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Apply the ecological model to identify risk factors for perpetration of violence or those that contribute to impunity

Last edited: December 30, 2011

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Eliminating violence against women requires not only a focus on preventing and stopping the violent behaviour of individual perpetrators, but also transforming the fundamental attitudes, behaviours and practices which condone the violence at the relationship, community and society levels (UNODC, 2010). Interventions working with security personnel on the issue should engage or work in partnership with organizations specializing on community or societal behaviour change, to ensure the risk factors at each level of the ecological model (Heise, 1998) are considered in developing and implementing security sector programmes. For example, risk factors for perpetration of violence against women and/ or girls include:  

  • Individual Risk Factors:

    • Witnessing violence or experiencing abuse by security personnel as a child, for example, in communities where police brutality is common or armed groups control the area, or in states governed by the military.

    • Recruitment into an armed group or gang at a young age, and the associated disruption of/limit on the educational opportunities for members.

    • Extended isolation from family and social supports, which may be experienced by men and boys involved in socially-controlling peer groups or during forced conscription/abduction by armed groups in conflict situations.

    • Substance abuse, which may result as a response to traumatic experiences, such as continuous exposure to highly violent crimes.

  • Relationship risk factors:

    • Negative influence of social peers and colleagues that promote expression of masculinity that normalizes violence and aggression and women’s lower status (both within their homes and within the community/workplace). This is especially relevant in hyper-masculine institutions, such as the military.

    • Economic stress or disparity in earning power between men and their partners, which can be exacerbated, for example, when male security personnel receive insufficient financial compensation or irregular payments and are unable to support their families.

  • Community/institutional risk factors:

    • Institutional norms which promote or perpetuate a belief that security personnel are entitled to use violence (including through tactics such as sexual harassment and assault). These norms can be entrenched in social systems which place police and armed personnel above the law and discourage dissent or questioning of their authority, as well as reflected within the communities and stations in which they operate (for example, where violence against women who are perceived as disobeying social norms or disrespecting police authority is tolerated and condoned as an appropriate response).

    • Institutional practices which promote aggression and male dominance, particularly during recruitment or induction activities (which may involve perpetrating rape or other human rights abuses).

    • Institutional training processes that promote negative stereotypes of women and girls.

  • Societal risk factors: The personal relationships of security personnel and their community interactions are heavily influenced by broader societal forces, such as economic interests, social norms, cultural beliefs, laws and policies, and political ideologies. Risk factors that contribute to violence at this level include:

    • Historical and societal patterns that normalize or glorify violence by the security sector, including silence or acceptance of sexual and/or domestic violence.

    • Discriminatory laws which fail to mandate the security sector to protect at-risk women or survivors of violence, or discriminatory security policies.

    • Social norms granting or tolerating male control over female behaviour, which are internalized by security personnel.

Example: Gender and Security Needs Assessment in Liberia and Sierra Leone    

The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces in partnership with the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WISPEN-Africa) conducted needs assessments in Liberia and Sierra Leone at the start of a project aimed to strengthen the integration of gender and women's issues in security sector reform; and to enhance the capacities of female security personnel as drivers of change from within the sector. The assessment aimed to: generate background on existing initiatives and promising practices; identify stakeholder knowledge on gender and sector reform to avoid duplication of efforts and maximize limited resources; as well as raise awareness, and enhance community engagement in, ownership and sustainability of the initiative (WIPSEN-Africa, 2008). The assessment involved:

  • Background research

  • A community attitude survey with a representative sample of local interviews (e.g. local chiefs, leaders of women's community associations, faith-based and youth groups)

  • Key informant interviews and questionnaires (~50 per country) with officials and leaders, using distinct versions for sector stakeholders, community members, female personnel and civil society and a combination of open and close-ended, multiple choice and likert-scaled questions.

  • Focus groups (e.g. Sierra Leone’s Parliament Committee on Defense, Internal & Presidential Affairs)

Key findings related to gender-based violence highlighted in the report included:

  • Domestic and sexual violence were key security threats for all stakeholder groups

  • Ongoing resistance to fully support women’s inclusion in the security sector

  • Female security personnel noted:

    • women’s marginalization from decision-making and male dominance as threats, with the need to address underlying gender inequality

    • familiarity with Family Support Units as a measure to address gender-based violence

    • limitations on the role and potential for advancement by female personnel (e.g. the de-motivating environment discouraging women from seeking careers in the sector

  • Civil society organizations (mainly working on security, justice and gender issues) noted:

    • lack of consultation, usually limited to information sharing or participation in meetings

    • lack of clear impact resulting from the reform process

  • Community members (e.g. grassroots women, faith-based, local leaders, youth) noted:

    • Low level of trust for the police, who are perceived to be corrupt and ill-equipped to deal with reported cases, although level of trust for the military, is higher

    • The need for community policing, local vetting of prospective security recruits, public hearings on security issues, and efforts to increase women’s recruitment

    • Mixed views on the impact of women’s representation within the sector in changing communities’ confidence, in particular with regards to the police

The assessment generated high expectations from stakeholders and recommendations for:

Sources: WIPSEN and DCAF.2008. Needs Assessment; ___.2008. Security Sector Reform in West Africa: Strengthening the Integration of Gender and Enhancing the Capacities of Female Security Sector Personnel'. WIPSEN- Accra.

Key Tools

Needs assessment toolkit on the criminal justice response to human trafficking (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010). This toolkit was developed by UNODC within the framework of the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. It aims to provide comprehensive guidance for assessing the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons in a given State. The toolkit provides a Training Needs Assessment Questionnaire (Annex A) which can be used specifically to assess the training needs of security institutions dealing with trafficking or could be adapted to address training needs for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls more broadly. Available in English.       

Gender-Based Violence Legal Aid: A Participatory Toolkit (ARC International, 2005). This toolkit is for staff working with security personnel, such as local police, international peacekeepers, and ministries such as the Interior or Internal Affairs. The resource provides tools and step-by-step guidance for designing, implementing and monitoring gender-based violence programmes that incorporate “adequate, appropriate, and comprehensive prevention and response strategies” within a multisectoral approach. Guidance and templates for conducting a preliminary assessment of services and needs is included.  Available in English.