime in the European External Action Service,” Cooperation and Conflict, 55:2 (2020), pp.261-280.
  • Chappell and Guerrina, “Understanding the gender regime,” p. 268.
  • “Women in CSDP Missions,” Directorate-General for External Policies, European Parliament, December 2017, p. 22, https://www. STU(2017)603855_EN.pdf
  • Irina Bratosin D’Almeida, Rebekka Haffner, Corinna Hörst, “Women in the CSDP: strengthening the EU’s effectiveness as an international player,” European View, 16 (2017), pp. 313-324.
  • For a study of the EEAS’ problems with institutionalized power structures and resistance to gender mainstreaming, see Chappell and Guerrina, “Understanding the gender regime.”
  • Report on Gender Equality in EU’s foreign and security policy (European Parliament, Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, August 3, 2020), p. 22, The report provides a comprehensive assessment and recommendations for the EU. For a criticism of the EEAS under Josep Borrell, see Hannah Neumann, “Borrell’s boys’ club dominates EU foreign policy,” Politico Europe, March 8, 2021, article/europe-diplomacy-gender-equality/

By Daniela Philipson García and Ana Velasco Ugalde

On January 11, 2021, the Mexican government presented its first National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS).1 The NAP is part of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy, launched

in January 2020, and it is a joint effort of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, the Secretariat of Defense (which encompasses the Army and the Air Force), the Secretariat of the Navy, the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection and the National Institute for Women (INMUJERES). An interagency group is responsible for coordination, monitoring and evaluation of the NAP, which is subject to an overall review in 2024.

In this policy brief, we analyze Mexico’s NAP and make three arguments. First, NAPs are not only relevant for a country’s foreign policy and international engagements but are also significant for a country’s domestic security. Unfortunately, Mexico’s NAP is almost exclusively outward focused and does little to address Mexico’s own security challenges and their impact on women, LGBTQ and nonbinary persons. Second, we argue that the NAP’s outward-facing objectives are limited to a Western format that overlooks local contexts. Third, the most effective NAPs are those that have active civil society engagement. We therefore advocate for a formal, institutionalized and expanded role for Mexican civil society organizations. We conclude with recommendations for the Mexican government and civil society organizations and sketch what a more innovative and inclusive NAP could look like.

The NAP’s first three sections introduce the WPS agenda and Mexico’s interests within it. A fourth is devoted to the four pillars of prevention, participation, protection and relief and recovery. The NAP concludes with a section on coordination and monitoring and one on financing. A detailed implementation plan in an annex describes 10 strategic objectives, 16 lines of action and 23 indicators.2 

The NAP links to the broader national and international public policy frameworks “aimed at guaranteeing gender equality and accelerating women’s empowerment in all areas.” For example, at the national level it mentions the country’s

Spotlight Initiative for the Elimination of Violence against

Women and the National Program for Equality between Women and Men (2018–2024). At the international level, it mentions the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and the recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in particular the one referring to women’s participation in security tasks. 3

“[F]or Mexico, gender equality and the human rights of women and girls are essential conditions,” the NAP states, “not only for the achievement of international peace and security, but also for sustainable development and peace.”  It also says UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which launched the WPS agenda, is not restricted to conflict or postconflict situations but is also relevant in times of peace.4

At first glance, Mexico’s NAP seems to take an expansive view of the WPS agenda, covering domestic and international issues. However, when it comes to the operational part of the NAP, the main focus is on Mexico’s international efforts— particularly its participation in UN peacekeeping operations (PKO). For Mexico, the expansion of the presence of women in peace operations is one of the main objectives of the WPS agenda.

We believe the NAP missed a great opportunity to address the security challenges facing Mexico.5 Its high rate of homicide affects women, men, LGBTQ and nonbinary people differently and undermines gender equity and equal access to justice.6 As a public policy tool to address gender inequalities and security, the NAP ought to leverage both domestic and foreign policies to address the root causes of violence and its intersections with gender. Given the context of citizen insecurity in Latin America in general, these root causes are particularly relevant.7 Moreover, the NAP seems to contradict itself, suggesting that Mexico is “at peace” while emphasizing its support for Mexico’s “women peacebuilders” working within its borders.

Thematic Areas and Objectives

The core operational part of the NAP is composed of four pillars: prevention, participation, protection and relief and recovery. The bulk of the objectives and lines of action fall under the first two pillars.


The NAP’s primary prevention objectives are to “promote gender mainstreaming among institutions responsible for peacekeeping and security” and “raise awareness among military and police personnel” about the role of women in conflict prevention and peace processes. The specific lines of action and indicators to achieve these objectives rely heavily on training and awareness campaigns.

Yet the effectiveness of these training efforts is uncertain. A 2020 report by civil society organizations in Mexico found that neither the Army, Navy nor the National Guard were able to evaluate the content or impact of their human rights training.8 The authors of the report called for reassessing training as the sole strategy to guarantee and protect human rights. They argued that training is not a substitute for establishing clear, written policies and limits on the use of force. Training on gender perspectives for all Federal Public Administration personnel has been part of the equality plans coordinated by INMUJERES for several years, but this training appears to have yielded little, as judged by the increasing gender-based violence and femicides.9

The proposal for creation of a specialized police body to prevent, investigate and prosecute gender-based violence within municipal police departments is in this regard more promising. For example, in Chihuahua, the capital city of a northern state of the same name, the police’s specialized gender unit has had some success when it comes to investigating and prosecuting specific crimes that target women and girls. The unit has also had some success dealing with the problems of impunity and corruption in local law enforcement agencies.10 The one obstacle to the creation of specialized bodies is that the federal government has limited power to impose such changes on local police forces. For this to become a reality, the federal government would need to launch a major political strategy of cooperation with each of the 32 states. No such strategy is mentioned in the NAP.


The NAP’s main goal is “to promote the substantive participation of women as real and effective actors to prevent conflict at all levels.” It goes on to say that it will deploy more female personnel to UN peacekeeping operations. 

Two things limit the proposed action. First, Mexico’s participation in peacekeeping is modest.11 Increasing the number of women without significantly augmenting the overall personnel contribution will have minimal impact. In addition, the action does not commit to increasing women’s participation in national security forces. The implementation plan includes only two indicators to measure the number of Mexican women involved in security operations: the number of Mexican women nominated and those deployed to UN peacekeeping operations missions. There is no mention of recruitment, hiring or promotion of women or LGBTQ people in the National Guard or the military.

Other participation indicators are vague and difficult to assess. For example, “number of networks of women peacebuilders formed,” “exchanges of experiences” and “number of uniformed women who participated in specialized language courses” can be quantitatively measured but are hard to assess in qualitative terms. Comprehensive indicators for the Mexican context could have included, for example, the extent to which violations of women’s and girls’ human rights are reported, referred and investigated by human rights bodies and the extent to which measures to protect women’s and girls’ human rights are included in national security policy frameworks. Making women’s and girl’s human rights violations visible is crucial to eradicating barriers to participation.

Civil society is mentioned only once. Under the participation pillar, the Mexican government commits itself to hold multilateral forums and meetings attended by women officials, experts or civil society representatives. However, there is no mechanism to ensure civil society’s consultation or substantive participation and monitoring.

In sum, the NAP focuses on enhancing women’s visibility in some spaces from which they have been traditionally excluded without altering the underlying power structures that sustain that discrimination. Women’s participation ought to be understood as a means for achieving gender equality and eliminating gender-based violence, not as an end in itself. It is not enough to “just add women and stir.”12 It is about transforming power structures to be more inclusive and attractive for women and LGBTQ people.13 That is, it requires organizational reforms that allow groups that have traditionally been discriminated against to hold positions of power and make policy decisions.


The protection objectives focus on protection of women and girls in peace operations and promotion of the UN’s zerotolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by PKO staff. The indicators used to measure the implementation of these goals rely almost exclusively on training: “number of staff trained”; “academic programs of police institutions that incorporate issues related to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda”; “number of female instructors” and “number of trainings imparted.”

The objectives and actions stand out for their narrow focus and lack of ambition. This is disappointing for two reasons. First, many experts and stakeholders have developed the WPS agenda over more than 20 years. They have proposed many ways to protect women in conflict and post-conflict situations and guarantee and protect women’s economic, social and physical safety: for example, an inclusive design process and an established coordination system for implementation with civil society. None of these proposals are included in Mexico’s NAP. Without such inclusion, the NAP becomes an intragovernmental process that promises little meaningful change outside bureaucracy.14

Second, Mexico’s feminist foreign policy promises to advance the human rights of women and girls across several issues, and the government placed particular emphasis on these commitments during the Generation Equality Forum in March 2021.15 Thus, limiting government efforts to implementing training (whose impact is difficult to evaluate) and promoting a zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse (without monitoring mechanisms) come across as the bare minimum.

Authorities cannot protect potential victims of genderbased violence if they are not able to accurately and timely diagnose and measure the drivers of this violence. At a minimum, Mexico should prioritize enhancing and improving data-gathering mechanisms concerning genderbased violence and homicides. For example, to identify one of the characteristics of a femicide in mortality data, records in Mexico specifically seek information about the nature of the relationship between the victim and perpetrator of a homicide. However, the information is left blank 95 and 97.5 percent of the time for women and men, respectively.16

Mexico also should have committed to complying with the Bogota Protocol on gathering quality data on homicides in

Latin America and the Caribbean.17

Relief and Recovery

The relief and recovery objective is “to support gender mainstreaming in aid and humanitarian assistance efforts, as well as in post-conflict peacebuilding.” Implementation of this goal is to be measured by the number of initiatives promoted by Mexico at the United Nations and other multilateral forums. The types of initiatives are unspecified. More appropriate indicators would assess the financial, legal and psychological services provided to survivors of genderbased violence and the families of victims of femicide.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Financing

Effective implementation of NAPs rests on robust monitoring and evaluation and sufficient financing. In terms of monitoring and evaluation, Mexico’s NAP creates an interagency group comprising the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Navy, the Army, the Citizen Security and Protection Ministry and the Ministry for Women’s Affairs. Although international civil society organizations championed UNSCR 1325 and were part of the Working Group on WPS, Mexico’s interministry group excludes them. Civil society’s involvement is necessary for accountability and supervision of the government’s performance, so this is a serious cause for concern. In El Salvador, the Executive Council within the UNSCR 1325 Implementation Committee includes nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions.18 This policy is considered a best practice in the region, and Mexico should replicate it.

For the financing portion of the NAP, Mexican authorities did not commit to any concrete figures for its implementation. Instead, the document suggests that each coordinating institution carry out the tasks described using their own human capital and budgets.  Given the severe federal budget cuts to policies related to gender issues during the current administration, this is also cause for concern.19 In this instance, the Mexican government should look to Canada’s budgeting commitments, which include specific budgeting targets over a five-year period.20

Opportunities for Progress

The NAP’s external focus means there are many missed opportunities for enhancing gender equality in security at home. Many observers have criticized Western NAPs for an overwhelmingly outward focus that insists on “rescuing” women in the Global South while ignoring major issues in their own countries.21 Mexico’s NAP seems to replicate these NAPs.

Many NAPs in Latin America copy and paste the Western format and thus miss an opportunity to use the NAP within their local contexts.22 The substantive focus of the WPS agenda has shifted over the years from traditional approaches to conflict to other challenges, such as climate change, migration and violent extremism. The Mexican NAP explicitly recognizes that the agenda is not restricted to conflict or post-conflict situations, yet the proposed actions focus solely on conflict and post-conflict situations. They do not address transnational security challenges such as immigration, violent extremism and ethnic minorities rights.


Mexico has been dealing with a transnational immigration crisis for many years. Migrants, half of whom are women,23 are increasingly traveling to the United States, through Mexico, to seek refuge from harrowing gender-based violence.24 The perilous journey is particularly dangerous for women, who are most likely to fall prey to sexual violence and human trafficking.25 Migrant women in Mexico frequently see their wages and travel documentation retained by security authorities such as the National Guard, which adds to their precarious situation.26 The recent murder of Victoria Salazar at the hands of the Tulum police is just one example of the disproportionate state and police violence inflicted on immigrant women.27 In terms of public health, UN Women statistics also show that 60 percent of preventable pregnancy-related deaths occur in humanitarian settings and are caused by internal displacement and migration.28

Mexico’s NAP could have sought to increase relief measures for migrant women and establish cooperation mechanisms for the investigation and international prosecution of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as strengthen existing mechanisms. One example of such mechanisms is the memorandum between the Mexican and Guatemalan authorities pertaining to the protection of women and children victims of human trafficking via the Mexico-

Guatemala border, signed in 2004.29

On a similar note, the WPS agenda in Mexico could have promoted further cooperation with Central American countries to address the underlying causes of forced displacement in the region—gang violence and gender-based violence.30 This would be particularly appropriate given that Guatemala and El Salvador have themselves adopted NAPs. Regional cooperation in this realm could incentivize other countries to get on board with the WPS agenda.31

Far-Right Extremism and Disinformation

Far-right extremism is closely linked to sexist, homophobic, white supremacist and militaristic notions that undermine democratic values, human rights and gender equality and hinder peacebuilding.32 For example, in Colombia, the 2016 Peace Accords faced a substantial setback when Colombia rejected the deal in a national plebiscite after a conservative campaign against “gender ideology”—a term conservatives used to undermine LGBTQ and women’s rights.33 These campaigns and narratives have become particularly salient in Latin America, and Mexico is no exception. At the start of the pandemic, some religious groups blamed the surge of COVID-19 on feminism and queer people, and they have also actively halted the efforts of the reproductive rights movement in local legislation.34

Disinformation is also closely linked to far-right groups and conspiracy theories that are hostile toward women, particularly women in leadership positions and women of color.35 While Mexico’s diplomatic efforts (i.e., co-hosting the Generation Equality Forum) are certainly relevant to counteracting far-right agendas internationally, the threat is also brewing domestically. Mexico’s NAP could have addressed far-right extremism and disinformation head on by promoting and protecting local journalists covering WPSrelated issues.

Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Rights

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has repeatedly stated its intention of leading a feminist foreign policy anchored in an intersectional lens.36 According to Kimberle Crenshaw, who first coined the term, intersectionality denotes the combination of multiple forms of discrimination, such as racism, homophobia, ableism and sexism to analyze and understand the specific experiences of black, transgender or Indigenous women, for example.37 However, Mexico’s NAP makes no reference whatsoever to intersectionality. The document also lacks public policy proposals that recognize and address the overlap of forms of discrimination and state violence against Indigenous and Afro-Mexican women. Neither does it acknowledge the legacy of Afro-Mexican and Indigenous women as peacebuilders in Mexico. The NAP could have seized the opportunity to condemn and urge the cessation of low-intensity warfare against the Zapatistas while referencing and remembering the Acteal massacre of 1997, where the principal victims were women and children.38

WIIS policybrief June, 2021       4


Our analysis of Mexico’s NAP leads us to make the following recommendations:

  1. Include the active participation of civil society organizations. The coordination, implementation and evaluation mechanisms of the NAP should include civil society organizations as observers and agents responsible for demanding accountability and measuring and monitoring the NAP’s impact. Three feminist civil society organizations with in-depth knowledge of the impacts of militarism, international relations and gender-based violence in Mexico are Data Civica, Intersecta and Justicia Transicional MX; they should be invited to join coordination, implementation and evaluation bodies.39
  2. Move beyond training. To implement the WPS agenda, the Mexican government ought to go beyond simply training. Clear, well-defined rules, limits and sanctions must be established to govern the use of force by security forces. Moreover, the substantive participation of women should involve reforms to make national defense and security bodies more inclusive and attractive for women and LGBTQ people.

