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Last edited: December 24, 2013

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Ensure  Women Associated with Armed Forces are eligible for and have access to participate in all DDR activities and services

  • Overturn “no weapon, no entry” rules for eligibility into DDR programmes, and expand the definition of “ex-combatants” to include women who serve non-combative functions such as sex-slaves, wives, cooks, messengers, spies, etc. (UNMIL and OGA, 2010).
  • Shift the primary objective of DDR from that of disarming security risks, which mainly targets men, to that of enabling “those worst affected by war to achieve a level of human security and equality to which they are entitled under international law” (Specht, 2006, p. 103), which inherently puts women and children at the forefront of DDR efforts.
  • Support outreach efforts, such as awareness-raising and sensitization campaigns, to recruit and include  women associated with armed forces in DDR programmes.
    • Engage, empower, and enhance the capacity of female leaders and women’s organizations to spearhead outreach efforts.
    • Counter myths and fears held by female ex-combatants – for example, that they won’t be able to get married or travel outside of the country if they engage in DDR.
    • Address the social stigmas faced by ex-combatants that prevent them from coming forward and seeking services.
    • Utilize radio programmes, focus groups, and field visits to disseminate and clarify information about DDR services offered (UNMIL and OGA, 2010).

Example: When the DDR process began in Liberia in 2003, there was a “no weapon, no entry” rule for eligibility, with little attention paid to the needs of women. After the first phase was suspended in 2004, the United Nations Mission In Liberia (UNMIL) began to advocate for a change in the classification of women who had no weaponry to present but had been actively involved in the conflict. It was proposed that women no longer be labeled as “camp followers” (their original category within the national framework), and to instead be identified as active combatants, thus making them eligible for DDR. The definition of ex-combatants was expanded to include not only active fighters (those with weaponry available) but also women who supported the fighters in any other role, including as sexual slaves, cooks, spies, messengers and wives of combatants. These women were henceforth recognized as “Women Associated with Fighting Forces (WAFFs)”. Operationally, this meant that women would not have to present ammunition in their initial registration, and would be admitted based on their description of their role. This advocacy effectively transformed the DDR process from a strictly military operation to one which fully considered the needs of the entire community.

Reaching women through centralized information operations and decentralized NGO networks had the most significant gender impact in the context of Liberia’s DDR programme. Stakeholders successful in information dissemination and sensitization identified an inclusive outreach process by facilitating national NGO networks for women in the country. Focus group and community respondents cited this as key, along with a centralized public information campaign. Success was also achieved through enhancing the capacity of women’s NGOs, making them better able to reach out and communicate with female combatants, and to provide vital services and address issues as they arose. It was the full and sustained engagement of women’s NGOs throughout the process that enhanced the role of women, increased their numbers and protected them from exploitation at the various levels in the process. This coordination served as a motivating factor, increasing trust and promoting women’s participation in the DDR process. (Adapted from UNMIL and OGA, 2010, pp. 12-13 and 16-17).


Address the specific needs and safety risks of  women associated with armed forces

