Why successful peacebuilding relies on addressing patriarchal norms

Throughout the decade that International Alert has worked in Nigeria, there has been a persistent barrier to progress on our aim to reduce sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV): social structures and negative attitudes towards women that prevent their involvement in peacebuilding. New research from Alert teams in Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and the Philippines highlights that these barriers exist in a range of conflict contexts. Breaking the gender trap shows why and how addressing these patriarchal norms should be placed at the heart of peacebuilding.

Image showing two physical copies of the paper, Breaking the gender trap, with one showing the cover and another open to show two inside pages

Bauchi state in northeast Nigeria is a largely agricultural region where traditional and religious leaders are an integral part of their communities and maintain a high level of moral, religious and cultural authority. Social interactions are defined by patriarchal social norms. What it means to behave as a man or a woman is narrowly defined.

In town hall meetings we conducted in Bauchi state, we have found that most people believe men should be the breadwinners of the family while women should take care of children and household chores. Women’s empowerment is often seen as an encroachment on men’s traditional roles. The term ‘gender equality’ was often met with a strong negative reaction, as participants felt it was at odds with their religion and culture. Despite the emergence of a large women’s rights movement in Nigeria in recent years, many women continue to be confined to traditional domestic roles, particularly in rural areas.

This can impact efforts to tackle SGBV in a number of ways. It is often expected that women should ‘endure’ any sort of abuse from her husband and should not be seen or heard arguing with him. Identifying the true nature of this type of violence can therefore be very difficult, and working on solutions can be met with resistance. Getting justice for victims is a key element of prevention and showing that SGBV will not be tolerated by the community. Yet in Bauchi state, most domestic violence cases are addressed by courts, including Sharia courts, that are dominated by male judges with strongly discriminatory views on gender equality. Most survivors do not get the justice or support they need and can even be made to marry their perpetrators, which deters others from coming forward.

Women are trained to handle the home front, while men work for the money.

– Participant in a townhall meeting in Bauchi state, Nigeria

While the experiences of women in Bauchi state are unique to their context, some common themes can be drawn from the research undertaken across the four countries in the report. Each country has a Women Peace and Security National Action Plan yet each has struggled to promote gender equality in peacebuilding programmes or society at large. An inability to transform patriarchal norms has hindered progress towards true gender equality in each.

Breaking the gender trap therefore makes recommendations for national governments, donors and peacebuilding organisations to put patriarchal norms at the heart of their programming agenda. These include revisiting their responses to SGBV in places like Bauchi state through the lens of patriarchal norms.

Only by addressing underlying patriarchal gender norms can peacebuilding efforts be truly successful.