  3. Budget realistic, sufficient expenditures for implementation. For the WPS agenda’s goals to become a reality in Mexico, financial planning and budgeting are a prerequisite. As with any public policy agenda, resources are required to carry out actionable items, measure their impact and, if successful, expand them.


  1. The NAP is available in Spanish and English. Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection, Plan Nacional de Acción para el Seguimiento de la Resolución 1325 2000 del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU sobre Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad, (Mexico City, January 11, 2021), https://www.
  2. Ibid. Two annexes also list the national and international regulatory frameworks by which Mexico is bound.
  3. Ibid. See also UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, “Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,” web page,
  4. Ibid. p. 3 and p. 4.
  5. See also the letter to the international feminist NGO community regarding Mexico’s incoherent feminist foreign policy (New York: March 18, 2021),
  6. Data Civica, Claves para Entender y Prevenir los Asesinatos de Mujeres en México (Mexico City: May 2019) claves-para-entender-y-prevenir-los-asesinatos-de-mujeres-en-mexico. pdf.

4.  Adopt policies that address WPS-related issues in the domestic and regional spheres. Mexico should seize the opportunity to propose new, innovative WPS-related policies that address the violence spreading within its borders and in the region. We have suggested addressing the immigration crisis, the spread of disinformation and threats on journalism and incorporating an intersectional perspective that aligns with its stated feminist foreign policy. Other issues may include LGBTQ rights, disarmament and illicit arms flows across the US-Mexico border.

Overall, Mexico’s first NAP is a positive step and answers the call by Mexican civil society to work on issues related to the women, peace and security agenda. The NAP provides a formal framework to hold the government accountable. And yet, we underscore the inconsistencies between the government’s positions in the international arena and the ones it presents to its citizens.40 We hope that the publication of Mexico’s NAP will start a conversation not only with the government but also with practitioners and researchers around the world. To advance the WPS agenda, it is critically important to share experiences and best practices, particularly among Mexico’s neighbors, the United States included.

WIIS policybrief June, 2021       5

  1. Karolin Tuncel, “20 Years of Women, Peace and Security: How We

Argue for Participation Matters,” LSE Women, Peace and Security blog

(London: London School of Economics Centre for Women, Peace and Security, January 21, 2021),

  1. Miki Jacevic, “What Makes for an Effective WPS National Action Plan?” The Strategist blog (Canberra: Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 25, 2019),
  2. Ann Deslandes, “Checking In on Mexico’s Feminist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Policy (December 30, 2020), https://foreignpolicy. com/2020/12/30/mexico-feminist-foreign-policy-one-year-in/
  3. Data Cívica, Los Asesinatos de Mujeres.
  4. Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, “Protocolo de Bogotá sobre Calidad de los Datos de Homicidios en América Latina y el Caribe,” web page (Bogotá: September 2015), Noticias-CCB/2015/Noviembre-2015/Protocolo-de-Bogota-sobre-calidad-de-los-datos-de-homicidios-en-America-Latina-y-el-Caribe.
  5. Ministry of Foreign Relations El Salvador, Plan de Acción Nacional, “Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad” 2017–2022 (San Salvador: 2017), http://www.
  6. The armed forces, particularly the Secretariat of Defense, have been excluded from these austerity policies. Yet there are no public data on how any of this budget is being spent on achieving the NAP’s objectives. See Karla Sánchez, “No se Puede Proteger Más a las Mujeres con Menos Dinero,” Letras Libres (July 22, 2020), mexico/politica/no-se-puede-proteger-mas-las-mujeres-menos-dinero; Georgina Zerega, “Las Cuentas Ocultas del Ejército: 25.000 Millones de Pesos Gastados en 2020 sin Dejar un Registro Público,” El País (February 24, 2021),
  7. Government of Canada, National Action Plan Canada, 2017 (Ottawa: Global Affairs Canada),
  8. Swati Parashar, “The WPS Agenda: A Postcolonial Critique,” in

Sarah E. Davies and Jaqui True, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 829–38.

Gender Affected Colombia’s Peace Process,” Monkey Cage blog, The Washington Post, October 9, 2016, news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/09/heres-how-attention-to-gender-affected-colombias-peace-process/.

By Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Jana Wattenberg

In recent years, gender has come up in arms control and disarmament deliberations. Ireland, for example, submitted working papers on gender to preparatory committee meetings of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation-

Treaty (NPT) Review Conferences.1 The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) emphasizes that nuclear weapons use affects men and women differently and calls for equal representation in disarmament negotiations.2 However, such references to gender are so far the exception rather than the rule in arms control and disarmament talks.

We argue that a systematic inclusion of gender perspectives advances arms control and disarmament deliberations and negotiations in four main ways. First, a gender lens calls attention to the human and gendered consequences of the development and use of weapons. Second, it exposes arms control and disarmament agreements that lack gender provisions. Third, a gender lens highlights the absence of diversity in arms control and disarmament communities.3

Fourth, gender perspectives help reveal hierarchical power structures and encourage critical reflections on the legitimacy of established processes and agreements. In sum, the inclusion of a gender perspective produces more humane, effective, legitimate and sustainable agreements.

This policy brief has a twofold aim: first, to demonstrate how gender perspectives can advance arms control and disarmament efforts, and second, to provide a framework to help policymakers and practitioners integrate gender perspectives in their work. We propose a three-P framework—Provisions, Participation, and Perspectives— to guide these policymakers and practitioners.

We use the term “arms control and disarmament” as an umbrella for international efforts to ban, reduce, limit, regulate or control weapons.4 We define “gender” as a set of social constructs that refer to the social and cultural attributes, norms, roles and behaviors associated with men (masculinities) and women (femininities). These constructs have developed over the course of human history. They have been passed down from generation to generation through an array of social institutions. Indeed, “gender structures power in every arena (education, economics, politics, security), at every level (local, national, regional, global), and through multiple mechanisms (family, society, culture, organizations).”5 We use the terms gender lens, gender perspective and gender analyses interchangeably to refer to approaches that highlight the importance of gender in the use, development, control, and disarmament of weapons.

This policy brief is organized in three parts. In the first part, we provide an overview of the gendered impacts of weapons. In the second part, we present our framework for incorporating gender in arms control and disarmament deliberations and negotiations. In the third part, we recommend policies and suggest further research that can advance the inclusion of gender perspectives in arms control and disarmament deliberations and negotiations.

Gendered Impacts

All weapons, from pistols to advanced drones, have gendered impacts. That is, they affect people differently depending on biological sex and social norms, including gender norms. Policymakers and practitioners who develop proposals to regulate the development, possession and use of weapons, including response and assistance plans, must acknowledge the gendered impact of weapons if those proposals are to have the intended impact.

Explosive weapons, such as landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW), can cause enormous harm to people and communities.6 While the weapons themselves can kill or harm regardless of gender or sex, men and boys are more likely to experience immediate injury from landmines and ERW than women or girls. In 2019, men and boys suffered 85 percent of all landmine and ERW casualties.7 The effects of landmines and ERW on women and girls are often long term and indirect. For example, the division of labor in agriculture is often highly gendered, determining whether men or women work in the fields, including fields that are mined or carpeted with cluster bombs.8 In some countries, gender norms make it more difficult for women to enter public spaces outside the house, which could prevent their coming in direct contact with ERW. At the same time, less engagement in public spaces might also mean less access to information about the locations and potential harms of these weapons. In addition, gender norms may make it more difficult for women to gain access to survivor assistance when they are struck by these weapons.

The impact of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) is similarly gendered. In many societies, the possession of weapons is seen as a symbol of masculinity—that is, perceived to represent power, strength, domination and authority. Indeed, men own the majority of small arms. Such notions of masculinity encourage and normalize acts of violence within communities.9 These weapons result in a violent death every 15 minutes: 84 percent of these victims are men and boys.10 Women are less likely to own and use small arms. That said, compared to their ownership, the percentage of women killed by small arms is disproportionately higher than that of men.11 Women are also more likely to be threatened, intimidated and coerced by small arms in the hands of men. Violence against women, including femicide, rape and gender-based sexual violence as a tactic of war, often involves small arms. Gender-based violence that includes the use of small and light weapons is widespread in non-conflict and conflict settings.12 Gender provisions in disarmament agreements would acknowledge these gendered dimensions of SALWs’ possession and use and would allow policymakers and practitioners to better address gender-based violence. 

While data on the sex- and gender-specific impact of chemical and biological weapons are limited, studies have indicated significant sex-specific problems in reproductive health from exposure to toxic agents and disease. For instance, exposure to chemical and biological agents may lead to miscarriages, birth defects and male infertility.13 Gender norms and roles may also lead to different levels of exposure for men and women and cause different levels of social stigma after exposure.14 Research about the impact of chemical weapons attacks in Syria has shown that women have a higher mortality rate, and they experience many gender-specific physiological and mental health consequences, including greater obstacles to care and recovery.15 Care for female victims of chemical weapon attacks is often lacking either because medical personnel have no knowledge of the particular effects of the chemicals on women’s health, including reproductive and maternal health, or because gender norms may limit or slow care for women. For example, a first step in dealing with a chemical attack involves undressing the victim and rinsing chemical agents from the victim’s body. This must happen quickly and often in a public setting. In some cultural contexts, women may feel uncomfortable with these processes and refuse them.16 A gender-sensitive approach to arms control and disarmament agreements must account for these types of gender dynamics.

Discussions about the potential gendered effects of biological weapons have started under the framework of the Biological Weapons Convention.17 Scientists have shown that a person’s vulnerability to microorganisms is determined by a combination of biological (sex) and social (gender) factors. For example, early in the 2001–2002 Ebola outbreak in the Congo and Gabon, the number of men infected was greater than the number of women.18 Indeed, men were the first to come into contact with the virus, as they handled the carcasses of dead infected animals while hunting for food in the forests. Infection rates reversed in the later stages of the outbreak, when women caring for the sick became infected.19 Similarly, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed many differences between men and women in morbidity (rates of infection) and mortality. Some of these differences are due to sex and genetic predispositions, but many are due to social and gendered factors, including political and socioeconomic standing.20 A people-sensitive approach to the control and disarmament of biological weapons needs to reflect these gender dimensions.

The use of nuclear weapons will cause mammoth harm to all humans—regardless of gender. Between 110,000 and 210,000 people died in the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.21 Many survivors had long-term physical and psychological injuries. Depending on sex and gender, some were better able to cope than others. For example, research on the effects of the ionizing radiation caused by the atomic attacks has shown that women were two times more likely to develop solid cancers than men. Ionizing radiation also led to increases in stillbirths, miscarriages and birth defects.22 Survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan also had to deal with stigmatization. They became outcasts and social pariahs, unable to get jobs and function normally in Japanese society. These social and resulting economic problems were often worse for women.23

The effects of nuclear weapons on people were at the heart of the three conferences organized in 2013 and 2014 by Austria, Mexico and Norway.24 These countries have cooperated with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and put the human effects of nuclear weapons— including the gendered effects—at the center of their advocacy for the TPNW. 25 The treaty is one of the rare arms control and disarmament agreements to acknowledge the gendered impacts of nuclear weapons use. ICAN has further stressed that the human effects are not restricted to the use of these weapons but also connected to weapon production, testing and storage. Along with other civil society organizations, ICAN has shown how displacements and radiation released during tests conducted decades ago continue to affect indigenous communities in former nuclear testing areas (including in Algeria, Australia, Kazakhstan, the Marshall Islands, and the United States).26 The TPNW exemplifies how a human security and gender-sensitive approach can strengthen arms control and disarmament treaties. 

The gendered impacts of new defense technologies, including those related to cybersecurity, communications and artificial intelligence, have received very little attention in the security community, including multilateral arms control and disarmament fora.27 It is widely understood that military technologies have always been important in the conduct of war. Researchers have pointed out that many of those participating in discussions about new technologies believe that these discussions are gender neutral. In reality, these discussions are gender blind: They do not consider gender.28 Gender norms and unconscious biases shape the development of technologies—mostly by men. Such biases and blind spots in turn affect how technologies are used.29 Many datagathering systems either under- or misrepresent women.30 Artificial intelligence and algorithms based on biased data might therefore be fundamentally flawed. They might also reproduce gender stereotypes. These flaws affect the use of weapons dependent on new technologies, including who (and what) is targeted and killed or destroyed.31 Attacks on critical infrastructure and the disruption of essential services have human, and thus gendered, impacts. Gender norms might also downplay certain harms. Nonphysical harms (for example, sexual cyberattacks) might be given less priority by governments than attacks that lead to other harms.32 It is consequently key that policymakers and practitioners pay attention to the gender dimensions of cyber weapons when they develop strategies to limit, control and disarm these forms of weapons.

In sum, a recognition of the different and disproportionate ways in which women and men suffer from different types of weapons makes an important contribution to the understanding of their human and gendered impacts. Policymakers and practitioners should adopt a framework for arms control and disarmament that acknowledges these gendered dimensions.

A Gender Framework for  Arms Control and Disarmament

We propose a three-P gender framework that policymakers and practitioners should use to develop human-centric and gender-responsive arms control and disarmament. Our framework focuses on (1) gender-sensitive provisions in arms control and disarmament agreements; (2) genderbalanced participation in deliberations and negotiations; and (3) gender perspectives that can elucidate and enhance the intellectual foundations of arms control and disarmament.


Only 3 of 37 bilateral and multilateral arms control agreements that have been signed since 1945 have gender provisions: the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions; the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT); and the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.33 The UN Program of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the AntiPersonnel Mine Ban Convention have adopted gender commitments in subsequent review conferences. It is expected that some gender language will also be included in the final document of the 10th Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to be held in 2021. (For details  on the gender provisions in arms control agreements,  see table 1.)

The inclusion of gender provisions in legal and political arms control commitments got a boost with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in 2000 and the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 65/69 on women, disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control in 2010. 