  • Special protection measures should be put in place to prevent violence against women and girls who are participating in DDR programmes.  For example:
    • Provide separate transfer for males and females to and from cantonment sites. 
    • Design cantonment camps with separate areas for women and girls, so that they are ensured privacy and protection. Adopt other camp design and camp management strategies used in refugee settings to prevent VAWG, such as providing regular security patrols of the camp, and ensuring that services are available in ways that women can comfortably and safely seek and use them. Care must be taken to address the specific needs of transgender individuals who face additional risk in male-female segregated shelters when their identified gender is not recognized or honored.  A great deal more research is needed to determine best practices for transgender people in conflict and post-conflict settings. For preliminary research and steps taken in post-disaster Nepal, see: Knight, K. and Sollom, R. 2012. Making Disaster Risk Reduction and Relief Programs LGBTI-Inclusive: Examples from Nepal. Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 55, September.
    • Provide support, counseling, protection options, and economic alternatives to girls and women who remain in exploitative or abusive relationships. While some choose to stay in such relationships for a variety of reasons – and breaking these bonds immediately can risk backlash or additional hardship – providing such services can help to empower and increase their options (Specht, 2006).
    • Consider discussing and providing financial portions of DDR packages to women and girls discreetly and away from male family members.
  • Provide women and girls with equal opportunities and resources. These should include gender-sensitive programmes for health and counseling, rehabilitation, resources and assistance in formal education, vocational or on-the-job training, and psychosocial counseling (UNMIL and OGA, 2010).  Provide individual counseling and case management – such as Information Counseling and Referral Services – so female participants may plan their reintegration and livelihoods strategies based on skill, interest, experience, and potential barriers (UNDP, 2011).  Ensure women and girls receive equal benefits in DDR packages as men and boys – for example, access to land, resources, and tools.
  • Support the multiple roles held by women and girls, and distinguish specific needs based on: age and maturity, their role served in the armed group, rank (if a fighter), whether they were part of an all-women’s or mixed gender unit, length of association, reason for joining (coercion or voluntary), skills and education, and surviving family and community (Specht, 2006).
  • Provide childcare and address the needs of pregnant or lactating mothers participating in the programme (UNDP, forthcoming).
  • Support the empowerment and autonomy of female participants. Women and girls should take the lead in actively planning their reintegration process, such as where they wish to live upon resettlement and the livelihoods strategies they wish to pursue (UNIFEM, 2004).

Recognize and address the specific needs and safety risks of women and girls in the community

  • Before DDR is implemented, it is paramount that a general level of security exists – and continues to be provided – for women and girls in the community (Council of the European Union and the European Commission, 2006). For example:
    • Assess and address the needs of women who provide care for sick, traumatized, and potentially violent ex-combatants (UNIFEM, 2004).
    • Monitor male ex-combatants returning to the community and assess for increases in domestic violence.
    • Involve wives and other female family members of male ex-combatants in the DDR process, including in the signing of agreements and financial allocation plans, so they are fully aware of and involved in the process (UNDP, forthcoming).

Work to transform social norms that condone violence and discrimination against women and girls

  • Provide ongoing assessment and monitoring of community attitudes toward returning women and girl ex-combatants. Use campaigns to target community and social norms and encourage the protection and acceptance of female ex-combatants (UNIFEM, 2004).  Work to shift cultural norms and attitudes held by male ex-combatants, who most likely perpetrated or witness war-related sexual violence against women and girls (Vann, 2009).
  • Address the on-going psychosocial needs of male ex-combatants.  Trauma counseling, support and adequate rehabilitation interventions should be provided for all men and boys, as well as women and girls, as this can help reduce their likelihood of engaging in violence in the future (IANSA, 2010; UNDP, 2011).
  • Work with other sectors to advocate for gender equitable laws and policies that ensure equal rights for women, such as rights to own land and property, recognition as heads of households, the right to own livestock and farming equipment, the right to farm cash crops, and equal access to community farm implements.
  • Prevent the re-involvement of children in violent activities. Boys who are abducted into armed groups learn from a young age that violence against women and girls is acceptable, and this belief must be challenged and unlearned through effective DDR programmes.  In addition girls must be protected from being re-engaged by armed groups.  Attention should be given to providing both girls and boys with education, life skills, trauma-healing services and psychological/ physical rehabilitation (Council of the European Union and the European Commission, 2006).

