Gender and Early Warning Systems

My colleague Linda Öhman at the OSCE just published an excellent report on Gender and Early Warning Systems.

As Öhman notes, “conflict analysis, including early warning, has traditionally not included a women’s  rights or gender perspective.” The consequences? “When women are not included in EWS, their opportunities to fully participate in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction are limited and, thus, EWS risk failing to adequately predict or prevent conflict.” Moreover, gender-based indicators can “provide a more complete understanding of the causes of conflict and, as a result, help develop more appropriate responses to mitigating or preventing it.”

Some key excerpts:

  • By bringing to light such patterns of structural discrimination, integrating a gender perspective can improve the effectiveness of early warning systems by gathering more specific information and allowing for more detailed and precise analysis. In turn, this can ensure better preparedness and, when necessary, more accurate and measurable responses — as well as preventive mechanisms — that can more directly address some of the underlying causes of a conflict.
  • To integrate gender into EWS, both men and women must have the opportunity to report on their security situation. Likewise, the different threats and concerns that impact men and women as a result of any conflict must be taken into account and duly analyzed.
  • Existing inequalities and different roles during conflict can lead men and women to perceive threats and vulnerabilities in different ways. The same signs and occurrences will not necessarily elicit the same reaction in both men and women. A UNIFEM EWS programme in the Solomon Islands clearly identified some of the disparities. Men, for example, rated inter-ethnic relations as a high source of tension, while women rated them only as a medium source of tension. This could confirm the suggestion that women were better able to maintain inter-ethnic alliances, even during tense times, while men generated stronger in-group identification.
  • Recent developments in the area of EWS are focused on working more with the local community and ensuring its preparedness and resilience, rather than elaborating external actors’ actions. Negotiations are not limited to states but can‚ — and should — be performed by a multiplicity of actors. Ideally, all actors should work together in order to strengthen their collective impact.
  • Ushahidi is software allowing organizations to establish EWS using basic information technology. The software allows anyone to report incidents via SMS or the Internet and to receive information by the same means. It offers a wide variety of ways to integrate gender, including by ensuring that both women and men are aware of the systems launched using Ushahidi and know how to use them.
  • Women as informants: Conflict-response mechanisms still have a distance to go in developing and applying a broadened understanding of security that does not limit it to military matters or ignore human rights and women’s rights. Such thinking has also defined what constitutes security information and who provides it. This has often restricted women from reporting such information, especially women who live in remote areas. Yet the perspectives of women are invaluable — not only because without them monitors will not capture the entire picture of the situation, but also because women are often socialized differently than men, and thus may experience conflict very differently. As a consequence, women tend to ask different questions and focus on different aspects of the conflict cycle and, therefore, can provide different and enriching perspectives to early warning and conflict prevention. Men’s and women’s contributions complement each other.
  • Men and women experience security differently and their needs for feeling safe are different. Location is one key factor; women experience insecurity in different places than men. Knowing and understanding these differences and patterns of discrimination is important when elaborating a response to EWS data in order to be sure that the response does not inadvertently reinforce existing inequalities and that it reaches all rights-holders equally.
  • Because threats that are regarded not as public but as private matters (including sexual violence and domestic violence) are often perceived and treated as non-political matters, there is a risk that EWS reporting disproportionally highlights security threats that affect men. Gender analysis in EWS, however, can raise factors related to the violations of women’s rights that cause conflict or are direct results thereof. The lower status that most women generally hold relative to most men may cause them to be among the first to experience the weakening of security levels. Thus, their experiences can potentially serve as foreshadowing of more widespread armed conflict.
  • When states move to limit the equal rights of men and women to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, exacerbating the discrimination women might already be facing, this can serve as an important factor to indicate increased instability. It is therefore essential that a broad range of indicators, which also cover ESC rights, are developed as a part of the EWS. In addition, a more balanced team has a greater chance of ensuring that a more diverse set of indicators is developed to monitor and address rights violations.

The OSCE will follow up with a second EWS brief that will address in greater detail how to formulate indicators that incorporate gender. I very much look forward to reading that brief as well. Both address as aspect of conflict early warning that is systematically ignored.

Patrick Philippe Meier

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