UNSCR 1325 and subsequent WPS resolutions call for increasing the participation of women in peace and security decisionmaking processes, as well as the importance of integrating gender perspectives in peace and security deliberations. More specifically, the WPS resolutions call on states to take into account the different needs of men and women ex-combatants in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes and to consider the special needs of women and girls in mine-clearance and mineawareness programs.34 General Assembly Resolution 65/99 and subsequent resolutions focus on representation and participation.35 The Security Council and General Assembly resolutions gave civil society organizations extra leverage for pressuring states to retrofit existing arms control agreements with gender provisions and to integrate such provisions in new arms control agreements.

Civil society organizations have been the main drivers of the WPS agenda. They have also been the main drivers of initiatives to integrate gender provisions in arms control agreements. ICAN, for instance, played a key role in

Table 1: Gender Provisions in Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements

Agreement                     Acronym    Year      Gender Provisions                                          Subsequent Actions

Treaty on the                      NPT            1968      —                                                                                                                              

In 2017, Ireland introduced a Working Paper (WP) to the Preparatory Committee of

Non-Proliferation of                                                                                                           the 10th Review Conference on the role of gender in the NPT. Subsequent WPs have

Nuclear Weapons                                                                                                        addressed the gendered impact of nuclear weapons and the participation of women in

the negotiations.1

Anti-Personnel             APMBC      1997          —                In 2019, at the 4th Review Conference, states adopted an Action Plan, which requires Mine Ban Convention      countries to mainstream gender considerations in mine-action programming and to

remove barriers to the full, equal and gender-balanced participation in mine action and Convention meetings.2

Convention on Certain    CCW           1980      —                                                            In 2019, discussions on Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWs) called attention to gender

Conventional Weapons                                                                                                      bias in algorithms governing autonomous weapons.3

UN Program of Action     PoA            2001     Preamble:                                                In 2012, at the 2nd Review Conference, states expressed grave concern about the

to Prevent, Combat and                Recognizes the negative impact of the illicit negative impact of the illicit trade in SALW on women, men, children, youth, the elderly Eradicate the Illicit Trade                trade in SALW on women and girls.        and persons with disabilities and called for improved understanding of the concerns

in Small Arms and Light                 and needs of these groups. States also recognized the need to further integrate the role Weapons (SALW)          of women in efforts to combat and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW. Lastly, member

states undertook to facilitate the participation and representation of women in SALW policymaking and to explore means to eliminate the negative impact of the illicit trade in SALW on women.

    In 2018, at the 3rd Review Conference states reaffirmed their previous commitments. They recognized the relationship between the illicit trade in small arms and genderbased violence and called for the collection of  sex-disaggregated data. They also encouraged gender mainstreaming in policies and programs combating the illicit trade in SALW and the full participation and representation of women in decisionmaking, including in leadership roles.4

Convention on                 CCM           2008     Preamble:                                               In 2015, at the 1st Review Conference states adopted a five-year road map for the

Cluster Munitions                                       Recognizes the importance of gender-sensitive implementation of the CCM—the Dubrovnik Action Plan. The plan calls on states to

                                               assistance                                                 mainstream gender in their clearance response plans and involve victims in the

                                                  Article 5, para 1: Contains an obligation decisionmaking assistance processes in a gender- and age-sensitive manner.5

to provide age- and gender-sensitive victim assistance

Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) ATT            2013     Preamble:                                               In 2016, at the 2nd Conference of States Parties to the ATT (CSP2) a Working Group on

Notes that civilians, particularly women and                   Effective Treaty Implementation (WGETI) was established. A sub-working group focuses children, account for the vast majority of those        on Articles 6 and 7. The group has developed a list of guidance documents related to

                                             adversely affected by armed conflict and armed article 7.4. See the letter of the Chair, ATT/CSP7.WGETI/2021/Chair/655/M.LetterWorkPlans

                                               violence.                                                 (March 31, 2021). The 7th CSP will take place August 30 – September 2021.6

    Article 7, para 4: Calls on states to assess whether there is a risk that the exported weapons will be used “to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.”

The Treaty on the        TPNW        2017          Preamble: The first meeting of the States Parties to the TPNW will take place January 12-14, 2022 in Prohibition of             Notes the disproportionate impact of nuclear Vienna, Austria.7 Nuclear Weapons                weapons on women and girls as a result of

1. See Ireland, Gender, Development and Nuclear Weapons, NPT/CONF.2020/PC.I/WP.38 (Vienna: May 10, 2017); Ireland, Impact and ionizing radiation and commits to supporting                   Empowerment: The Role of Gender in the NPT, NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.38 (Geneva: April 24, 2018); Australia, Canada, Ireland,

                                             and strengthening the effective participation of Namibia, Sweden and UNIDIR, Improving Gender Equality and Diversity in the NPT Review Process, NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.25 (New York: April 18, 2019); Australia, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Sweden and UNIDIR, Integrating Gender Perspectives in the

women in nuclear disarmament. Implementation of the NPT, NPT/CONF.2020/PCIII/WP.27 (New York, April 18 2019); Ireland, Gender in the NPT: Recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference, NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.48 (New York: May 7, 2019). See also Chair’s Factual Summary (Working     Article 6: Commits states to provide “gender                Paper), NPT/CONF.2020/ PC.II/WP41 (Geneva: May 16, 2018), para 10.

sensitive assistance, without         2. See the Oslo Action Plan, APLC/CONF/2019/5/Add.1 (Oslo: November 29, 2019). discrimination, including medical care,       3. See United Nations, UN Disarmament Yearbook 2019 (New York: United Nations, 2020), p. 221.

                                              rehabilitation and psychological  4Weapons in All its Aspects, A Conf.192/2012/RC/4 (September 2012).. See Outcome Document, Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light

                                             support, as well as provide for their social and 5. See UNIDIR, Gender and Disarmament Resource Pack for Multinational Practitioners (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2020).

                                               economic inclusion.”                                6. See Verity Coyle and Anna Crowe, The Arms Trade Treaty’s Gender-Based Violence Risk Assessment: A Questionnaire for

Information Sources (Washington, DC and Cambridge, MA: Stimson Center and International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School, February 2021); Emile LeBrun, ed., Handbook: Gender-Responsive Small Arms Control: A Practical Guide (Geneva: Small

Arms Survey, 2019); Control Arms, Interpreting the Arms Trade Treaty: International Human Rights Law and GBV in Article 7 Risk

Assessments (New York: Control Arms, April 2019); Saferworld, ATT Expert Group: Implementing the ATT: Undertaking an Arms Transfer Risk Assessment, Briefing No.6 (London: Saferworld, August 2018); Ray Acheson, Gender-Based Violence and the Arms Trade Treaty (Geneva: Reaching Critical Will, WILPF, 2015).

7. See Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, A/Conf.229/2017/8 (New York: United Nations, July 7, 2017).

advocating for the acknowledgment of the gender dimension in the TPNW.36 Efforts by civil society organizations to integrate gender provisions in arms control agreements have also built on obligations states have assumed under the UN Charter, international human rights law, international humanitarian law and political commitments such as UNSCR 1325—that is, commitments to promote gender equality, nondiscrimination and the protection of civilians.37

The inclusion of gender provisions is a necessary first step for delivering human-centric arms control and disarmament agreements. At a minimum, provisions in arms control and disarmament agreements should address the effects of weapons on people. Response and assistance plans can incorporate gender perspectives and provide for genderspecific measures to prevent and alleviate harms. The collection of sex-disaggregated data can help practitioners to tailor inclusive arms control provisions that cater to the needs of all people. Gender-sensitive provisions should also address the issue of participation and representation. They should make sure that all genders are represented and have equal opportunities to participate and occupy leadership positions in the development and implementation of arms control and disarmament agreements. Ideally, arms control and disarmament agreements should include provisions that oblige states to conduct gender analyses. An example of a good practice in this regard is the ATT, which calls on states to assess the impact of the export of certain weapons on gender-based violence in the recipient state.38 Lastly, to ensure implementation of gender-sensitive provisions, agreements should provide for monitoring and verification processes and procedures.


Women have long been active in disarmament movements, including nuclear disarmament groups.39 Even so, women have been mostly absent from formal arms control and disarmament deliberations and negotiations.40

Article 36 (a UK-based NGO created in 2011) and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) have shown that the proportion of women in key UN disarmament fora averages around 20–35 percent and is markedly lower than in other issue areas, such as climate change or labor issues.41 In 2017, only 32 percent of the delegates at the UN General Assembly First Committee—the committee in charge of international security issues—were women.42 This percentage drops to an average of 21 percent for the eight NPT review conferences held between 1999 and 2015.43 UNIDIR has noted that “when states can only send a single representative, they almost always send a man. Women are typically included as the second or, more often, third or fourth member of their respective delegations.”44 Women also remain underrepresented in discussions of new technologies that affect the development of weapon systems, including those that deal with communications, cyber and artificial intelligence.45 In sum, stereotypical gender patterns persist: Women are usually assigned to discussions about “soft” humanitarian issues rather than “hard” security and arms control issues.46

Women are similarly underrepresented in the national security and nuclear fields in the United States. Between the 1970s and 2019, women held only 11 of the 68 leadership positions at the Department of State, 2 of the 21 National Security Advisor positions and 13 of the 109 Arms Control and Disarmament Agency leadership positions.47 In 2020, Women In International Security (WIIS) surveyed the representation of women in US think tanks as well as publications on international security, including arms control and disarmament issues. It found persistent underrepresentation of women at both the leader and expert levels. In 2020, women led only 19 percent of think tanks in the international security field. Women represented 35 percent of all experts of working on foreign policy, national and international security in US think tanks, and only 30 percent of all experts working on nuclear and arms control issues. 48 Women were also underrepresented in international security journals: They wrote only 23 percent of articles published between 2015 and 2019. The number of articles written by women on nuclear security and arms control is a fraction—15 percent—of all articles on arms control and nuclear security.49

The underrepresentation of women in international security matters has not gone unnoticed. With the adoption of UNSCR 1325 in 2000, members of the UN Security Council recognized the importance of the full participation of women in preventing conflict as well as establishing peace and security. Starting in 2010, the UN General Assembly has adopted (every other year) a resolution on “women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.” These resolutions urge UN member states to promote the equitable representation of women in the field of disarmament and to strengthen women’s effective participation.50 In 2015, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in Vienna launched a multiyear educational capacity-building program for women, which included a particular focus on women from the Global South.51 In 2018, the UN Secretary-General’s agenda for disarmament called for the full and equal participation of women in all decisionmaking processes related to disarmament and international security. The UN Secretary-General also committed to gender parity on all panels, boards, expert groups and other bodies established under his auspices in the field of disarmament.52 In 2018, the International Gender Champions Disarmament Impact Group published a Gender and Disarmament Resource Pack to help multilateral practitionersintegrate a gender lens into their work and gender balances within their ranks.53 Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have also undertaken a range of initiatives to raise awareness about the lack of women in the arms control and disarmament field.54 A number of organizations have set out to empower and mentor young women as they start their professional careers in the security field.55 In November 2018, former US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Laura Holgate, together with the Ploughshares Fund, launched the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy(GCNP), an initiative committed to addressing gender imbalances in the field.56

In the run-up to the November 2020 US elections, the

Leadership Council on Women in National Security (LCWINS) asked all presidential candidates to sign a gender parity pledge in national security appointments. Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris signed the pledge. As of April 2021, the Biden administration is close to delivering on its pledge: 47 percent of its Cabinet appointments are women.57 At present, the administration has the highest representation of women ever.58 

These initiatives reflect policymakers and practitioners’ recognition of the importance of gender equality in arms control and disarmament diplomacy. Yet they also suggest that policymakers and practitioners have predominantly operationalized “gender” to mean increasing the number of women in negotiating and deliberative fora. The sustainability and effectiveness of these types of initiatives to improve women’s representation depends on mechanisms to hold organizations accountable for commitments they have made. Monitoring by civil society organizations, including scorecards by WIIS and tracking efforts by LCWINS, are critical in this regard.


Gender perspectives are essential to advance arms control and disarmament. They do so in three main ways. First, they demonstrate how gender norms and gender stereotypes shape weapon-related discourses. Second, gender perspectives show how arms control and disarmament regimes create and maintain social and political hierarchies. Third, gender perspectives offer new vantage points and approaches to security challenges by emphasizing the interests of people rather than those of states.

First, gender perspectives enhance our understanding of discourses about weapons, arms control and disarmament. Discourses shape policies and our social worlds, including arms control and disarmament polices. Gender perspectives and gender analyses show how notions of feminity and masculinity are embedded in discourses and the ways in which policymakers and practitioners ascribe legitimacy to some policy options while dismissing others. The feminist scholar Carol Cohn has argued that gendered language structures the thinking about weapons, including their objectives and roles. According to Cohn, gendered language “creates silences and absences. It keeps things out of the room, unsaid, and keeps them ignored if they managed to get in.”59 Cohn has shown how the technostrategic language of defense intellectuals enabled them to think and speak about nuclear war in ways that were detached from the human consequences and realities of nuclear weapons and their use.60 Cohn also emphasized that sexual metaphors have been an important part of the nuclear discourse since they act as “a way to mobilize gendered associations and symbols in creating assent, excitement, support for, and identification with the weapons.”61 Like Cohn, Ray Acheson claims that “the dominant nuclear weapons discourse is full of dichotomies such as hard versus soft security, strong versus weak, active versus passive, and national security versus human security. The masculine identified sides of these pairs are almost always attributed more value than the other.”62 Gender perspectives and gender analyses show how weapons-related discourses are imbued with gendered language. This in turn has impacts on arms control and disarmament practices and strategies.

A focus on the gendered dimensions of the language used by policymakers also reveals why some policy options are considered as more rational and legitimate than others. For example, Lauren Wilcox has shown how military strategies and debates about offensive versus defensive strategies are not only determined by the overall state of military technology, as generally contended, but also by gendered discourses. She highlights how perceptions of technological developments are gendered and coded as either feminine or masculine. This coding of technologies is based “not on their material contribution to offensive or defensive combat strategies but instead on their relationship to idealized images of soldiers’ masculinity bound up in strength, bravery and chivalry.”63 The “cult of the offensive” is associated with masculine attributes such as strength, aggression, boldness.64 Wilcox’s gender perspective offers a new way of understanding tendencies to support offensive military strategies. It also explains why many policymakers tend to “overestimate the strategic advantages of the offensive (…)even if, as military balance theorists allow, the defense usually has the objective advantage in war.”65

Gender perspectives also demonstrate how some actors become delegitimized through gender-coded language. In his analysis of nonproliferation discourses by US policymakers, Hugh Gusterson has shown how NPT-recognized nucleararmed states are portrayed as responsible, rational and disciplined; states with nuclear ambitions are framed as impulsive, emotional and irrational.66 Gusterson has noted that, “whereas the United States is spoken of as having ‘vital interests’ and ‘legitimate security needs,’ Third World nations have ‘passions,’ ‘longings,’ and ‘yearnings’ for nuclear weapons which must be controlled and contained by the strong male and adult hand of America.”67 Similarly, Acheson has examined how nuclear weapon states and their allies depicted those advocating for the TPNW as naïve, unrealistic and emotional.68

In sum, a better understanding of the gender dimensions of weapons discourses can help policymakers and practitioners reflect on the ways in which they might prioritize masculine values over feminine ones. Gender perspectives further offer ways of examining why policymakers might perceive some policy options (such as expanding arsenals) as more rational and legitimate than others (disarming arsenals).

