The relationship between Armed Conflict and Gender
“In war, women are often forgotten. History relegates their contributions to the sidelines, but they have much more to tell about life under siege. They’re fighters, victims, and breadwinners. They feed their families on rations and protect them in uniform (…).” A Woman’s War project, National Geographic, 2018
Understanding the relationship between gender and conflict is essential, as it can be a chance to transform the current power dynamics with a positive outcome. However, what conflict means? Which characteristics have an armed conflict? On the other side, how do we understand the word “gender”? Why it is so important to take into account gender perspective while talking about armed conflict? Which role “sexual violence” is playing in conflicts? How do we defend women’s rights to achieve gender equality in global terms?
If we have a look at international legal instruments, it is possible to see that, nowadays, a big effort is being made to include women in the peace process –for instance, with the UN Women Peace and Security. Incorporate women not only means breaking with the harmful patriarchy dynamics but also to have looked to the peace process from a different perspective. As noted, in any conflict –more, when we talk about armed conflicts- power dynamics and inequalities are on the manifesto.
Start introducing a gender perspective, as women were remaining invisible in peace negotiations, maybe change conflict resolutions. “This relationship (gender–conflict) will allow for an approach to conflict not only as a destructive force but also as an opportunity to change power structures in a positive way” (irenees.net, 2001). Let us start by looking from the very beginning: defining basic concepts such as “conflict” and “gender” and, in the afterward, establishing the connection.
What conflict means?
A conflict would be, according to peace researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Cascón P. 2001), “that situation of dispute or divergence in which there are a contrast of interests (tangible), needs and/or values in a conflict between two or more parties”. One of the main challenges of peace investigators would be to understand and act in front of conflicts with the goal of transforming it in a non-violent way.
On another note, violence can be defined as “The use or threat of the use of force […] to obtain from one or several individuals something that they do not consent freely or to make them some type of evil-physical, mental or moral” (Fisas, V. 1998). According to Johan Galtung, there are three types of violence: direct, structural and cultural (figure 1). The direct violence is visible and refers to concrete behaviors (e.g. a beat); the structural violence, which focuses on the group of structures that does not allow to satisfy necessities or the negotiation of necessities (e.g. hierarchy or salary); finally there is cultural violence, that legitimates violence frame and concrete in attitudes (e.g. expressions like “I killed her because she was mine”).
Armed conflict is, according to Uppsala Conflict Data Program (from Uppsala University, in Sweden), “is a contested incompatibility that concerns government and/or territory where the use of armed force between two parties, of which at least one is the government of a state, results in at least 25 battle-related deaths in one calendar year”. As it is pointed out, it is remarkable the incompatibility of the different perspectives from the actors of the dispute.
Conflicts should be understood as a process, not necessary with linear stages; sometimes, even, is difficult to identify where was the beginning and were the end. Armed violence can go through a huge variety of moments of downward trends and upward trends. The end of an armed conflict would be determined, somehow, according to the definition that actors have of it or the conflict dynamics, far from official speeches.
What does Gender mean?
“Gender” can be seen as the social and cultural construction that allows distinguishing between inequalities and the biological or sexual differences. The gender perspective is trying to evidence that the differences between men and women are socially built as a consequence of unequal power relationships historically established. The patriarchy system has been running the world for centuries. Moreover, power relations are influenced by other social factors, such as class, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. It is also noteworthy that masculinity and femininity, as social constructions, are in continual transformation and have to be read in the specific context where are being developed (IDHC, 2019). Eventually, as a final note about the “Gender” concept, highlight that among history main gender identities flourished in patriarchy scenarios. Thus, men dominated societies and women were oppressed and dominated. In patriarchy, the principles upon which control by male authority is based (source: WordReference), there is unequal access to power and to resources, being men who have the priority.
