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  • Writer's pictureJessa Mellea

Women's Security and Genocide Prevention

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Evacuees from the besieged Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, packed on a truck en route to Tuzla, pass through Tojsici, 90km (56 miles) north of Sarajevo in this March 29, 1993 photo. More than 2,300 evacuees left Srebrenica on UN trucks for Tuzla. [Michel Euler/AP Photo]

By Jessa Mellea

What is the best way to predict how peaceful a country is? It is not whether the state is a liberal democracy. The level of wealth, quantity of natural resources, and the GDP; all fail to accurately forecast peace.

Though it may not seem like an immediately apparent answer, women’s security within a country is among the best predictors of a state’s overall security. States with higher gender equality are more likely to comply with international treaties and have better relationships with their international neighbors while also being more stable and less corrupt.

Recognizing the link between the security of women and other conflicts is critical to addressing violence on a global level—and has the potential to be a key asset in genocide prevention. Any government or civil society organization committed to promoting human rights and/or preventing violence must take the relationship between women’s rights and (inter)national security into account. Fortunately, some policymakers are beginning to take note of just how important that relationship is.

Gender dynamics serve as an early warning for rising instability, with women often serving as the canaries in the coal mine. Increased deterioration of women’s rights is frequently matched by diminished state security.

Gender-based violence at the household level creates a shaky foundation that has ramifications at the national and international level. Violence in the home models the use of force as an appropriate method of conflict resolution and normalizes violence as permissible against groups deemed ‘less than’—in this case women, but could be any marginalized group.

In terms of power and control, personal value and respect, and expectations for equality and healthy interactions, the dynamics in a relationship between males and females is usually the first experience of difference in life because it is within the family and at home.

Gender dynamics between men and women, typically unequal ones, are often the first model of interacting with difference that a young person witnesses. The rejection of difference—manifested in sexism—is learned within the household and then carried out into society. One study found that an individual’s attitude towards gender equality was closely associated with their opinions on peace and tolerance. Researchers found that for both men and women, those who opposed gender equality were more hostile towards other countries, as well as minority groups within their own country. The continued marginalization of women creates a template for further discrimination, hate, and violence.

The pattern of violence against women is particularly troubling for genocide prevention, as perpetrators often act with impunity and even community acceptance.

Youth exposure to this sort of violence undermines security of a nation, increasing vulnerability to genocidal violence. Studies have found that exposure to violence in the home increases the likelihood that an individual will engage in organized violence, such as through joining gangs or terrorist organizations which run along religious, racial, or ethnic lines and perpetrate genocidal acts.

Structural gender inequality further benefits extremist groups by bolstering recruitment efforts aimed at young men who are unable to marry because of abnormal sex ratios, bride price, or polygyny.

And terrorism is only one potential catalyst for a genocide—gender inequality has far-reaching implications for the sort of state insecurity that precedes genocidal acts.

Advancing gender equality must be a cornerstone of genocide prevention. Top-down solutions, such as governmental representation have proved insufficient.

Addressing women’s security requires promoting gender equality at the household level: increasing women’s control over finances, improving legal rights, and reducing rates of gender-based violence. Preventing the normalization of violence and discrimination against difference in one of the most formative spaces—the home—will not only benefit women, but a myriad of other marginalized groups.

Gender equality might not seem like the most intuitive way to prevent genocide. But advancing women’s rights is one of the best ways to build lasting peace.

Jessa Mellea is an Early Warning Analyst at Genocide Watch

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch

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