Second, gender perspectives can help policymakers and practitioners understand how hierarchical structures in world politics are created and maintained. The nuclear nonproliferation regime exemplifies how hierarchies are created. Scholars such as Shampa Biswas, Nick Ritchie and Jan Ruzicka have examined the hierarchical nature of the NPT.69 Specifically, the NPT created a system in which five states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—can legitimately possess nuclear weapons while all other states commit to abstain from developing them. Gusterson has shown how the hierarchy of the nonproliferation regime is policed by “othering” and “feminizing.” 70 Susan Wright has noted how masculinist values, including “othering,” “power over” and seeking “military advantage” guided arms control and disarmament efforts in the 1960s. She has argued that the tenets of arms control and disarmament developed in the 1960s were determined by stereotypical masculine values of seeking “power over” and military advantage.71 For Acheson, nuclear weapons are “the ultimate tool(s) of violence, (…) dominance and control,” and they are therefore the ultimate symbol of the patriarchy—an unequal gendered hierarchy dominated by men.72

Unequal power hierarchies created by arms control and disarmament regimes are unstable and vulnerable to contestation by those who feel treated unfairly. The tensions in the nuclear nonproliferation regime are a good example. Non-nuclear states have long been frustrated with the nuclear powers’ lack of progress in making good on their disarmament pledge and thereby undoing the unequal hierarchy of a regime that rests on a distinction between nuclear weapon states and those without nuclear weapons. Gender perspectives would encourage practitioners to identify ways in which arms control regimes create and maintain unequal hierarchical structures in world politics.73

Third, feminist and gender perspectives offer alternative frameworks for conceptualizing security, including arms control and disarmament. Feminist scholars challenge the idea that nation-states are the primary referent objects of security.74 They ask how security policies would change

if they were to represent the experiences and needs of marginalized groups in societies. Shifting from national to human security perspectives has important implications for arms control and disarmament debates. It may show that individuals feel insecure in a state that bases its national security on the possession of certain categories of weapons. A human security approach can strengthen calls for arms control and disarmament while challenging the validity of deterrence postures. The TPNW made this shift by reframing the issue of nuclear weapons in human security terms rather than in state-centered strategic stability terms. 

Feminist perspectives also expand conceptions of who matters in world politics. Scholars such as Cynthia Enloe have examined the multiple roles that women play in world politics.75 A gender-sensitive approach to arms control and disarmament recognizes multiple international actors, including civil society actors and not just powerful states. The TPNW exemplifies how this can work in practice. Promoted and advanced by non-nuclear armed states and civil society actors, this treaty represents an expression of “diplomacy of resistance” by non-nuclear armed states and civil society within a nuclear order that has institutionalized a superior position for nuclear-armed states.76 Policymakers and practitioners who embrace gender perspectives can thus promote the inclusion of different groups of actors in the development and implementation of arms control and disarmament agreements.

In sum, the integration of gender perspectives has multiple benefits for policymakers and practitioners who work on arms control and disarmament. Gender perspectives can help them understand why actors value certain weapons and resist policy options that lead to banning such weapons. They can also alert policymakers and practitioners to the destabilizing effects of unequal power hierarchies. Lastly, gender perspectives allow for alternative approaches to conceptualizing security that shift the focus from state security to human security.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In this policy brief, we have presented a Gender Framework for Arms Control and Disarmament.  Policymakers and practitioners who seek to develop and implement arms control and disarmament agreements that are gendersensitive should draw on the three pillars of our framework. A first step to taking gender seriously is to examine whether arms control agreements have sufficient provisions to account for the gendered impact of the class of weapons that are governed by the agreement. Alongside this effort, policymakers and practitioners need to ensure that the groups who negotiate and implement arms control and disarmament agreements reflect equal participation of men, women, trans- and nonbinary individuals. Gender perspectives further offer various ways for policymakers and practitioners to critically reflect on the legitimacy of their policy proposals and examine the power hierarchies embedded in arms control and disarmament regimes.

We make the following recommendations to policymakers and practitioners who seek to implement our framework.

Provisions: Gender provisions offer one way for policymakers and practitioners to include considerations of gender in arms control and disarmament agreements. These provisions should target all three dimensions of the framework we have presented. Review conferences offer a suitable avenue to call for the inclusion of gender provisions in existing agreements. Working papers on gender have been submitted to the Preparatory Commissions of the NPT Review Conferences, for example (see table 1). Policymakers and practitioners should support existing working papers and present their own proposals to promote the inclusion of gender provisions in the NPT. The ATT and TPNW provide some non-exhaustive examples. Additionally, policymakers and practitioners should call for the integration of gender provisions in yet-to-be negotiated agreements, especially in the cyber and artificial intelligence arenas.

Participation: Women remain underrepresented in international and national arms control and disarmament fora. One way to operationalize a gender-forward approach is to make sure that delegations are gender diverse. Policymakers and practitioners should support existing initiatives by nongovernmental organizations, such as the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, and call for proactive steps toward diversity by states and international organizations active in arms control and disarmament. While initiatives have been created to advance women’s roles in negotiations and international fora, state and nonstate actors have not routinely engaged in robust monitoring and evaluation—critical for holding states and organizations accountable and for assessing the effectiveness of diversity initiatives. Initiatives like the WIIS Gender Scorecard should be expanded.77

Perspectives: Policymakers, practitioners, civil society organizations and foundations should bring gender perspectives into arms control and disarmament deliberations in four main ways. First, they should apply the insights gained from the gender perspectives set out in this policy brief to their work. Second, policymakers and practitioners should commit to putting gender perspectives on the agendas of conferences, workshops and events related to arms control and disarmament. Third, policymakers, practitioners and civil society organizations should support next-generation educational initiatives, including nuclear policy–related boot camps, WIIS next-generation programs and winter/summer schools. Fourth, foundations active in the arms control and disarmament field should support research projects on gender, arms control and disarmament. We have identified four strands of research to advance understanding of the gender dimensions of arms control and disarmament.

  1. Systematic assessment of gender impacts of weapons: Future studies should systematically examine the gendered impacts of weapons, including the gendered impacts of cybersecurity and new technologies. The role of gender and the gendered impact of new technologies on military doctrines and organizations remain largely uncharted terrain. Future studies on the gender dimensions and gendered impacts of cybersecurity and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and uncrewed aerial vehicles (drones) would make important contributions to the understanding of the gendered impact of these new forms of weaponry.
  2. Bringing “gender” into existing arms control and disarmament agreements: A second strand of research should systematically explore how existing arms control agreements could be retrofitted with gender provisions and how gender provisions could be monitored and verified. This revision would require undertaking a systematic gender analysis of arms control and disarmament agreements. Multilateral agreements and monitoring and verification institutions would provide a starting point for research. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should, for instance, examine what gender provisions should be added to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It should also review its assistance, monitoring and verification procedures. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency should engage in a systematic gender analysis of its programs, procedures and processes.
  3. The state of diversity in the arms control and disarmament community: Research should build on existing studies that take stock of the state of diversity in arms control and disarmament communities. Such research should continue to monitor gender balances in arms control and disarmament fora. It should be expanded to identify the barriers women face at both a national and international level. Research should also analyze what qualitative differences arise from the diversification of arms control negotiating teams, including the participation of women.
  4. The impact of gender identities on arms control and disarmament: A fourth strand of research should examine how ideas about gender, including notions of masculinity and femininity, shape the way in which policymakers and practitioners pursue arms control and disarmament negotiations. Feminist scholars have established that gender identities shape the way in which individuals act. Yet little is known about the ways in which these identities shape

the ways in which policymakers and practitioners negotiate and develop arms control and disarmament agreements. A first step to find out whether and how gender identities matter would be to conduct exploratory interviews with policymakers and practitioners in diplomatic positions, defense and state departments, nuclear laboratories and international organizations. Research that explores how gender identities matter could further examine whether and how gendered discourses affect negotiations. US discourses about the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs could be good case studies. 

In this policy brief, we have demonstrated how a gender lens enhances arms control and disarmament deliberations. Some policymakers, practitioners, international organizations, advocacy organizations and individual researchers have taken commendable first steps to diversify the arms control and disarmament field and have begun to consider the importance of gender. These efforts are important and should be built upon. Our policy brief provides policymakers and practitioners with a framework focused on provisions, participation and perspectives to give them multiple entry points to take gender seriously in their arms control and disarmament efforts. 


  1. See Ireland, Gender in the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference, NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP. 48 (New York: May 7, 2019); Australia, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Sweden and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, Improving

Gender Equality and Diversity in the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Process, NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.25 (New York: April 18, 2019). 

  • See Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, A/Conf.229/2017/8 (New York: United Nations, July 7, 2017).
  • There are many studies that show that gender diverse groups produce better outcomes. See, for example, Jana Krause, “Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations and the Durability of Peace,” International Interactions, Vol. 44, No. 6, (2018), pp. 985-1016; and Sundiatu DixonFyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt and Sara Prince, Diversity Wins  (New York: McKinsey and Company, May 19, 2020).
  • For a discussion of arms control and disarmament definitions, see, James E. Dougherty, How to Think About Arms Control and Disarmament, published for National Strategy Information Center (New York: Crane and Russak, 1973). See also Jozef Goldblat, Arms Control: A Guide to Negotiations and Agreements (Oslo/London: PRIO/Sage, 1994).
  • Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Michael E. Brown, The Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2020), p. 6. As social and cultural constructs, gender norms and roles also intersect with other markers of identity, such as race, ethnic background, class, age and sexual orientation.
  • See Christina Wille and Alfredo Malaret Baldo, Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (Geneva: UN Institute for Disarmament Research, 2020).
  • In 2019, 80 percent of all casualties (5,554) were civilians. Men and boys constitute 85 percent of all casualties. Children are particularly vulnerable to landmines and ERW; they made up 43 percent of casualties. See International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Landmine Monitor 2020 (Geneva: ICBL, 2020). See also Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, Impact of Mines/ERW on Women and Children, factsheet (Ottawa: Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor,

November 2010); WILPF, Cluster Munitions and Gender—It Takes More

Than a Ban (Stockholm: IKFF, 2008); WILPF, Ensuring Women and Gender Are Reflected in the Cluster Munitions Treaty (Geneva: WILPF, May 2015).

  • See International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Impact of Mines/ ERW on Women and Children, Landmine and Cluster Munition

Monitor Factsheet (Ottawa: International Campaign to Ban Landmines,

November 2010); UNODA, Conflict, Peace-Building, Disarmament, Security: Gender Perspectives on Landmines (New York: United Nations, March 2001).

  • For discussions on the ways in which notions of (hyper-) masculinity shape actions, particularly with regards to weapons and violence, see Maike Messerschmidt, “Ingrained Practices: Sexual Violence, Hypermasculinity, and Re-Mobilization for Violent Conflict,” Global

Society, Vol. 32, No. 4 (2018), pp. 477–95; Donald L. Mosher and Silva

Tomkins, “Scripting the Macho Man: Hypermasculine Socialization and Enculturation,“Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1988), pp. 61; and Elin Bjarnegård and Erik Melander,  “Disentangling Gender, Peace and Democratization: The Negative Effects of Militarized Masculinity,” Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (2011).

  1. This includes violent deaths by homicide and in armed conflict.

UN Secretary General, Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament (New York: UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, 2018)  p. 39–40.

  1. Globally, 95 percent of perpetrators of homicide are men; they represent 81 percent of all victims. That said, gender inequality contributes to women’s disproportionately higher victim rates. For example, of the 87,000 women murdered worldwide in 2017, 34 percent were killed by intimate partners and 24 percent by other family members. See UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide 2019: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls (Vienna: UNODC, 2019).
  2. See UN Secretary General, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, S/2020/487 (New York: United Nations, 2020); UNODC, Global Study on Homicide 2019: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls (Vienna: UNODC, 2019); SEESAC, Gender and SALW: Gender Aspects of SALW and How to Address Them in Practice (Belgrade: SEESAC, 2018); United Nations, Modular Small Arms Control Implementation Compendium: Women, Men and the Gendered Nature of Small Arms and Light

Weapons, MOSAIC 06.10: 2017 (E)V1.0 (New York: United Nations,

2018); Vanessa Farr, Henri Myrttinen and Albrecht Schnabel, eds., Sexed Pistols: The Gendered Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons (Tokyo:

UN University Press, 2009).

  1. See Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, James Revill, Alastair Hay and

Nancy Connell, Missing Links: Understanding Sex- and Gender-Related Impacts of Chemical and Biological Weapons (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2019).

  1. Ibid.
  2. In Syria, women and children accounted for 43 percent of all deaths from chemical weapons—they accounted for only 5 percent of frontline deaths. Overall, 2.6 percent of women’s deaths were due to chemical attacks as opposed to 0.5 percent for men. See Inji El Bakry and Tobias Schneider, The Last Straw: How Chemical Weapons Impact Women and Break Communities (Berlin: GPPi, February 2021).
  3. See El Bakry and Schneider, The Last Straw.
  4. For example, UNIDIR and the Permanent Mission of Norway in Geneva hosted a meeting on the importance of gender for the Biological Weapons Convention on August 7, 2019. 
  5. See Martha Anker et al, Addressing Sex and Gender in EpidemicProne Infectious Diseases (Geneva: WHO, 2007), pp. 24–31.
  6. Ibid. Women also took care of the dead, which exposed them to the virus.
  7. See Anna Purdie et al, “Sex, Gender and COVID-19: Disaggregated

Data and Health Disparities,” BMU GH Blogs (March 24, 2020);

Clare Wenham, Julia Smith and Rosemary Morgan, “COVID-19: The

Gendered Impacts of the Outbreak,” The Lancet, Vol. 395 (March 14,

2020), pp. 846–48; Sara E. Davies, Sophie Harman, Jacqui True and

Clare Wenham, Why Gender Matters in the Impact and Recovery from

COVID-19 (Sydney: The Lowy Institute, March 20, 2020); CARE,

Gender Implications of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Development and

Humanitarian Settings (London: Care, March 2020). See also Anker,

Addressing Sex and Gender and Martha Anker et al., Taking Sex and Gender into Account in Emerging Infectious Disease Programmes: An Analytical Framework (Geneva: WHO, 2011).

  • Hiroshima had a preattack population of approximately 255,000, and Nagasaki’s populations was approximately 195,000. There is no consensus on the number of people who died or got injured. See Alex Wellerstein, “Counting the Dead at Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Bulletin  of Atomic Scientists (August 4, 2020).
  • See Mary Olson, “Disproportionate Impact of Radiation and Radiation Regulation,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 44, No.