Gender and Conflict
Gender is having a remarkable role while talking about armed conflicts and, despite that fact, most of the analyses are avoiding it. As was mentioned in the previous section, power structures are based on gender inequalities. “Conflict takes place in a culture that assigns different roles to men and women and it, therefore, impacts their lives differently. Men are often called to take part in the battle and to fight in an army while women carry the responsibility for the household and the family” (irenees.net, 2001).
The feminist perspective underlines that international relations are based on patriarchy visions. For instance, as Laura Sjoberg has mentioned, “the theory and practice of international security are still being a men world”. There is a gender hierarchy that rules our androcentric society. Thereby, while talking about international policy or the origin of armed conflicts –and also the peace process to end up these conflicts- it is remarkably important to consider gender.
Another example to emphasize about the link between gender and conflict is taken from, “the editors of ‘What women do in wartime’; they argue that violence against women still continues and even increases after men return from the battlefield (irenees.net, 2001), but is difficult to counter it as it is happening in the private space mainly. In the Afghanistan of post-war, while ruled by Taliban: there “women cannot participate in public life unless completely veiled and accompanied by her husband or a male member of the family” (UNAMA & OHCHR, 2009), a clear example of structural violence.
Finally, the way in which gender inequalities are affecting armed conflicts can be evidently seen while talking about sexual violence. It is historically registered that sexual violence has been used against women since ancient ages –for instance, when reviewing the Roman mythology story about “the rape of the Sabine Women”. The motivations of the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts can be, according to the researcher Pamela DeLargy, multiple; taking into account patriarchy and militarization, sexual violence could be seen as a war strategy or a way to do ethnic cleansing. Moreover, another explanation could be the idea of “women considered as men property”, which patriarchy takes for granted.
Some notes to conclude
As it is illustrated in the article, the analysis of the armed conflicts through a gender perspective would contribute to achieving gender equality by making visible the multiple experiences, now silenced, and the different impacts that happen as a consequence of the power structures.
In other words, it would mean the end of a patriarchy vision, where only men are the focus; moreover, it could put insight into the role of gender relationships in wartime and the different roles that men, women, boys, and girls have. As some feminist authors have pointed out, it is important to take into account the interconnections between the oppressive structures against women, the violence against women and armed conflict impacts. Hopefully, this article did a little contribution to reflect on the idea of why is important to analyze armed conflicts through gender perspective. The current power dynamics have to be transformed and gender equality is the direction.
Finally, would be important to understand how decisive it is to defend women’s rights to achieve gender equality globally. Currently, there are some international law instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ohchr.org, 2019) or the Women, Peace, and security agenda from the UN. It would be everyone’s responsibility to know about it and advocate to achieve the goals –a more equal world in gender terms.
A WOMAN’S WAR, link
UN Infographic about the participation of women as peacebuilders, link
FALLOPIAN TUBE MAP: infographic about the ways of discrimination against women and girls –which are connected and intersected. Link
This article is written using, mainly, the notes and articles from the online training “Armed conflicts from a gender perspective: differentiated impacts, peacebuilding and access to international mechanisms” imparted by the Institute of Human Rights from Catalonia (2019). Retrieved from
Referenced in the text: IDHC, 2019. “Armed conflicts from a gender perspective: differentiated impacts, peacebuilding and access to international mechanisms”. Retrieved from
Abdelghani Dahdouh (2019) “Men’s view of women in the Southern Mediterranean”. Illustration awarded in the Europe women art contest Drawing 4 Equality. Retrieved from
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Cascón P. 2001. “Educar en y para el conflict”. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.
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FISAS, V., 1998. Cultura de paz y gestión de conflictos. Icaria, Barcelona.
Irenees.net (November 2001). Why study Gender and Conflict Together?. Accessed 9 of May. Retrieved from
Medium.com (1st of June 2018) Illustration of Vangelis Pavlidis. Retrieved from
ohchr.org (2019), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women New York, 18 December 1979. Retrieved from
UNAMA & OHCHR. (July 2009). Silecne is Violence. End the Abuse of Women in Afghanistan. Retrieved from