Addressing gender norms key to promoting peace, finds International Alert

New research by peacebuilding organisation International Alert shows how patriarchal gender roles contribute to violent conflict and prevent pathways to peace.

Breaking the Gender Trap presents on-the-ground research from four conflict-affected countries – Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Nigeria and the Philippines – that shows how peacebuilding is compromised by the effects of restrictive understandings of gender roles. Culturally entrenched social roles that associate femininity solely with reproduction and subordination are found to undermine efforts towards equality, social harmony and positive peace.

Societies dominated by patriarchal hierarchies give men disproportionate levels of power, subjugate women and shape conflict dynamics. In Nigeria’s Bauchi state, for example, women’s empowerment is widely perceived as encroaching on men’s roles and women are widely confined to domestic roles.

Rigid roles and behaviours prevent effective responses to sex and gender-based violence by reinforcing stigma, discouraging reporting and prioritising the interests of male family members over female survivors. They reinforce social barriers and prejudices that suppress women’s participation in decision-making and conflict resolution, as seen in Nepal where record levels of female political representation have not translated into true inclusion.

Alert is calling on national governments, donors and peacebuilding organisations to make addressing patriarchal norms central to peacebuilding programmes and the Women Peace and Security Agenda.

Recommendations include:

  • supporting and funding local women-led networks to promote women’s agency and shift gender norms;
  • using context-specific language to avoid backlash from and conflict within patriarchal communities;
  • moving beyond quotas towards meaningful political participation; and,
  • addressing entrenched gender roles to tackle sexual and gender-based violence by prioritising survivors’ needs.

Swechchha Dahal, co-author of the report, said:

“Patriarchal norms shape global, national and local power structures and institutions. In conflict settings, they trap women in social roles that are subjugated, marginalised and precarious. The Women, Peace and Security agenda recognises the importance of participation, but too often overlooks the pushback from patriarchal systems.

“Our research shows how peacebuilding efforts in a range of contexts are undermined by patriarchal behavioural norms. Women and men both reinforce these rigid social roles and suffer the effects. The suppression of women’s voices and experiences to often leads to a denial of their human rights and the continuation of violent conflict.

“Pathways to peace are too often blocked by these gendered social expectations. Addressing patriarchal norms must be placed at the heart of peacebuilding.”

Notes to editors:
Breaking the Gender Trap: Challenging patriarchal norms to clear pathways for peace can be downloaded here.

International Alert understands gender as fundamental to violent conflict and peacebuilding: men, women, boys, girls, and gender minorities are affected by and involved differently in both. Across our programmes, we promote women’s empowerment, support LGBTIQ+ inclusion and tackle sexual and gender-based violence.

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