2, (2019), pp. 131-139; Anne Guro Dimmen, Gendered Impacts: The

Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons from a Gender Perspective, UNIDIR Vienna Conference Series, Paper No. 5 of 6 (Geneva/Vienna:

ILPI and UNIDIR, 2014); John Borie et al., Gender, Development and Nuclear Weapons (Geneva: International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) and UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), October 2016).

  • See Jasmine Owens, “The Gendered Impacts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombing,” Outrider (2020).
  • See Jan Ruzicka, “The Next Great Hope: The Humanitarian Approach to Nuclear Weapons,” Journal of International Political Theory, Vol. 15, No. 3 (2019), pp. 386–400; Kjolv Egeland, “Banning the Bomb: Inconsequential Posturing or Meaningful Stigmatization?” Global Governance, Vol. 24 (2018), pp.11–20.
  • The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was launched in 2007. For an example of ICAN’s emphasis on gender impact, see ICAN, Gender and Nuclear Weapons (Vienna: ICAN website); Ray Acheson, A Feminist Critique of the Atomic Bomb (Berlin:

Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2018).

  • See ICRC, Humanitarian Impacts and Risks of Use of Nuclear

Weapons (Geneva: ICRC, August 20, 2020). See also Jon Henley, “France Has Underestimated Impact of Nuclear Tests in French Polynesia, Research Finds,” The Guardian (March 9, 2021); Lacie Heeley, “To Make and Maintain America’s Nukes, Some Communities Pay the Price,” The World (January 30, 2018); Beyza Unal, “The Worst Effects of Our

Nuclear Programme Are the Ones That Nobody Talks About,” The Independent (May 16, 2017). For examinations of the impact of nuclear weapons production on communities in African countries, see Gabrielle Hecht, Being Nuclear: Africans and Global Uranium Trade (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).

  • See UNIDIR, Gender and Disarmament Resource Pack for

Multinational Practioners (Geneva: UNIDIR, January 2020). See also Katharine Millar, James Shires and Tatiana Tropina, Gender Approaches to Cybersecurity: Design, Defence and Response (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2021); Deborah Brown and Allison Pytlak, Why Gender Matters in International Cyber Security (Geneva: WILPF and the Association for Progressive Communications, April 2020).

  • See Millar, Gender Approaches to Cybersecurity.
  • Ibid.
  • See Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (New York: Abrams Press, 2019).
  • See Ray Acheson, Richard Moyes and Thomas Nash, Sex and Drone Strikes: Gender and Identity in Targeting and Casualty Analysis (London and Geneva: Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, October 2014). For the impact of uncrewed autonomous weapons on the military and the battlefield see also Lorraine Bayard de Volo, “Unmanned? Gender Recalibrations and the Rise of Drone Warfare,” Politics and Gender,

Vol.12 (2016), pp.50–77; Sumita Kunashakaran, “Un(wo)manned Aerial Vehicles: An Assessment of How Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Influence Masculinity in the Conflict Arena,” Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.

37, No. 1 (2016), p. 31–61; Mary Manjikian, “Becoming Unmanned: The Gendering of Lethal Autonomous Warfare Technology,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2014), pp. 48–65.

  • See Millar, Gender Approaches to Cybersecurity, p. 28.
  • We have included in this list important politically binding commitments such as the UN Program of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
  • Subsequent WPS resolutions continued to note and draw attention to the gendered impact of conventional weapons, including ERW and SALW. For connections between the WPS agenda and arms control and disarmament see, for example, Henri Myrttinen, Connecting the Dots: Arms Control, Disarmament and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2020); Christine Butegwa, Gender Perspectives in

Arms Control and Disarmament: News from Africa, Workshop Report

(Geneva: UNIDIR, 2020). See also UNIDIR, Gender and Disarmament

Resource Pack and Emile LeBrun, ed., Handbook—Gender-Responsive Small Arms Control: A Practical Guide (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2019).

  • See UN General Assembly A/Res/67/48 (2012); A/Res/68/33 (2013); A/Res/69/61 (2014); A/Res/71/56 (2016); A/Res/73/46 (2018); and  A/Res/75/48 (2020).
  • See International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Gender and Nuclear Weapons (Vienna: ICAN, February 2020).
  • See Corey Levine and Sari Kouvo, “Gender, Human Rights and Security,” in Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Michael E. Brown, The

Gender and Security Agenda: Strategies for the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2020), pp.198–213. See also Christine Chinkin, Gender and the Arms Trade Treaty: A Legal Overview (Geneva: WILPF, 2012).

  • See Article 7, para 4 of the ATT. See also United Nations Regional Centre for Pace and Disarmament in Africa, Gender Dimension of the Arms Trade Treaty (Lome, Togo: UNRCPD in Africa, 2016); International Gender Champions and Control Arms,  Gender in the Arms Trade Treaty (Geneva:  IGC, 2016).
  • See, for example, Lawrence S. Wittner, “Gender Roles and Nuclear

Disarmament Activism,” Gender and History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (April

2000), pp. 197–222; Jacqui True and J. Ann Tickner, “A Century of

International Relations Feminism: From World War One Women’s Peace Pragmatism to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 2 (2018), pp. 221–33.

  • In Fred Kaplan’s history of the bomb, only 7 women are cited as opposed to 246 men—that is, less than 4 percent. See Fred Kaplan,  The Bomb: Presidents, Generals and the Secret History of Nuclear War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020).
  • See Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, Kjolv Egeland and Torbjorn Graff Hugo, Still behind the Curve: Gender Balance in Arms Control, NonProliferation and Disarmament Diplomacy (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2019), pp. 22–24; Article 36, Women and Multilateral Disarmament Forums: Patterns of Underrepresentation, discussion paper (London: Article 36, 2015).
  • See Dalaqua, Still behind the Curve. p. 21. The authors also note that the smaller forums (less than 100 delegates) tend to be dominated by men; larger meetings (more than 100 delegates) generally attract a larger proportion of women (p. 11). See also Borrie, Gender, Development and Nuclear Weapons; Elizabeth Minor, Disarmament, Development and Patterns of Marginalisation in International Forums (London: Article 36, April 2016).
  • See Dalaqua, Still behind the Curve, pp.14–15.
  • Dalaqua, Still behind the Curve, p. 17.
  • See Millar, Gender Approaches to Cybersecurity. See also UNIDIR,

Gender and Disarmament Resource Pack; Deborah Brown and Allison Pytlak, Why Gender Matters in International Cyber Security (Geneva: WILPF, April 2020); Spencer Beal, Missing Figures: The Cybersecurity Gender Gap (Washington, DC: WIIS, February 2018).

  • See Dalaqua, Still behind the Curve, p. 37.
  • See Heather Hurlburt et al, The Consensual Straitjacket: Four Decades of Women In Nuclear Security (Washington, DC: New America, March 2019), p. 13.
  • The percentage of women experts working in specialized arms control and nuclear security think tanks is 30 percent—well below parity. See Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Kayla McGill and Zi Xue, The WIIS Gender Scorecard: Think Tanks and Journals—Spotlight on the

Nuclear Security Community (Washington, DC: WIIS, September 8, 2020)

  • Ibid.
  • See UN General Assembly A/Res/65/69 (2010); A/Res/67/48 (2012);

A/Res/68/33 (2013); A/Res/69/61 (2014);  A/Res/71/56 (2016);  A/Res/73/46 (2018); and A/Res/75/48 (2020). In addition, the Genevabased Conference on Disarmament held its first informal meeting on gender and disarmament in August 2015. In May 2016 it held a second informal plenary on Women and Disarmament, in which delegations restated their support to increase the role of women in the disarmament field.

  • See United Nations Office for Disarmament, Scholarship for Peace and Security.
  • See UN Secretary-General, Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament (New York: United Nations, October 2018).
  • See UNIDIR, Gender and Disarmament Resource Pack.
  • Since 1915, the Women’s International League for Peace and

Freedom (WILPF) and its disarmament program, Reaching Critical Will, have highlighted the gender imbalance in the peace and security field. WIIS has fought for greater participation of women in international security since 1987. In April 2019, the Ploughshares Fund, a US foundation focused on the elimination of nuclear weapons, committed $1 million to a Women’s Initiative Campaign to create greater gender diversity within the nuclear establishment. SeeTom Z. Colinna and Cara Marie Wagner, eds., A New Vision: Gender, Justice, National Security (Washington DC: Ploughshares Fund, April 2019). In February 2021, SCRAP, a campaign advocating for general and complete disarmament, launched a series of webinars highlighting female leadership in disarmament. The Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation launched in early 2021 an e-course on gender and disarmament. See also World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS), Advancing Gender Parity in Nuclear Security, Version 1.0 (Vienna: WINS, March 2021)

  • See the mentorship and professional development programs of organizations such as Women In International Security (WIIS); Girls Security; Women of Color in Peace, Security and Conflict

Transformation (WCAPS); the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP); or the International Affairs Institute in Rome, Italy (IAI).

  • In April 2021, heads of 69 organizations had joined GCNP and committed to “breaking down barriers and making gender equity a working reality in their spheres of influence.” Communications from GCNP. See also GCNP, Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, Impact

Report 2019 (Washington, DC: NTI, May 2020). See also Pamela Hamamoto and Laura Holgate, “Gender Champions,” in Tom Z. Collina and Carie Marie Wagner, eds., A New Vision: Gender, Justice, National Security (Washington, DC: Ploughshares Fund, April 2019), pp. 40–45.

  • See Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Women’s Power Index  (New York: CFR, April 2020). See also note 58.
  • The Leadership Council on Women in National Security (LCWINS) is tracking the appointments. As of April 2021, 36 percent of all appointments in the National Security Council are women. That said, as of April 2021, not all Cabinet and National Security Council positions had yet been filled. See
  • Carol Cohn, Felicity Hill and Sara Ruddick, The Relevance of Gender for Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction, No. 38 (Stockholm: The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, December 2005), p. 5. See also Carol Cohn, “Wars, Wimps, and Women: Talking Gender and Thinking War,” in Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson, eds., The Gendered Society Reader, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014), pp. 448–57.
  • See Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Signs Vol. 12, No. 4 (1987), pp. 687–718; Cohn et al., Relevance of Gender.
  • Cohn et al., Relevance of Gender, p. 4. See also Cohn, “Sex and Death.”
  • Ray Acheson, ed., The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty: A Resource

Guide for WILPF (Geneva: WILPF, March 2018); Ray Acheson, “The

Nuclear Ban and the Patriarchy: A Feminist Analysis of Opposition to Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons,” Critical Studies on Security, Vol. 7, No. 1(2018).

  • Lauren Wilcox, “Gendering the Cult of the Offensive,” Security Studies, Vol. 18 (2009), p. 225.
  • For a traditional explanation of the cult of the offensive, see Stephen

Van Evera, “The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War,” International Security, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Summer 1984) pp. 58–107.

  • Wilcox, “Gendering the Cult of the Offensive,” p. 229.
  • See Hugh Gusterson, “Nuclear Weapons and the Other in the Western Imagination,” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1999), pp.111–143. 1999. See also Shampa Biswas, Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).
  • Gusterson, “Nuclear Weapons,” p. 130.
  • See Ray Acheson, “Impacts of the Nuclear Ban: How Outlawing Nuclear Weapons Is Changing the World,” Global Change, Peace and Security, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2018), pp. 243-250; Ray Acheson, “The Nuclear Ban and the Patriarchy: A Feminist Analysis of Opposition to Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons, Critical Studies on Security, Vol. 7, No. 1(2018).
  • See Biswas, Nuclear Desire; Nick Ritchie, A Hegemonic Nuclear

Order: Understanding the Ban Treaty and the Power Politics of Nuclear

Weapons, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 40, No. 4 (2019), pp. 409– 434; Jan Ruzicka, “Behind the Veil of Good Intentions: Power Analysis of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime,” International Politics, Vol. 55, Nos. 3-4 (2017), pp. 369–385.

  • Gusterson, “Nuclear Weapons.” See also Biswas, Nuclear Desire.
  • See Susan Wright, “Feminist Theory and Arms Control,” in Laura Sjoberg, ed., Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 191 and p. 204.
  • See Ray Acheson, Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy

Ted Talk—TedxPlacedesNationsWomen (Geneva: Pressenza, January 15, 2019). Acheson also talks about nuclear deterrence theory as pure gaslighting—in the sense that we are led to believe that these weapons are about keeping us safe, rather than about the fact that they can kill people on the planet many times over. See Ray Acheson, A Feminist Critique of the Atomic Bomb (Berlin: The Heinrich Böll Stiftung, October 12, 2018).

  • See Laura Sjoberg, Gendering Global Conflict, Towards a Feminist Theory of War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 290. Sjoberg argues that systemic gender hierarchy is at once a structural feature of global politics (that is, it is constant and ordering) and a variable feature (that is it is accounting for when states fight and when they do not). Ibid., p. 99. “If gender is an ordering principle of the system, it specifies (in whole or in part), the war function of states, the distribution of (military and other) capacity between them, and the

(gendered) political processes of coemption among them.” Ibid., 

p. 105. Valerie Hudson has argued that the world order is not defined by anarchy but by the first political order—that is, the relationship between men and women at the household level. This subordinative, exploitative, predatory and violent order is the first political order that molds all other orders in society. It reproduces itself at the community, national, and international levels of analyses. See Valerie Hudson, Donna lee Bowen, and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen, The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security WorldWide (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020) p. 48.

  • See for example Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Relations (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990); J. Ann Tickner, A Feminist Voyage Through International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • See Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases.
  • See Nick Ritchie and Kjølv Egeland, “The Diplomacy of Resistance; Power, Hegemony and Nuclear Disarmament,” Global Change, Peace & Security, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2017), pp. 121-141.
  • See de Jonge Oudraat, McGill and Xue, WIIS Gender Scorecard (2020)

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 Felicia Dede Addy and Shikshya Adhikari

Ghana is one of the biggest producers of gold in Africa and the world.1 Gold contributes significantly to Ghana’s economy, and small-scale mining—an important means of income for many low-income Ghanaian households—produces about 30 percent of Ghana’s total gold output.2 Under Ghanaian law, small-scale gold mining is reserved for Ghanaians, but the boom in gold prices in the 2000s and Ghana’s unprotected gold wealth drew thousands of Chinese miners to Ghana who started mining for gold illegally.3 Known locally as galamsey, illegal gold mining by Chinese migrants in Ghana has had devastating effects on the economy, the environment, communities, and women’s security.

The Ghanaian government has adopted several measures to curb the proliferation of illegal mining, but these measures have been ineffective because of government incompetence, severe corruption, a weak judiciary system, rampant violence in communities, and the complicity of locals.

