Focus on gender and SSR in discussion on post-conflict societies

By Mats Utas and Maria Eriksson-Baaz

In a recent workshop on gender and Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Africa the dangers of simply applying lessons learned from one context to another was highlighted. SSR efforts often suffer from a lack of understanding of the particular contexts in which they take place.

The workshop, ‘Gender and Security Sector Reform in post-conflict societies in Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Lessons Learned’, organised by NAI in collaboration with the Africa Program of the Swedish National Defence College, gathered researchers, policymakers and practitioners from various institutions. This set-up stimulated interesting discussions on the different roles and working conditions of the various actors and how to improve communication and cooperation between them.
The presenters provided original material from various post-conflict contexts in Africa; Mozambique, Liberia, DR Congo, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Sierra Leone and South Africa. While revealing many similarities, the presentations highlighted important differences. It was concluded that there is a need for more contextualized data, not the least on community security concerns and gender relations within security institutions.

Both the concepts of SSR and gender were problematized during the workshop. Some participants argued that the present concept of SSR has severe limitations, promoting instead the concept of Security Sector Transformation (SST). In contrast to SSR, SST put more emphasis on the need to put security institutions within their broader political context, recognizing and addressing power relations with both the elected authorities and with civil communities. It also signals the need for more profound changes that addresses the organizational character of security institutions, including cultural make-up and human resource practices.

Some participants argued that the gender and SSR debates tend to be characterized by a simplistic understanding of gender that, not only equates gender with women (ignoring men and masculinities), but also promotes essentialist images of women by arguments that the inclusion of women automatically enhance operational capacity (by for example improving civil-military relations and diminish violence against civilians). While many agreed to this being a problem, some presented examples of its validity in their day-to-day work. Moreover, many emphasized the need for pragmatism and the strategic importance of this argument in policymaking and for practical SSR work.

The workshop gathered people from various institutions such as London School of Economics, University of Bristol, the Institute for Security Studies (South Africa), DCAF, The Mozambique Ministry of Defense, The North-South Institute (Ottawa), The Center for Conflict Management (Rwanda), Forskningsstiftelsen Fafo (Norway), EU, the Swedish Defense Forces, Sida and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Gender relations
Maria Eriksson Baaz
Mats Utas
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