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Strong executive control

Last edited: December 29, 2011

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Effective oversight of security institutions by the elected, executive arm of government can be strengthened by government, non-governmental and other organizations through the following actions:

  • Build the knowledge of senior ministry officials and national security coordination bodies on violence against women and girls through training, briefings, mentoring and other initiatives.

  • Institute mechanisms to ensure consultation with external gender experts and representatives from women’s organizations on women’s security needs and violence against them.

  • Establish or support the development and implementation of national action plans on violence against women, which include a clear mandate for security institutions and their participation in coordination/ implementation bodies. Plans should be in line with relevant national, regional and international legislation and policies.

  • Advocate for a dedicated oversight mechanism/ focal point on the issue and a gender unit within each ministry.

  • Ensure representatives from the national women’s machinery and other government institutions focused on gender/women’s issues, as well as parliamentary women’s caucuses are included in national security coordinating bodies.

  • Institutional measures to strengthen executive control can complement overall efforts and should involve:

    • Head of State /Government: In some countries, ultimate command authority for the activities and performance of security institutions lies with the Executive Head of State or Government. State leaders can serve as champions for improving the sector’s accountability on the issue, for example, by advancing specific mechanisms such as the special courts to expedite prosecution of sexual violence cases, as established, for example, in Liberia and South Africa; Spain in the case of domestic violence; and in Mumbai (India) for cases of trafficking.

    • Ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs, Justice: Responsible for the day-to-day oversight of security institutions, mandated ministries (usually Defense, Interior/Internal Affairs and Justice) set security policies, priorities, budgets and procedures and can influence their responsiveness to women and girls. Ministries should provide a system of checks and safeguards against both ministerial and mandate abuses by security institutions and personnel, by:

    • Instituting a specific unit / team within the ministry responsible for monitoring the performance of the police or armed forces on addressing violence against women in line with national legislation and policies and internal protocols and procedures.

    • Requesting specific actions of security personnel to address the issue (e.g. development of a code of conduct or response protocol, mandatory pre-service and ongoing training requirements)

    • Commissioning investigations and public inquiries into allegations of mandate abuse/ misconduct by security personnel.


Case Study: Ministry of Interior, Iraq Kurdistan Region
establishes a Directorate on Violence Against Women

The Iraqi Kurdistan Region is a constitutional entity, comprising three governorates in the north of Iraq. The practice of so-called ‘honour killing’ in Kurdistan has received significant attention, where the overwhelming majority of approximately 1,270 so called ‘honour-crimes’ reported between 2004 and May 2008 occurred in Iraqi Kurdistan (980) (Women for Women International, 2008). Domestic and sexual violence, occurring more frequently than ‘honour’ crimes, also represent significant threats to women and girls. The Kurdistan Regional Government is unique in Iraq in that it has legislation to protect women from violence, where ‘honour killing’ is a criminal offence and domestic violence is punishable with time in prison. To ensure these laws were upheld and in the absence of accountability mechanisms to oversee their implementation, the Kurdish government established a ‘Directorate for Following up Violence against Women’ within the Ministry of the Interior in 2001.

The Directorate has offices in each of the governorates, with a primary role to ensure implementation of laws protecting women from violence and that their rights are upheld. The Directorate receives cases of violence against women and girls and monitors the progress of investigations. It was also envisaged that the Directorate would collaborate with law enforcement officials and judiciaries to investigate and prosecute cases for better redress. 

At the time of its establishment, there was an absence of formal procedures, divisions of responsibilities or guidelines to facilitate collaboration between the Directorate and other service providers. This resulted in a lack of clarity regarding its role and varying operating procedures between governorates. In response to the need to strengthen the role of the Directorate, the Kurdish Ministry of Interior sought technical expertise and established a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Rescue Committee in 2009 given their strong record implementing gender-based violence programmes.

The partnership aimed to help the Ministry to strengthen the role of the Directorate and support police officers to uphold rule of law in investigating, interviewing, reporting and following up cases of violence. Specifically, the support focused around two initial trainings on violence against women targeting 50 police officers. In preparation for trainings, the International Rescue Committee reviewed copies of Kurdish criminal procedure code, Iraqi penal law, personal status law and police policy and procedures manual, which revealed that there were no written policies, including codes of conduct or standard procedures, on police responses to the issue outside the initial training curriculum given to new recruits. This meant that survivors were left to navigate a complex system that relied entirely on the attitudes and decisions of individual officers.

The continued collaboration with the Directorate in 2010 contributed to the following outputs:

  • A directive outlining the roles and responsibilities of Directorate officials with detailed tasks and procedures (approved in November 2010). 

