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Gender-based violence is one of the biggest threats globally to women's security. This dress carries the message: "Put an end to impunity for violence against women". Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Gender-based violence is one of the biggest threats globally to women's security. This dress carries the message: "Put an end to impunity for violence against women". Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Security for all

Threats to personal security vary depending on factors such as where people live and what socio-economic status they have. Men and women often have different living conditions, meaning that their security threats also differ, both in peace and during times of armed conflict. For example, many women in Israel are more afraid of sexual violence than bombings (Women’s Security Index, Israel 2012). Unfortunately, the security needs of women and girls are generally not seen as relevant issues for national and international security policy.

Women’s organisations in conflict zones are often told that the time is not yet ripe for women’s rights – first the violence must end, a peace agreement needs to be signed and so on. Such statements were commonly heard during peace negotiations in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iraq, Liberia etc. However, if peace and security are to reach all members of society, it is essential for the gender perspective to become part of the debate. Issues such as men’s violence against women, the right to freedom of movement, and sexual and reproductive health and rights are very important in a security context. They are all part of the human security concept, which was introduced by the UN in 1994 to focus on the security of the individual, not the state. It involves all people being valued equally and having the opportunity to participate in the development of security policy.

Security or protection?

Discussions on the security of women often focus on how women should be protected. Those discussions tend to end with women being confined to their homes. Yet protection is not the same thing as security. Instead the focus should lie on determining what women need to safely participate in society.

It is problematic when politicians and others in power identify threats to women without having listened to what women themselves perceive as being a problem. Security threats must be defined by both sexes. Similarly, the measures implemented in response to these threats must be formulated by both men and women.

The fact that so few women are appointed to key positions within the area of security policy reinforces the perception of it being a male domain. The UN has, for example, never appointed a women as Chief Mediator and 11 of the UN’s 13 peacekeeping missions, as well as all of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy missions, in 2012, were headed by men.

New types of threats

In the past, security was primarily a matter of defending territories and borders, but threats are becoming increasingly complex. Climate change and the worldwide risk of natural disasters, famines and epidemics all provide a breeding ground for new conflicts.

Poverty, hunger and the dismantling of human rights are all contributory factors to the escalation of violence in different regions and contexts. When violence becomes an accepted way of solving problems, instability and insecurity increases. This in turn poses threats to security, both nationally and for bordering states.

While we need new solutions to tackle global security problems, the focus largely continues to be on military solutions, instead of developing strategies that are better suited to handle future security challenges.

Impunity for gender-based violence

One of the biggest global security threats to women is gender-based violence. In most societies the systems that are used to ensure citizens’ safety, such as military and police forces, do not protect women. Gender-based violence is not being stopped and the perpetrators are still walking free, because there are no laws forbidding violence against women and because existing laws are not being implemented.

The mortality rate among women increases as a result of domestic violence, both during and after armed conflict. One reason for this is the large arsenal of small weapons in private hands. In some cases more women die during the post-conflict period because of injuries from light firearms than during the war itself.

Women who remain in their communities during the war often know where weapons have been stashed away after the end of the hostilities. Unfortunately, since women are generally excluded from peace and rebuilding processes, this information seldom reaches the post-conflict disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisations work with matters relating to women’s security in various ways. They run shelters, provide women with legal aid, and educate both men and women about women’s rights. They work against gender-based violence and promote women’s participation in local and national politics, as well as in peace processes.

Updated in: 2013-04-25