Civil society can play an important role in dealing with the adverse effects of galamsey. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are particularly important in raising awareness in communities, helping curb violence, protecting women and pressuring the government to be accountable and transparent. This policy brief looks at small-scale mining in Ghana and the growing problems associated with illegal Chinese miners. It lays out the obstacles that government and local communities face in curbing galamsey and relates how CSOs are pushing for solutions. We conclude by providing recommendations for more active civil society engagement, both nationally and transnationally.

Small-Scale Mining in Ghana

Indigenous small-scale mining dates back to the 15th century in Ghana. It is an important means of livelihood for many rural people, who use the income from mining to supplement meagre farming income. Ghanaian small-scale mining may be second only to agriculture in its ability to create jobs and boost the economy.4 About one million people work directly in the sector, and approximately four million work in services dependent on small-scale mining.5

With so many Ghanaians practicing small-scale mining, the government felt the need to regulate mining practices to streamline the sector’s contribution to the economy, regulate the use of resources by small-scale miners, and provide official marketing channels for gold that the sector produced.6 In 1989, the government passed the Small-Scale Gold Mining Act, which introduced a licensing process. However, the process is highly bureaucratic, expensive, time-consuming, and riddled with corruption. Only those with money and political connections can secure licenses. Thus the process discourages many Ghanaians without money and influence from applying for and obtaining legal licenses. Since villages depended greatly on the mining sector, unlicensed smallscale mining continued.7

The scale of illegal mining expanded greatly in the 2000s, when Ghana’s gold reserves and the surge in gold prices attracted many foreign miners from neighboring Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and countries such as Russia, Armenia, and China. Ghana saw an especially large influx of experienced Chinese miners.

Two main reasons explain the influx of Chinese miners.8 First, China’s economic liberalization led many Chinese migrant workers to come to Africa for work in a range of industries. With its ample unprotected gold reserves, Ghana proved attractive to Chinese gold diggers. Second, the majority of the Chinese miners in Ghana come from the Guangxi autonomous region in China, a region with a long history of gold mining and expertise in advanced mining techniques. About 50,000 Chinese miners have flocked to Ghana over the past decade and have been illegally mining gold.9

Effects of Chinese Illegal Mining

Unregulated and illegal mining by Chinese migrants has severely challenged the Ghanaian government, local communities and rural populations. It has compromised the local economy and security, particularly the well-being and security of women. In response, the government passed the 2006 Minerals and Mining Act, which “reserved” small-scale mining for Ghanaian citizens, and instituted the Alternative Livelihood and Community Mining Program, which sought to diversify sources of livelihood in mining areas. But because of widespread government corruption among national and local officials, their implementation was unsuccessful.10 Therefore, Chinese miners’ galamsey continues.

Economic and Environmental Impacts

Chinese investors bought up plots of lands from local farmers and landowners and replaced farmlands with gold mines. Farmhands lost their jobs, and overall food production declined. In addition, the influx of Chinese miners increased housing prices, which in turn led to an increase of homeless people.11 Lastly, Chinese miners introduced technologies such as dredging and advanced excavators, replacing lowtech, traditional mining techniques, increasing productivity and making it difficult for Ghanaian small-scale miners to compete with them.

The use of advanced technology has also polluted remaining farms lands and rivers nearby with dust, cyanide and mercury.12 Major rivers such as the Pra, Ankobra and Birim— essential for supplying water in Western and Eastern Ghana— have been polluted by mining runoff.13 This pollution has depressed farm productivity and the livelihoods of people who depend on farming. In addition, the consistent use of mercury in gold extraction has also harmed people’s health, which in turn has made them unable to work and earn a living.14

Community Security

An increase in robberies, violence, and other criminal activity accompanied the influx of Chinese miners. Attacks on Chinese migrants increased as local resentment grew. In response, the Chinese miners acquired weapons to protect themselves.15 Some became involved in the illegal buying and selling of arms.16 In many mining communities, the use and trafficking of narcotics also increased.17

Some observers worried that the loss of local livelihoods and the increase in security problems were bound to multiply locals’ grievances, thereby making communities vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremist groups. Violent protests have on occasion broken out over grievances in local mining communities in Ghana.18

Impact on Women

The majority of women in Ghana’s small-scale mining communities work on cocoa farms under abysmal conditions. Many supplement their meagre farming incomes by working in illegal mines. Often, women force their children to work in the mines to help supplement the family income.19 Women’s weak economic standing has made them quite dependent on galamsey, and government crackdowns on Chinese illegal mining have hit them hard.20 Although the government has acknowledged women’s economic vulnerability, its efforts thus far have not been directed toward reducing women’s dependency on illegal mining.21

The arrival of Chinese miners has also led to increased prostitution and sexual exploitation and abuse. Some women provide sexual favors to miners in exchange for money. In so doing, they expose themselves to arrest, as prostitution is illegal in Ghana. As a result, they become vulnerable to extortion and corruption. Equally worrisome is the sexual abuse of women employed by Chinese miners.22 These women, as well as their children, are discriminated against and ostracized by local communities.23

Government Responses

Prior to 2013, the Ghanaian government paid little attention to the proliferation of Chinese migrants in the small-scale mining sector. Although the government did pass the Minerals and Mining Actin 2006, the law was undermined by corrupt officials taking bribes from Chinese miners to allow them to continue mining.

When news media began reporting on galamsey issues in

2013, the government felt pressure to respond. President John Mahama established a task force made up of military personnel and other state security forces.24 The task force was instrumental in deporting over 4,500 Chinese miners and the seizure of mining equipment, but it also attempted to curtail illegal mining by Ghanaians.25 During presidential and parliamentary electoral campaigns in 2016, however, the Mahama government held back on enforcement against Ghanaians due to pressures from some communities that threatened to vote against it for attempting to stop them from working in galamsey mines.26

After Mahama’s electoral defeat, the new government under President Nana Akufo-Addo nonetheless sought to reinforce the ban on illegal mining. In 2017, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining was set up to deal with the problem.27 The new government also launched Operation Vanguard, which deployed 400 military and police officials in centers of illegal mining.28 An Alternative Livelihood and Community Mining Program is also in place to train those previously involved in small-scale mining for work in other sectors. All have failed to curb illegal mining.

Obstacles to Curbing Galamsey

The lack of government success in curbing galamsey is due to a variety of reasons, key among them are the corruption of government officials and heavy-handed crackdowns by the security forces. Other reasons include a weak judicial infrastructure and complicit local populations that directly benefit from illegal mining.

Corruption. Some task force officials and local police take bribes to “look the other way” and thus reap the benefits of illegal mining.29 Chinese miners boast about their “good working relationships” with local police. Indeed, Chinese miners who are caught and detained are usually let go after they pay fines and are thus free to resume their illegal activities. The lack of law enforcement transparency around who is arrested and released makes it difficult for civil society actors to protest or counter illegal mining. On occasion, prosecutions of Chinese miners have been halted without reasonable justification and their seized equipment returned to them.30

Weak enforcement of anti-galamsey laws and complicit officials make combating corruption particularly difficult. In January 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, which has oversight over the galamsey issue, revealed that about 500 excavators seized from illegal miners had gone missing, calling into question the vigilance of local authorities in policing the galamsey problem.31 Miners have relocated to more remote areas where authorities are less likely to discover them. This move “underground” to wait it out shows that the security forces’ vigilance waxes and wanes, making efforts to combat illegal mining inconsistent and, therefore, ineffective.32

Violence. Crackdowns by security forces have led to violence without effectively containing illegal mining. Both the Ghanaian and the Chinese communities have suffered the repercussions of this violence. Children and minors have been targets of violent raids. A 16-year-old Chinese boy was shot while fleeing a crackdown by Ghanaian forces.33 Families in China worry about family members who have been targeted in crackdown operations, as they receive no communication from Ghanaian authorities when their children or siblings are jailed or killed.34

Some aggrievedlocal authorities have incited young Ghanaians from the mining communities to engage in violence. In April 2020, a group of youth in eastern Ghana, with the support of a local assembly, set ablaze mining equipment belonging to Chinese miners and put the lives of many community members at risk.35

The ineffectiveness of government efforts has angered many local residents. In October 2016, some residents in Western Ghana violently demonstrated against Chinese miners, vandalizing government buildings and other infrastructure.36

Because miners carry cutlasses, shovels, and other mining equipment as weapons, they have been ready to attack at the slightest misunderstandings with communities or law enforcement officials, increasing the violence of attacks. Illegal miners have also armed themselves to protest closures of some illegal pits, causing panic and insecurity.37

Weak Judiciary. Those arrested on galamsey charges typically face minimal consequences. Beyond the problem of bribery, the legal and judicial process is slow. Thus many who are arrested post bail and quickly return to the field.38

Local Complicity. Galamsey provides ready income for many local people, much more than what farming offers or even compared with the government’s initiative on alternative livelihoods.39 Thus some individuals would rather sell land for galamsey, work in galamsey fields, or protect perpetrators by failing to report their activities. In some cases, community members clash directly with security forces seeking to prevent galamsey.40 Chiefs and family heads and custodians of communal and family lands in Ghana have seen large plots of land go to the highest bidder: foreign miners with no interest in sustainable mining to preserve the environment for future generations.41

In sum, illegal mining has not ceased despite some government efforts. Miners have become more likely to conceal their activities, however, making it more difficult for authorities to curb their activities or find other solutions.42 Ghanaian communities, meanwhile, have become more dependent on illegal mining, exposing them to violence and destitution.

The Role of Civil Society

CSOs can play an important role in curbing the proliferation of illegal Chinese mining activities in Ghana and alleviating its negative impacts on communities. CSOs have the standing to reach both the government and the people and can strategically position themselves as mediators.

Local civil society groups have been instrumental in pressuring the Ghanaian government to take action on illegal mining.43 Ghanaian CSOs have publicized the impact of galamsey on the environment and community security. They have worked to rehabilitate mined-out or degraded lands, and they have provided legal aid to those affected in galamsey communities while holding the government to its promises to curb galamsey.44

One such CSO, the Media Coalition against Galamsey, has been pressuring the Akufo-Addo government to take action. To promote reforestation and rejuvenation of galamsey sites, the nongovernmental organization Partners of Nature Africa initiated a project to plant rubber-tree seedlings on degraded land at a mining site at Peminanse in the Asiwa District of the Ashanti region.45 CSO Tropenbos Ghana has been helping local communities rehabilitate mined-out lands and teaching them to integrate good farming and settlement practices around the mining sites.46 The Centre for Public Interest Law provides courtroom representation and other legal services to those affected by mining operations and to those contending that the government or illegal mining operators encroached on their rights.47


Despite the meaningful work CSOs have been doing to curb and mitigate the effects of illegal small-scale mining, there is more to do: involve the affected communities in awareness raising, dialogue with the government and international community, create attractive alternative employment opportunities, and provide safe places for those who are physically or mentally abused. Moreover, the international community and the Ghanaian and Chinese governments should vigorously support the activities of CSOs.

Raising Awareness.One of the most important roles civil society can and should continue to play is to raise awareness regarding issues related to illegal mining. CSOs can raise awareness about environmental and security issues that may discourage local people from engaging in illegal mining. They can convene hearings and meetings for local people and government, including law enforcement officials, where all parties can raise issues and work toward resolving them. NGOs can appoint community mobilizers to talk to people, record their complaints, and present the results to government officials.

Dialogue with the Government and Local Officials. It is imperative that CSOs in Ghana engage the government in sustained dialogue on mitigating illegal mining. It is only through proper communication that people in affected communities will be able to understand the government’s perspective. While it may be difficult to prevent officials from taking bribes or becoming involved in corrupt activities, CSOs can highlight the corruption that does come to light and encourage transparency and accountability.

CSOs should increase efforts to engage local governments. Local officials are directly involved in the communities and sometimes facilitate illegal activities for profit. Engaging local government officials—and appealing for central government and law enforcement intervention where necessary—will increase accountability and transparency.

Programs to Develop Alternative Employment Opportunities. Civil societies can work with the local and central government officials to develop other opportunities for those who have lost their livelihoods due to illegal mining. Local and international NGOs working in Ghana should continue to offer skill-building training programs. It should prioritize women and men from marginalized backgrounds, female and single-headed households, people with disabilities, and others who may have a harder time coping with the loss of livelihood. These programs could help discourage criminal or extremist activity.

CSOs that advance alternative employment opportunities in Ghana’s mining regions may also be able to prevent or reduce violence. Targeting female-headed households for alternate employment programs will help reduce the burden on women who are forced to work long hours in mining while also caring for children. Accountability and transparency mechanisms and other initiatives should supplement these efforts, and CSOs are in a key position to establish them.

Safe Houses. CSOs, including religious groups, should establish safe houses for survivors of assault, rape, or other gender-based violence. These organizations must also connect survivors of violence to appropriate services such as hospitals, counseling, police, and lawyers.

Transnational Advocacy.CSOs have immense potential to build transnational and regional advocacy networks. CSOs in Ghana should ally with CSOs elsewhere to jointly pressure their respective governments to resolve problems stemming from illegal mining. Civil societies can also press countries to take the matter to the United Nations, which can encourage the international community to devise solutions.48 For example, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation have supported CSO efforts to rehabilitate mined-out lands, providing resources for rehabilitation projects in galamsey areas.49


This policy brief proposes peaceful means for curbing Chinese galamsey in Ghana through greater reliance on CSOs. Forceful curbing of galamsey will only lead to more violence and abrupt loss of livelihoods. Grievances will increase, aggravating the challenges communities already face.

The government’s ban on illegal mining and violent crackdowns are compounding the problem while failing to tackle it systematically. The problem of Chinese illegal mining in Ghana is both serious and complicated. It secures livelihoods for some and destroys it for others. It creates dependencies, incites violence, reduces security, and severely depletes natural resources. By bringing together all stakeholders—the local mining communities, the Ghanaian government, and international actors—we believe mobilizing CSOs will help Ghanaian communities address the problem holistically.


  1. Fernando Aragon and Juan Pablo Rud, “Gold Mining and Living Standards in Ghanaian Households” (International Growth Center, January 2011–March 2012).
  2. Gordon Crawford et al., “The Impact of Chinese Involvement in

Small-Scale Gold Mining in Ghana,” E-33110-GHA-1 (International

Growth Center, May 2015); Gabriel Botchwey and Gordon Crawford, “Lifting the Lid on Ghana’s Illegal Small-Scale Mining Problem,”  The Conversation (September 25, 2019).