Support socio-economic reintegration and address unemployment and poverty

  • Unemployment and poverty have been root causes of conflict in countless situations, and at the very least tend to exacerbate all forms of violence – including VAWG. It is essential that DDR programmes seek to provide ex-combatants with livelihoods opportunities upon reintegration (Council of the European Union and the European Commission, 2006).
  • Ensure livelihoods opportunities are part of a larger package of reintegration services for ex-combatants.  Reintegration packages can involve vocational training, literacy training, material support, referral services, and follow up support for sustainability. In addition they should include:
    • A reproductive health component. to provide women with necessary services and information. This component can also engage and train peer educators, health care providers, case workers, men and boys, and other community members in preventing VAWG. 
    • A psychosocial component to address the unique psychosocial needs of both female and male ex-combatants.
    • A civic education component to address gaps in key life skills that result from being removed from civil society and formal (or informal) education systems for long periods of time.
  • Closely monitor the use and spending of livelihoods resources to ensure they are reaching their beneficiaries and being used for appropriate economic purposes. Many communities face problems – and increased violence – when money given through DDR programmes is abused or spent on alcohol.  Women and girls may also be exploited by intimate partners and/or family members if appropriate monitoring is not in place (UNIFEM, 2004).

Example: In South Sudan, UNDP partnered with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society and LABENA Women’s Organization and assisted in the development of Civilian Training Packages.  These packages offer training of trainers programmes in 10 manuals, including:

  • Human Rights/Women’s Rights     
  • Comprehensive Peace Agreements/Civic Rights
  • Conflict Resolution                              
  • Reproductive Health/Parenting
  • Leadership/Citizenship                       
  • Hygiene and Sanitation
  • HIV/AIDS and STIs                               
  • Nutrition
  • Malaria/Diseases                                  
  • First Aid

Community members selected 200 female participants, and participants received food packages from World Food Programme. Trainings were conducted for 33 facilitators on using the 10 Manuals. The facilitators trained groups of no more than 40 women (civilian and women associated with armed forces) for 30 days and conducted discussion groups with them on the 10 topics. The project will serve as a model for the roll-out of Civic Education across the Sudan DDR Programme. In addition, low literacy pictures will be added to each manual to make them more useful for low literacy populations (adapted from UNDP, 2011, p. 11).

Increase the effectiveness of disarmament and prevent the spread of small arms and light weaponry

  • Support women’s organizations in campaigning against the spread of small arms, which contribute to acts of violence against women and girls, and in monitoring the collection of weapons during demobilization.  Advocate for the creation and implementation of gun control laws (Council of the European Union and the European Commission, 2006; UNIFEM, 2004).
  • Ensure weapons collected during the DDR process are adequately guarded or destroyed (UNIFEM, 2004).
  • Examine the practice of exchanging guns for cash incentives, as this has been shown to create new and dangerous arms trades. Consider more long-term incentives that target reasons why ex-combatants wish to withhold their weapons (for example, the prestige and power of owning a gun).  Involve the community in all aspects of disarmament efforts to encourage the use of social pressure (UNIFEM, 2004).
  • Target lower-ranking and peripheral combatants, not only those in the most powerful and high-ranking positions, to maximize the effectiveness of disarmament.

For more information, see IANSA, 2010; and Barr, C. and Masters, S. 2011. Why Women? Effective engagement for small arms control.  London: IANSA).

Example: The Liberian Women's Initiative (LWI) was created in 1994 in response to the lack of progress and the silence of women's voices in the peace talks. The group, open to all women, regardless of ethnic, social, religious or political background, chose ‘disarmament before elections’ as their primary goal. They targeted all parties involved in the peace talks and started a programme to assist in the collection of small arms. Although they did not take part in the peace talks as official participants, they proved to be influential consultants during the process and also acted as effective monitors of the process. Using Resolution 1325, the Movement Against Small Arms in West Africa (MALAO) continues to lead awareness-raising programmes for communities in Casamance, Senegal, to allow women to develop incentives and strategies that are convincing people to hand over their weapons. The women also receive gender-sensitive training on weapons safety and collection. (Excerpted from IANSA, 2010, p. 14-15).