  • Training for 49 police officers in Duhok specifically recruited to investigate and interview cases of violence against women and girls. The training was designed to build their knowledge and skills on women’s legal and human rights along with interviewing and investigating techniques.

  • The formation of Gender Task Forces to coordinate efforts of all stakeholders and to share information and insights on the issue. The International Rescue Committee also spearheaded efforts of the legal task force to identify gaps in law and law enforcement in relation to de jure and de facto compliance with international standards. The task force produced a working paper identifying gaps in investigations of violence against women cases in police stations. For example, women’s right to legal representation when filing charges, as stated in the Kurdish Court Proceedings Law (article 13), is not always recognized or adhered to. The Gender Task Forces are held periodically in any place and open to non-governmental organizations and ministry officials when the theme relates to law enforcement, and the ministry has hosted the meeting on its premises.

  • Improved collaboration, through efforts by International Rescue Committee (working jointly with the Regional Re-construction Team at the American Embassy) to engage various key actors including the Directorate, Ministry of Interior, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, legal investigators, judges, among others in discussing strategies to ensure women access justice through proper legal and judicial channels.

Sources: SDDirect communication with International Rescue Committee Iraq, IRC. 2011. “Annual Report 2010 Iraq Country Programme”; Women for Women International (2008) Iraq Report - Amplifying the Voices of Women in Iraq.

  • Ministry of Finance: Financial oversight and budget allocations can be exercised by a finance ministry or audit body (see independent oversight section), subject to final approval by parliament, and can improve the security sector’s response to the issue through the following actions:

    • Implement gender-responsive budgeting with clear mechanisms for allocating resources and monitoring expenditure related to addressing violence against women.

    • Examine security institutions’ use of financial resources in line with objectives on violence against women set in relevant policies and strategies.

    • Ensure that sound public financial management is practiced by relevant institutions, including existing of mechanisms to monitor expenditure in different sectors on violence against women.

  • National Security Council: As a dedicated body usually tasked with ensuring coordinated action among ministries and the integration of a wide range of security-related policy, legislative, structural and oversight issues, security councils, can take the following actions to improve accountability of the sector:

    • Ensure a coordinated sectoral response to violence against women and girls with clear roles and responsibilities for different ministries and institutions.

    • Establish specific targets and indicators to be monitored to track the government’s progress on addressing the issue.

    • Appoint more women to national security councils to improve women’s voice in decision-making. Women’s representation on councils is very limited - in 2005 there were only 12 female ministers of defense and veteran affairs (6.6%) and 29 (15.8%) female ministers of justice in a sample of 183 countries (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2005).

    • Engage in consultations with women’s non-governmental organizations, gender experts and women’s parliamentary caucuses working on violence against women to identify issues of concern and actions to be taken to improve security.

  • National Taskforce on Ending Violence against Women: Some countries have established a specific inter-ministerial body responsible for implementing a national strategy on violence against women, which can also serve as an oversight mechanism for identified actions and targets to be met by police and the sector overall.


Illustrative example: The United Kingdom’s Inter-ministerial Group and Delivery Board on Violence against Women and Girls

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November 2010), the United Kingdom Home Secretary issued a “Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls” on behalf of the Government, which focused on:

  • preventing violence and challenging attitudes and behaviours;

  • providing support for victims;

  • working in partnership with public bodies and community groups; and

  • reducing the risk to women and girls and bringing perpetrators to justice.

The statement sent a strong message that rape, domestic violence, trafficking and other forms of violence are totally unacceptable, reinforcing that gender-based violence is a criminal justice issue, and that sexual, physical and emotional abuse have long term consequences, which require appropriate support in order to address them. 

In March 2011, an Action Plan was published, setting out clear targets and indicating the ministries and bodies responsible and a timeframe for implementation (see policies and legislation). To ensure delivery of the Plan, two inter-ministerial bodies were established:

  • A violence against women and girl Inter-Ministerial Group, chaired by the Home Secretary, which meet on a quarterly basis to monitor progress on the strategy. It includes participation of key stakeholders such as women’s organizations twice a year.

  • A VAWG Delivery Board, which is a cross-departmental body managed by the Home Office with responsibility for oversight of the actions agreed-upon by all individual departments and associated agencies. This Delivery Board meets every 6 weeks and reports to the Inter-Ministerial Group.

These bodies include representatives from the departments (ministries) of Health, Education, Work and Pensions, Communities and Local Government, International Development, Culture, Media and Sport, as well as the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, UK Border Agency, Crown Prosecution Service, Government Equalities Office, Equality and Human Rights Commission, National Offenders Management Service  and Forced Marriage Unit.

The Action Plan also commits the Home Office to circulate a public newsletter on violence against women and girls every two months to report on progress with delivery of the actions.

Sources: End Violence Against Women Coalition and Home Office websites.