  • Botchwey and Crawford, “Lifting the Lid”; Jeremy Luedi,  “Galamsey in Ghana and China’s Illegal Gold Rush” (Asia by Africa, January 16, 2019).
  • “Ghana: Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Formalization,”Project Information Document, Report No: PIDISDSC25363 (Washington, DC: World Bank, January 23, 2019).
  • Gavin Hilson, “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and Agriculture: Exploring Their Links in Rural sub-Saharan Africa,” Issue Paper (London: International Institute for Environment and Development, March 2016).
  • Government of Ghana, “Minerals and Mining Policy of Ghana—Ensuring Mining Contributes to Sustainable Development” (November 2014),
  • Gavin Hilson and Abigail Hilson, “Entrepreneurship, Poverty and Sustainability: Critical Reflections on the Formalization of Small-Scale Mining in Ghana” (International Growth Center, April 10, 2015).
  • Gabriel Botchwey et al., “South‐South Irregular Migration: The Impacts of China’s Informal Gold Rush in Ghana,” International Migration Vol. 57, No. 4 (2019), pp. 310–28; Botchwey and Crawford, “Lifting the Lid.”
  • Luedi, “Galamsey in Ghana.”
  • Minerals and Mining Act in Ghana (2006), https:// Mining%20Act%20703%20Ghana.pdf; Gordon Crawford and Gabriel

Botchwey, “Conflict, Collusion and Corruption in Small-Scale Gold Mining: Chinese Miners and the State in Ghana,” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, Vol. 55, No. 4 (2017), pp. 444–70.

  1. “House Rent for Only Chinese,” My Joy Online (June 25, 2013).
  2. Hilson and Hilson, “Entrepreneurship, Poverty and Sustainability.”
  3. Crawford and Botchwey, “Conflict, Collusion and Corruption”; Stanley Martey, “Mud Instead of Clean Water!!! How GWCL Is Struggling Due to Galamsey Canker,” Peace FM Online News (June 8, 2019).
  4. Juliane Kippenbery, “Mercury, Ghana’s Poisonous Problem,” Graphic Online (October 10, 2014); Aboka Yaw et al., “Review of Environment and Health Impacts of Mining in Ghana,” Journal of Health and Pollution Vol. 8, No.1 (2018), pp. 43–42.
  5. Jeremy Luedi, “Chinese Galamsey and the Illegal Allure of Ghana’s Gold Rush (Part 1),” The Daily Statesman (October 2, 2019).
  6. “Chinese National Arrested for Selling Guns,” Graphic Online (November 1, 2016).
  7. Edward Burrows and Lucia Bird, “Gold, Guns, and China: Ghana’s Fight to End Galamsey,” (Geneva: Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime, May 30, 2017).
  8. “Police Storm Community as Angry Youth Burn Mining Equipment in Eastern Region,” GhanaWeb (April 12, 2020). Many policymakers and academics have argued that young unemployed people are prime recruitment targets for insurgent and terrorist groups. See Guy Lamb et al., “Rumors of Peace, Whispers of War: Assessment of the Reintegration of Ex Combatants into Civilian Life in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo,” Working Paper (Washington,

DC: World Bank, 2012); Jairo Munive and Finn Stepputat, “Rethinking Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs,” Stability: International Journal of Security and Development Vol. 4, No. 1 (2015). Studies have established significant connections between unemployment amongst youths and attraction to terrorism activities in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan region. See Aniruddha Bagchi and Jomon A. Paul, “Youth Unemployment and Terrorism in the MENAP (Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) Region,” Socio-Economic Planning Sciences Vol. 64 (2018), pp. 9–20.

  1. Report of the UN Secretary-General on Social Analysis of Ghana’s Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector (2016).
  2. Tara Rava Zolnikov, “Effects of the Government’s Ban in Ghana on Women in Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining,” Resources Policy Vol. 65, No. 101561 (March 2020).
  3. Sofia Christensen, “Ghana Just Scratching Surface of Illegal Gold

Mining,” VOA News (May 27, 2019); Stephanie Barrientos, “Women in

Cocoa Production: Where Is the Gender Equity?” The Guardian (March 8, 2013); Roy Maconachie and Elizabeth Fortin, “On Ghana’s Cocoa Farms, Fairtrade Is Not Yet Working for Women,” The Guardian (March 11, 2016).

  • “Illegal Mining in Ghana Will Create Risk to Social Stability,”  Mining Review Africa (May 28, 2018).
  • Jonas Nyabor, “Ghana’s ‘Galamsey Kids’: Children Left Behind by Chinese Miners,” Citi Newsroom (April 16, 2018).
  • Gordon Crawford et al., “The Impact of Chinese Involvement in Small-Scale Gold Mining in Ghana” (International Growth Center,  Dec. 1, 2013).
  • Afua Hirsch, “Ghana Deports Thousands in Crackdown on Illegal Chinese Goldminers,” The Guardian (July 15, 2013).
  • “Galamseyers Will ‘Fight to Death’—Aning,” Ghana Web (October 20, 2016); Abdulai Abdul-Gafaru, “The Galamsey Menace in Ghana: A Political Problem Requiring Political Solutions?” Policy BriefNo. 5 (University of Ghana Business School, June 2017).
  • “Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining to be Dissolved

Soon,” Modern Ghana (July 7, 2020). See also Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation, “Government Outlines Measures to Lift Small-Scale Mining,” press release(Accra: GNA, August 2018).

  • Dominic Moses Awiah, “Operation Vanguard Launched to Wipe Out Galamsey,” Graphic Online (August 1, 2017).
  • Edwin Appiah, “Operation Vanguard Soldier Allegedly ‘Pockets up to GH¢45k Biweekly’ from Illegal Miners,” Ghana Report (February 1, 2020); Burrows and Bird, “Gold, Guns, and China.”
  • “Lack of Prosecution Hindering Fight against ‘Galamsey’—Operation Vanguard,” GhanaWeb (February 4, 2020).
  • “Two Groups Question Government over Seized Galamsey Excavators,” Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (January 29, 2020).
  • Sefanam Agboli, “Excavators Are Not Mobile Phones, Find Them—Ashigbe Tells Minister,” Ghana Report (January 29, 2020).
  • “Chinese Boy, 16, Killed during Crackdown on Illegal Gold Mining in Ghana,” ABC News(October 15, 2012); “Ghana Probes Death of Illegal Chinese Gold Miner,” BBC(October 15, 2012).
  • Dan Levin, “Ghana’s Crackdown on Chinese Gold Miners Hits One Rural Area Hard,” New York Times (June 29, 2013).
  • “Police Storm Community as Angry Youth Burn Mining Equipment in Eastern Region,” GhanaWeb (April 12, 2020).
  • “Chinese Galamseyers Take Over Wassa Forests,” GhanaWeb (October 20, 2016).
  • Ishaq Akmey Alhassan, “Galamsey and the Making of a Deep

State in Ghana: Implications for National Security and Development,” Research on Humanities and Sciences Vol. 4, No. 16 (2014), pp. 47–56.

  • “Lack of Prosecution Hindering Fight,” GhanaWeb; “Operation Vanguard Ordered to Withdraw from All Illegal Mining Areas,” GhanaWeb (February 27, 2020).
  • Nathan Andrews, “Digging for Survival and/or Justice? The Drivers of Illegal Mining Activities in Western Ghana,” Africa Today 62, No. 2 (2015), pp. 3–24.
  • “Galamseyers will ‘fight to death’ ” GhanaWeb.
  • Alhassan, “Galamsey and the Making of a Deep State.”
  • James Boafo, Sebastian Angzoorokuu Paalo and Senyo Dotsey,

“Illicit Chinese Small-Scale Mining in Ghana: Beyond Institutional Weakness?” Sustainability 11, No. 21 (2019).

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).

By Grace Ndirangu and Pearl Karuhanga Atuhaire

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, which is the highest-level classification the organization can give when a virus causes sustained

community-level outbreaks across countries and regions.1 The declaration set in motion national preparedness plans, including efforts to identify cases as efficiently as possible and minimize serious illness and deaths with proper treatment. COVID-19 has also created many socioeconomic challenges, including increased violence against women and girls.

In response, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on all national governments to incorporate prevention and redress of violence against women in their response plans for COVID-19. The socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on humanitarian contexts merits particular attention. For example, increased incidence of intimate partner violence and child marriages have been reported in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, which hosts thousands of Rohingya refugees.2 In Jordan, Plan International reported an increase in emotional and physical abuses perpetrated by intimate partners or family members.3

Emergencies often make women and girls more vulnerable to gender-based violence, and COVID-19 has exacerbated these challenges. Women and girls in humanitarian and emergency settings also grapple with inadequate sources of livelihoods, poor living conditions, lack of social support systems, and lack of legal documentation. Impoverishment may lead refugees, particularly women, to resort to a gamut of coping mechanisms, including survival sex work, petty theft, drug abuse, and alcoholism.4

This policy brief examines the gender-related consequences of COVID-19 through the lens of increased violence against women and girls in refugee settings in Uganda and Kenya. Several factors—economic stress, uncertainty about the future, fears about the virus, and patriarchal gender norms— lead to increased levels of violence in many households. We propose practical solutions to address this violence so that women and girls can live in free, safe communities during the pandemic.

Refugees in Uganda and Kenya

With 1.4 million registered refugees and asylum seekers, Uganda hosts the third-largest refugee population in the world and the largest in Africa.5 Kenya hosts nearly half a million registered refugees and asylum seekers, with close to 90,000 living in urban areas.6 Most of the refugees are from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South

Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia.7

Women and children make up the vast majority (82 percent) of this population. In addition, around 56 percent of refugees are younger than 15, and 25 percent are younger than 5.8 In May 2020, Amnesty International reported that there were more than 10,000 displaced persons at the Ugandan border with the DRC who were waiting to seek refuge.9 In countries such as South Sudan and DRC, women and girls are at great risk of being taken hostage by militia groups, becoming victims of trafficking, and of being sexually exploited and abused since they cannot flee to safety across the border.10 Most refugees living in Nairobi, Kenya, reside in poor urban neighborhoods with limited resources. In Uganda, most refugees live in refugee settlements—that is, an encampment in a geographical area designated by the asylum country’s government. Refugees in settlements are given a small piece of land to farm to help achieve a measure of selfsustainability. They are also provided with basic living support, including food, water, education, health services, and other infrastructure needs. Despite this assistance, most refugees in the settlements (particularly large families) are dependent on additional humanitarian aid. Refugees living in suburbs of Kampala and other towns in Uganda that are not officially designated for refugee settlement have to find their own means to survive. Indeed, humanitarian agencies only serve refugees living in settlements.

The Pandemic and Increased SGBV

Kenya reported its first case of coronavirus on March 13, 2020. By April, President Uhuru Kenyatta had issued a series of statements and had put in place measures to curb the spread of the virus. These included restricting movement into the country, banning all public gatherings, requiring people to work from home, dusk to dawn curfews, and restriction of movement in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa counties. All land borders closed, which meant that people seeking asylum in Kenya could no longer enter.

In Uganda, which announced its first case on March 21, 2020, the government closed all refugee reception centers at the border and suspended the services of the Department of Refugees offices for 30 days starting March 25.11 While these measures may have been broadly effective against the pandemic, they carried risks, particularly for vulnerable groups such as women and girl refugees.

Since the measures were put in place, the Kenyan National Council on Administration of Justice has reported a significant rise in cases of sexual violence, including domestic violence. In April 2020, almost 120,000 women and girls in Kenya who were internally displaced and affected by floods needed services and psychosocial first aid to deal with the effects of sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV). Among refugees living in the camps and urban areas, 61 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) were reported in March 2020, and in June 2020, 150 cases were reported. UNHCR attributed this to the government’s “stay in place” measures.12 By June, approximately 400,000 women and girls in urban informal settlements needed access to basic household supplies and dignity kits to reduce the risk of GBV, and an additional 440,000 girls in counties with a high prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) required social protection and psychosocial support, including dignity kits. It was also noted that at least 2,350 women and girls across the country required shelters and safe houses for protection from GBV and FGM.13

Since January 2020, 1,860 SGBV incidents were recorded in refugee settlements and Kampala, with 1,725 female survivors and 135 male survivors, according to UNHCR Uganda. Of the total, 729 incidents were reported between

January and March and another 1,131 between April and June, representing an increase of 55 percent in the three months after enforcement of COVID-19 lockdown measures began in Uganda. Out of 14 sites hosting refugees (13 settlements and an urban site in Kampala), 12 showed an increase in the number of SGBV incidents, with Kyangwali and Bidibidi reporting the highest rates. Through the end of

June, the top three reported incidents were physical assaults (566), rape (486), and psychological abuse (396).14

In Uganda and Kenya, the governments’ closure of borders to new refugees and asylum seekers had impacts on humanitarian settings. The pandemic has exacerbated three longstanding challenges that fuel the rise in SGBV: 1) economic insecurity, 2) health and basic needs insecurity, and 3) patriarchal gender norms. Together, they have pushed some women to adopt illicit and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Economic Insecurity

As businesses are forced to downsize or close due to COVID-19 restrictions, urban refugees are the first to lose their jobs. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that more than 70 percent of urban refugees were dependent on casual labor and daily wage work. The remainder worked in the informal economy and were already struggling to meet their basic needs.15

In Kenya and Uganda, a dusk to dawn curfew and movement restrictions reduced working hours, forcing most businesses to close earlier than usual. Some families are still restricted to their homes, and live-in help and those who offer daily services have had their work suspended in some households that seek to limit contact with strangers. Urban refugees depend on the informal market economy and run small enterprises as artisans, tailors, hairdressers, traders in precious metal and diamonds, and vendors of food and second-hand clothes.16

Most female refugees, including those living in refugee settlements, supplement the family income by working in the traditionally female-dominated informal economy by braiding hair, washing clothes, and tailoring. These sources of income have been curtailed, providing less social protection to mitigate the effects of lost livelihoods.17 Social distancing directives also affect female refugees who are no longer welcome to domestic jobs they held before the COVID-19 pandemic. One female refugee in Nairobi said:

Before this pandemic, refugee households were able to meet basic needs, but now most cannot even afford three meals a day. Our casual jobs cleaning people’s homes or hawking are no longer available, and we are begging for handouts. Some of us have used our little savings and even sold assets to pay rent so that we are not kicked out of our houses.18

Indeed, restricted movements and curfews have led to closures in most Kenyan and Ugandan businesses, while some have collapsed.19 Refugees have resorted to spending their savings, and in some instances families have started selling assets. Families who once had flourishing businesses now worry about meeting basic needs, including for rent and food.20 With no income or social support, sexual violence and the commercial exploitation of refugee women and adolescents for sex are almost inevitable.21

Halting markets and other informal trade has contributed to female refugees adopting other survival mechanisms such as survival sex work and working overtime with no pay to support their families.22 This exposes them to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections and increases the rates of unwanted pregnancies among refugees. This is especially worrisome because both access and level of reproductive health services provided by civil society organizations and humanitarian actors have declined.23

Livelihoods have also shrunk because of the falling away of remittances. It is estimated that the majority of urban refugees depend on remittances from relatives outside Uganda such as in Sweden and the United States.24 Remittances form a crucial part of the economic wellbeing of many people, including refugees, in most African countries, including Kenya and Uganda.