Address the specific needs of girls associated with armed forces

  • Work together with demobilized girls, girls at risk, their parents and family members when possible, and community members who can take on protective roles such as teachers, in order to identify and strengthen protection mechanisms for girls associated with armed forces. As girls are at high risk of being recruited again, provide individual monitoring of demobilized girls during the DDR process.
  • Girls must have full access to DDR programmess as full persons themselves, rather than dependents of family members or male combatants in the programmes.

For more information about the needs of girls during the DDR process, see: Holste-Roness, F.T. 2006. Violence against girls in Africa during armed conflicts and crises. Second International Policy Conference on the African Child: Violence Against Girls in Africa. International Committee of the Red Cross.

For an in-depth case study of the experiences of girls with armed groups and the DDR process in Sierra Leone, see: Denov, M. 2006. Wartime Sexual Violence: Assessing a Human Security Response to War-Affected Girls in Sierra Leone. Security Dialogue, 37(3), p. 319-342. 

For more information on the reintegration of teenage girls, see: Attree, L. and Specht, I. 2006. The Reintegration of Teenage Girls and Young Women. Intervention, International journal of Mental Health, Psychosocial Work and Counseling in Areas of Armed Conflict, 4 (3).

Case Study: In 2006, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided financial support for the Child Advocacy and Rehabilitation Project (CAR) run by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Liberia National Red Cross Society. The programme, which was originally developed in Sierra Leone in 2001, was replicated in Liberia after it proved successful across the border.

The goal of the CAR programme is to modify the behaviour and attitude of children affected by war through a process involving trauma healing, literacy classes, skills building and help in resuming normal family and community life. In an effort to prepare children for their future role in society, CAR teaches them skills that will be useful in rebuilding their communities and enable them to contribute to the family income.

In addition to learning new skills, children involved in CAR programmes receive counselling (individual or group) and have the opportunity to engage in sports and other recreational activities. They also take part in theatre performances and cultural shows, which helps them to tackle the most difficult task they face: expressing their feelings and coming to terms with the terrifying acts they were forced to commit.

The participants are selected from among the most vulnerable children between the ages of 10 and 18 and half of them are girls. Each training cycle involves 150 children and lasts between nine and 11 months, at the rate of five days a week. The children are provided with one meal a day and their transport to the centre is ensured.

CAR programmes strive to ensure that demobilized children are not stigmatized by their families or the community at large. In Sierra Leone, a survey conducted by the National Society showed that girls formerly associated with fighting forces were the most vulnerable members of society and tended to be rejected by their families and communities alike. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, 30% of the girls involved in CAR programmes had babies conceived during the war, which made them even more vulnerable. Meeting the special needs of these girl mothers, who are still children themselves, is an integral part of the programmes. The CAR centre in Kabala, Sierra Leone, run in cooperation with the Spanish Red Cross, has a nursery in which community members take care of the babies while their mothers are involved in the activities of the programme.

To discourage the stigmatization of children associated with fighting forces, especially girls and girl mothers, and to promote their reintegration into their communities, CAR staff endeavour to raise awareness of issues such as children's rights and HIV/AIDS and to promote development activities in the areas of agriculture, health and hygiene.


(Excerpted from Holste-Roness, 2006. Violence against girls in Africa during armed conflicts and crises. Second International Policy Conference on the African Child: Violence Against Girls in Africa. International Committee of the Red Cross. p. 33-34.)


Develop the capacity of local and international actors

  • Facilitate trainings and workshops for all implementing partners – including peacekeepers, local leaders, NGOs and UN agencies, women’s organizations, women leaders, and staff and personnel specifically tasked with collecting weapons, etc. – about gender issues, VAWG, and the key challenges and needs of women and girls during the DDR process (UNDP, 2011; UNIFEM, 2004).

Support long-term sustainability

  • Work collaboratively with all international, national, and local stakeholders such as CBOs, Ministries, NGOs, and UN agencies (UNDP, 2011).  Advocate for long-term commitment to funding to ensure there is no gap in services throughout the entirety of the reintegration phase (Council of the European Union and the European Commission, 2006).