Despite international laws and policies mandating women's participation in security sector reform (SSR), women's perspectives are often discounted or overlooked. Women in civil society can also find themselves outside of discussions about security and unsure how to engage in them.
To address this gap, The Institute for Inclusive Security and The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF) are launching an innovative guide for women in civil society that provides concrete steps on how to help develop an effective and accountable security sector.
The Women's Guide to Security Sector Reform responds to a critical need. “Advocating for women's roles in SSR is important because conflict is a culture … we cannot combat it with more conflict,” says Alaa Murabit, founder, Voice of Libyan Women, and reviewer of the Women's Guide. “We can combat it with women who drive a different security understanding.”
The Women's Guide is written mainly for women who have not formally studied security or worked with police, militaries, elected officials, and other actors within the sector. Women often have essential knowledge of community needs and a strong desire to make the security sector serve communities better. The Women's Guide draws on varied experiences of women in civil society from across the world and shares examples of practical, innovative projects. Leading female activists from Afghanistan, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Serbia, and Uganda provided invaluable feedback.
In addition to introducing key concepts, the Women's Guide outlines concrete ways for women and women's organizations to influence reform from the grassroots. Included are specific steps on how to research security issues, form coalitions, plan strategically, develop recommendations, advocate (with ideas of how to target messages to specific audiences), and engage directly (such as through local forums or by providing training).
The Women's Guide contains practical tools for women to take action. For example:
Activities to identify local risks to stability
Sample letters to officials asking for meetings
Talking points for meetings with policymakers
It also includes definitions of jargon, a key to the roles of major security actors, and ideas for how to counter skeptics who oppose women in civil society being part of SSR.
In addition to English, the Women's Guide will be available in Arabic, French, and Bosnian. More translations will be done if funds become available.
Already, women around the globe are planning to use the Women's Guide as a platform for engaging with the security sector. For example, with DCAF and local partner support, �ene �enama, a women's organization in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will host four one-day launch workshops across BiH this May. With the Women's Guide as a roadmap, civil society and local government actors will come together to discuss the status of gender and SSR and identify avenues for collaboration.
Launches of the Women's Guide are also planned for later this year in West Africa, Washington, DC, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.
Tobie Whitman, PhD, is senior adviser at The Institute for Inclusive Security, where she leads the organization's research program. Previously she worked with USAID and Women for Women International.