According to the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, the remittances to Africa are expected to drop by more than 20 percent due to lockdowns and economic crises induced by the pandemic. The drop in remittances means that the flow of important sources of cash relief for poor families—including refugees and displaced people—has been affected by unemployment and salary cuts in other countries.25 The fall in the wages and employment of migrant workers, who are more susceptible to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host Health and Basic Needs Insecurity

Most urban refugees live in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions that are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus. For example, thousands of urban refugees live in poor urban neighborhoods in Nairobi with little access to clean water, making it nearly impossible to practice regular hand washing.26

In addition, as countries such as Kenya implement measures to protect the national population from the effects of COVID-19, refugees are often excluded. Owing to their lack of legal documentation, refugees are not included in national systems that provide assistance to the most vulnerable.27 In Nairobi, nongovernmental organizations and other partners have provided social assistance to refugees to help them cope with the effects of the coronavirus. However, given the shortage of funds, the reduction in the amount of financial assistance given to refugees and the high costs of living in urban areas, the assistance given is not sufficient to meet the most urgent needs. While some cash assistance for refugees is distributed to the most vulnerable, less than 1 percent of the total urban refugee population in Nairobi receives financial support; the rest fend for themselves.28 Those who cannot fend for themselves are advised to move to designated camp areas. Border closures and containment measures further hamper agencies’ delivery of aid to areas where refugees reside. Restrictions in movement and resources being diverted to fight COVID-19 have also restricted access to reproductive health care, particularly important in the case of intimate-partner violence and also increasing the risk of maternal mortality. Other risks include an increase in sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies, and complications arising from harmful traditional practices.

Access to social services, including for reporting SGBV during the lockdowns, has been severely curtailed. Since most refugees lack government-issued identification, they are already wary of interactions with police officers or law enforcement authorities. As a result, most women and girls or survivors of violence avoid approaching police stations where they can report these incidents. In the absence of other reporting mechanisms, these incidents likely go unreported.

country, has had a serious impact on the livelihoods of those most vulnerable and taken away economic safety nets.

Uncertainty about access to food produces stress. The World Food Programme announced 30 percent cuts in its food relief effort to Uganda. Monthly cash distributions have decreased from USD $9.00 to $6.00 per month, according to refugee reports. Worse still, refugees cannot travel to find other sources of food during lockdown. The cut in food rations and the inability to earn income to cover basic food and nutrition needs is a huge cause for concern for refugees, especially for female heads of household, who are now more worried about going hungry than they are about the spread of COVID-19.

Patriarchal Gender Norms

Carol Pavlish, an associate professor at the University of California’s Los Angeles School of Nursing, has studied life experiences of refugee women and men in the Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda. She found that the situation in the refugee settlements had a considerable impact on the relations between men and women. Pavlish notes that many men talked about the shame and powerlessness they felt as a result of their joblessness. Family members give the men little respect because the families feel they were not men enough to provide the necessary clothing and food to their families. Pavlish highlights one man’s plight:

When my wife sees a neighbour … has a new kitenge … she says, “You can see you are not husband to me.” It’s very difficult for us. Sometimes we just want to remember when we could buy clothes … but they don’t understand, so they start to complain and say, “You don’t have anything to do.” When they start to complain like that … you just leave and walk around all day.29

The closure of markets led to loss of jobs for male refugees who previously operated as vendors and small-scale retailers. The sudden loss of work cut off income to support children and women under their care.30 The pent-up frustration resulting from lockdown-induced economic hardship has increased emotional and physical violence, especially against female refugees and children.31

In accord with patriarchal societal norms, women and girls must seek male approval to get medical attention. Women and girls who contract COVID-19 will most likely be the last to seek medical assistance, therefore putting them at more risk of developing complications. Older women, nursing mothers, women with chronic conditions, or expectant

women are at even greater risk.32

In both Uganda and Kenya, the closure of schools, an overwhelmed health system, and requirements for social distancing have created conditions conducive to the resumption of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. In one report from Kenya, at least 79 girls aged 9-12 in local and refugee communities combined were found to have undergone FGM since schools closed in March 2020.33

Many of these harmful practices have been practiced clandestinely. Family members’ movements are restricted, making reporting of FGM difficult. Young women who have undergone FGM are incapacitated and cannot leave the house for some time. One refugee woman reported that some FGM survivors have their phones taken away so that they cannot even report to their friends and other family members. Moreover, they fear reprisals from close family members or will not submit reports that might cause their families trouble. Children face greater peril because they cannot go to police stations. Community leaders are more likely to report an issue with child marriages than the children themselves.

As in past epidemics, such as the Ebola crisis in Uganda, there are clear signs that women bear the brunt of emergent risks to public health, safety, and human rights. With schools closed to contain the spread of the virus, women and girls take on more household chores, which limits their economic opportunities. Women often also shoulder the greater burden of caregiving for old and sick members of their households.34 Where such women are also heads of households, loss of livelihoods due to the pandemic leads to increased poverty and food insecurity.

Because most refugees have limited or no access to savings, they cannot afford to go without employment for long periods. Containment measures render women unable to take care of their households. As a result, most will turn to negative coping mechanisms such as sex work to survive. In some cases, refugees must work despite quarantine measures, risking not only contracting the virus and infecting family members but also risking arrest.

Additional Barriers to SGBV Prevention

The challenges described above have led to increased violence against women and girls, particularly domestic and sexual violence. Three additional barriers in Uganda and Kenya stand out:

Underrepresentation of female police officers at police stations and other key response service centers. In Kenya and Uganda, most police officers are male, and although all police stations are required to have a gender desk, the desk is not always staffed by a female officer. In most cases, the gender desks are inactive, especially during the pandemic.35 Women and girls are hesitant to approach police stations because they fear facing a male police officer to report cases of rape and other forms of SGBV. Similarly, women are largely underrepresented in other service centers such as the hospitals and courts and even at community leadership levels such as local councils.

Lack of data.Data can play a critical role in the response and prevention of violence against women and girls.36 Data can improve understanding of how and why pandemics might lead to an increase in this violence, help identify risk factors and emerging needs, and reveal impacts on the availability and access to formal and informal services for women survivors of violence. Data enable organizations and other key partners to improve their programs to better help women access support and services.

Some organizations lack the resources and skills to be data driven. But most face added challenges to effective use of data during the COVID pandemic.  They must decide if online platforms are a safe space for women to report abuse without alerting perpetrators, if it is ethical and acceptable to survey by telephone, and how social media can be used to collect data on increased gender-based violence.37 The pandemic also affected the way in which service-based data are collected and stored, particularly if services are being provided remotely. Especially if survivors of violence are confined with the perpetrators, lack of privacy makes remote data collection difficult.

Limited access to information and language barriers.

Language barriers limit many refugees’ access to information. This language barrier exacerbates their vulnerability not only to COVID-19 but also to other forms of discrimination and violence.38 Because most refugees do not understand English and major local languages, they do not get firsthand, timely information about COVID-19.39 Urban refugees in Kenya and Uganda speak mainly Arabic, French, and Swahili. This limits their comprehension of governmental directives and public health messages as well as general information, education, and communication messages.40 Thus they are at increased risk of getting inaccurate information from peers and networks about COVD-19 and SGBV prevention and response. The language barrier also presents a challenge in police stations, where translation services are not available. In some refugee communities, female survivors of rape avoid disclosing the crime to other community members for fear of ostracism. During the lockdown, female survivors of violence may be restricted from leaving the house, making it difficult to report cases of violence. Most women and girls also share mobile phones with other members of the household, including their male partners or spouses. This lack of privacy compounds the problem. Women cannot report incidents through available hotlines for fear that perpetrators may overhear their conversations.


Given the challenges we have described, we recommend the following practical steps that national and international actors should take immediately to improve the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons and reduce SGBV.

  • Disseminating information in local dialects is key for refugees so they can receive accurate, relevant information. Radio announcements, posters, and leaflets in French, Arabic, and Swahili, among other local refugee languages, should be distributed so that refugees can be included fully in national preparedness, prevention, and pandemic response measures.
  • Service providers must continue to raise awareness of the dangers of COVID-19 and SGBV. There must dedicated reporting mechanisms and channels for survivors to report incidences of violence, information on identifying and responding to SGBV, and lists of available services. Such activities can bridge the gaps between service providers and the communities they serve.
  • Building the capacity of pharmacists, police, community, and local administration leaders is important in raising awareness on SGBV prevention and response. Law enforcement officers should have greater capacity to identify signs of abuse, respond to emergency calls, and to handle survivors of violence who are fleeing abusive situations past curfew hours. Community and local administration leaders need the capacity and skills to address and respond to complaints of violence and abuse in their local communities. Nonmedical personnel such as pharmacists may be the first to come into contact with survivors of violence and need the capacity and skills to identify, report, and respond to those seeking assistance.
  • Governments and development and humanitarian organizations should acknowledge the gendered implications of COVID-19 and put in place genderresponsive COVID-19 prevention and response plans as well as sustainable age- and sex-disaggregated resilience and recovery programs. In addition, national contingency plans should include refugees at no cost. Moreover, humanitarian workers and their services should be deemed essential and therefore allowed access to the most vulnerable refugees in settlements and urban areas so they can identify the needs of the most vulnerable individuals and families and provide real-time support. Like other vulnerable host communities, refugees should benefit from government assistance in the form of food and other essential items distributed by national COVID-19 task forces.
  • Government authorities mandated to work on refugee issues, such as the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat in Kenya, should work with UNHCR and other relief organizations to ensure that refugees have continued access to services. Refugee local leadership such as traditional leaders and local council leaders should be engaged in building awareness about the available services. In refugee communities, frontline workers such as health care staff and other social workers need more training to understand the specific needs of refugees so they can deliver the appropriate pandemic protection over the short and long term. These might include psychosocial support and toll-free hotlines for information and assistance on SGBV, water sanitation and hygiene services, and other needs.
  • It is also critical that accurate, disaggregated data be collected during this period. Lack of such data could hamper post-pandemic recovery efforts. Public-private partnerships will be important to design and disseminate innovative solutions such as the use of apps to deliver goods, services, and information and to collect data from survivors of violence. Such innovations could include the use of mobile apps to deliver services and commodities and employ trained counselors in call centers. The counselors could work in the call centers in the guise of customer care agents. Data collection should be done in a manner that is ethical and confidential and should protect survivors of SGBV and the research teams. Data collection should also take into consideration the needs of marginalized groups of women, including the elderly, women with disabilities, adolescent girls, and ethnic minorities.
  • Governments and organizations should put refugee women at the center of solutions and recovery efforts in refugee settings. Refugee women are key resources for ensuring that recovery plans and longer-term solutions meet women’s needs, yet their input is typically not valued. Their participation should be sought in decision-making processes, including but not limited to those related to violence prevention and response. Governments should work through organized refugee women groups from different communities to ensure that they leave no one behind in the prevention of SGBV and COVID-19.


While measures have been put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, these measures must at the very least do no harm. It is also important that the government involve stakeholders in designing and putting in place measures that will curb the spread of the virus. These measures should include interventions that protect women, girls, and other vulnerable groups from violence, abuse, and exploitation. The engagement of men and boys is important in designing measures for SGBV prevention and response, but women and girls must also be involved in the program cycle of all interventions.


  1. First reported in December 2019 in Wuhan Province, China, COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets.
  2. International Office of Migration, Gender Analysis on COVID-19 (Geneva: IOM, 2020).
  3. Plan International, Jordan Sees an Increase in Domestic Violence, Poor Access to Family Planning (Washington, DC: Plan International, May 20, 2020).
  4. Gil Loescher and James Milner, “The Long Road Home: Protracted Refugee Situations in Africa,” Survival 47, no. 2 (2005).
  5. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Global Focus, “Uganda,” web page (Geneva: UNHCR, June 30, 2020).
  6. UNHCR Global Focus, “Kenya,” web page(Geneva: UNHCR, June 30, 2020).
  7. UNHCR, Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2018 (Geneva: UNHCR, 2018). In Uganda, most refugees and asylum seekers are found in the West Nile, Northern, and Western parts of the country. See also Hadijah Mwenyango and Geroge Palattiyil, “Health Needs and Challenges of Women and Children in Uganda’s Refugee Settlements: Conceptualizing a Role for Social Work,” International Social Work 62, No. 6, (2019), pp. 1535–47.
  8. World Bank, “Informing the Refugee Policy Response in Uganda: Results from the Uganda Refugee and Host Communities 2018 Household Survey,” web page (Washington DC: October 1, 2019). 
  9. Amnesty International, “East Africa: People Seeking Safety Are Trapped at Borders Due to COVID-19 Measures” (London: June 22, 2020).
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  15. UNHCR and Danish Refugee Council, Living on the Edge: A Livelihood Status Report on Urban Refugees Living in Nairobi, Kenya (Nairobi: DRC, November 2012).
  16. Michela Macchiavello, “Livelihood Strategies of Urban Refugees in Kampala,” Forced Migration Review (2004).
  17. Naohiko Omata and Josiah Kaplan, “Refugee Livelihoods in

Kampala, Nakivale, and Kyangwali Refugee Settlements: Patterns of Engagement with the Private Sector,” Working Paper Series no. 95 (London: Refugee Studies Centre, October 2013).

  1. Female refugee, interviewed by the authors in July 2020.
  2. Naohiko Omata, “Many Refugees Living in Nairobi Struggle to Survive because of COVID-19,” The Conversation (London: May 20, 2020).
  3. RefugePoint, “RefugePoint’s Response to COVID-19 in Nairobi,” web page (Nairobi: April 9, 2020).
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  6. UN Women, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women.”
  7. Omata and Kaplan, “Refugee Livelihoods in Kampala, Nakivale, and Kyangwali.”
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  9. Kathryn Taetzsch, “COVID-19: Invest Now in Cash/Voucher-Social Protection Scale-Up or Children Pay the Price Later” (Uxbridge, UK: World Vision Kenya, June 24, 2020).
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  13. Christina Haneef and Anushka Kalyanpur, Global Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19 (New York: International Rescue Committee and CARE, April 2020).
  14. CARE, Gender Implications of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Development and Humanitarian Settings (New York: CARE, March 16, 2020).
  15. UNOCHA, Kenya Situational Report.
  16. UNOCHA, Global Humanitarian Response Plan: COVID-19 (New York: UNOCHA, April–December 2020).
  17. Kikonde Righa, “Safeguarding Dignity of Sexual Violence Survivors in Kenya” (Nairobi: Trocaire, January 14, 2020).
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  19. UN Women and World Health Organization, “Violence against Women and Girls: Data Collection during COVID-19” (New York: UN Women and WHO, April 17, 2020).
  20. T. Malaba, “Urban Refugees Cry Out for Help amid Lockdown,” Daily Monitor (March 29, 2020).
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  22. UN Populations Fund, Uganda, “In Recognition of Translators Changing Lives in Emergencies” news release (New York: UNFPA, March 12, 2018).