Gender and armed non-State actors
Women, men, girls and boys often experience armed conflict in different ways. Each group participates in a variety of roles as victims, perpetrators and actors. Within and across roles, gender can create specific needs, capacities and vulnerabilities.
It is now generally accepted that women play a significant role in non-international armed conflicts across the world and perform a variety of both support and combat roles. Although some academic and field research documented women and girls’ experiences within armed non-State actors (NSAs) in certain contexts, especially in Africa and Latin America, more needs to be explored about their distinct experiences, the influence they have within NSAs and the specific needs and vulnerabilities they face.
While women can play active roles in armed conflicts, they are also at risk of violence. Women and girls, both civilians and those associated with NSAs, are particularly exposed to the effects of armed conflict, in particular to violence or to threats of violence. In a variety of circumstances, women are sexually assaulted and abused and face significant obstacles to gaining necessary protection and assistance. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are committed by government forces and NSAs alike, both as a tactic of warfare and in opportunistic manner.
International humanitarian law, international criminal law and international human rights law provide a framework for the protection of women and girls and the repression of violence against women and of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). International instruments, such as the , reinforce women’s rights and protection. In addition, two recent United Nations Security Council and recognise for the first time conflict-related sexual violence as a matter of international peace and security, and strengthen the tools for implementation and monitoring as well as reporting mechanisms. Two other important and focus on addressing obstacles to women’s participation to conflict resolution and peace building planning. Despite this framework, successful means of implementation of the normative framework have not been found so far, and the international community continues to look for better and more efficient response mechanisms, particularly with regards to NSAs.
So far, not enough has been done to engage NSAs on the prohibition of sexual and gender-based violence during conflict, and in particular on the protection of women and girls, nor to attempt to understand better NSAs’ existing policies and practices on this issue. Moreover, the international legal framework provides little opportunity for NSAs to express their willingness to abide by existing norms. That NSAs cannot neither negotiate nor become parties to international treaties, limits their incentives to respect the relevant international standards.
Geneva Call is expanding its efforts towards developing a strategy on an engagement process with NSAs on the prohibition of sexual violence during conflict and on the protection of women and girls, both civilians and those associated with NSAs, during armed conflicts. Geneva Call also endeavours to support women within and outside NSAs so that they are better able to achieve the recognition of their rights during armed conflicts and to articulate them. Activities are being designed in consultation with other civil society actors involved in addressing the issue and with NSAs themselves. Essential to the process is the trust and confidence Geneva Call has built up with NSAs over the past ten years of engagement on the anti-personnel mine ban.
Desk- and field-based research is being undertaken to better understand the roles and experiences of women and girls during armed conflicts, the gender (power) dynamics that operate during armed conflicts, as well as women’s specific vulnerabilities and capabilities within NSAs. In partnership with the , Geneva Call co-published a first in 2008 examining the situation of women associated with NSAs in southern Sudan. Geneva Call’s work on gender builds upon two conferences with women associated with NSAs held in (2004) and (2005), which the organization co-organized with the (Part of the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies).
For further information:
Geneva Call, 2011, Improving the Protection of Women and Girls during Armed Conflict. Report of the workshop organized in Geneva in December 2010 by Geneva Call. June.
Geneva Call and Small Arms Survey, 2008,
, Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA) Issue Brief, Small Arms Survey (Geneva), No 13, September.
Dyan Mazurana, 2006, , Report of the workshop co-organized in Addis Ababa in November 2005 by Geneva Call and PSIO, August.
Dyan Mazurana, 2004, , Report of the workshop organized in August 2004 in Geneva by Geneva Call and PSIO.