Helpdesk Report: K4D - Gender as a Causal Factor in Conflict

from Department for International Development
Published on 28 Feb 2019 View Original


Evidence is available to demonstrate the role of gender in different inter and intra state conflicts.
This evidence mainly points to correlation between gender and conflict, rather than causation.1 Gender plays a key role in encouraging men – and in some cases, women – to take part in conflict, and it acts as a discourse to invoke, fuel and perpetuate conflict and violence. However, the evidence shows that gender is never alone as a cause or driver of conflict, and that it is always intertwined with other social, economic, cultural and political factors.

There are existing comprehensive reviews of evidence on the links between gender inequality and outbreaks of violent conflict (Herbert, 2014a, 2014b). These show clear correlations between levels of gender inequality and conflict, and emerging evidence to illustrate links between gender-based violence and conflict. There is a strong evidence base on the ways that beliefs and values behind unequal gendered roles and power relations are instrumental in building support for and perpetuating conflict (Wright, 2014).

There does not appear to be a great deal of literature analysing the gender dimensions of other drivers of conflict – such as, for example, land rights, natural resources, poor governance, inheritance, internal displacement, or food security – and applying this within conflict analysis frameworks. There is, however, a body of academic literature that focuses on the links between patriarchal institutions/structures and militarism more broadly (Cockburn, 2010; Duncanson, 2013).

There is less literature available that focuses specifically on individual conflicts, examining the role that gender played in them. Evidence on the gendered impacts of particular conflicts and the importance of gender equality in peace making processes is far more common. However, it is possible to find references to the gendered causes of conflict within literature that is primarily focused on impacts or peace making. Within the time designated to prepare this report, it has been possible to identify evidence and develop case studies on gender and conflicts in Iraq, northern Uganda, Colombia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Sudan and South Sudan, and Kosovo. Partly due to their nature as individual, context-specific case studies, and partly due to the focus of available literature, the case studies tend to focus on motivations of individuals and groups to take part in inter and intra state conflicts, rather than the gender dynamics of broader systemic causes of conflict. Emerging themes from these cases include:

  • Motivations to join and support armed conflict are gendered

While in some cases men and women became combatants in conflict for similar reasons; to support political ideology they believed in, to avenge wrongs against them or their families, to escape poverty or improve their social status, there were also some clear gender differences in motivations. Women reported joining armed groups in order to escape gender-based violence or the marginalisation that followed it, or to benefit from greater gender equality as a member of a state or rebel force. Meanwhile, men were encouraged to take part in violent conflict as a way of adhering to dominant ideas of successful manhood that they could not meet by other routes.

  • Gender stereotypes fuel armed conflict

Gender stereotypes around women as victims and in need of protection are used to fuel support for conflict. In the majority of the case studies, gender stereotypes around men as protectors, providers and decision makers, and as strong, brave and heroic, were actively at work.

  • Gendered causes of conflict are interlinked with others

While gender emerges as a key factor in all of the cases, it is always linked to other drivers of conflict. Ideas of ‘thwarted masculinities’ usually involve social and economic factors such as unemployment, access to land or education, generational differences and the requirements of marriage customs. Ethnic, and/or religious differences, as well as nationalism, also intersect with gender norms, and the use of gender stereotypes to invoke ‘protective’ action when women and girls have been abused tends to be linked to broader political motivations. These interlinkages mean that it has not been possible to find evidence that considers the relative contribution of gender, as compared to other causes and drivers, in each individual conflict. In addition, while the research question for this report does not request that the significance of gender as a causal factor is quantified, it is important to note that the academic experts consulted as part of the report’s preparation advised that such an approach would not be methodologically possible.