By Gaelle Abi Khalil | October 2023
In security sector reform programming, gender has often been treated as a checkbox. Seeking to advance the Women, Peace and Security agenda, donors may perhaps require a certain degree of participation from women. Implementers can often then rush to set a quota without consideration of the broader context or readiness of the security agency to absorb greater participation.
Beyond carrying great risks, this obscures the fact that gender is a dynamic system of power, where symbolic meanings, identities, roles, relations, and structures intersect. So, how can we meaningfully incorporate gender into programming such that it genuinely challenges existing power structures and addresses the root causes of gender-based inequalities?
I recently had the pleasure of diving deep into this thought-provoking question among peers, travelling from Beirut to Basel, Switzerland to attend Swisspeace’s course on Gender, Conflict, and Peacebuilding. Over three days, we comprehensively examined the intricate relationship between gender, violent conflict, security, and peacebuilding.
Reflections on gender, conflict, and peacebuilding
A significant highlight involved a critical evaluation of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. While we acknowledged its historical significance in recognising the importance of women’s participation in peace processes, we also confronted the stark hurdles associated with its practical implementation. There’s no denying that scepticism among politicians and decision-makers, as well as the challenges in creating adapted national action plans and allocating the necessary budgets, loom large.
The course covered a broad spectrum of topics related to gender perspectives in peacebuilding, encompassing mediation, conflict sensitivity, masculinities, and militarism. The introduction to feminist peacebuilding was particularly enlightening, highlighting the transformative potential of feminist perspectives in challenging traditional power structures and advancing more sustainable peace and human security. Siren’s work on promoting women’s participation in key functions within Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF), particularly in the Analysis and Planning Teams established across Lebanon, is a case of women’s empowerment and gender inclusion in influential positions within the police service.
Intersectionality and advancing the Women Peace and Security Agenda
Advocating for an approach that goes further than addressing just the needs of women, girls, men and boys, the course urged us to see gender as a relational category that intersects with factors such as race, class, and nationality. This perspective facilitates a more nuanced comprehension of how various dimensions of identity, privilege and inequality impact peace, conflict, and security. Adopting this perspective enables us to design more inclusive programmes. This is something Siren has been doing in its work with the ISF, supporting community policing initiatives that allow the agency to engage with different groups in the community, understand their needs, and tackle them through responsive strategies.
Overall, the Gender, Conflict, and Peacebuilding course has not only deepened my understanding of the complexities of gender mainstreaming but has also underscored the importance of Siren’s ongoing efforts to meaningfully integrate gender into every facet of its work. This includes the design of gender-responsive development programs, the digitalisation of the police force to make gender-related data visible, and support for the implementation of gender audits within major security organisations. The knowledge and insights acquired from this course are not destined to gather dust on a shelf but will undoubtedly be put into use in Siren’s overarching mission of creating more inclusive and equitable development initiatives.