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What are the key entry points and strategies?

Contextual entry points to address violence against women include, during:

  • Security sector reform processes: Reform offers an opportunity to integrate strategies to address the issue across the sector in an institutionalized manner and entails:

    • A critical review of the objectives and mandate of the sector, which opens space to develop a more democratic and accountable sector that is responsive to women’s security needs.

    • Assessment/ revision of security-related legislation, policies and protocols that can enable advocates to promote a gender-responsive legal framework which establishes a clear mandate, objectives and procedures for security institutions to prevent and respond to violence against women.

    • Stakeholder consultation. Conceptions of the security sector have expanded beyond a narrow focus on the armed forces and police to include a broader set of state and non-state institutions engaged in the provision of security for citizens (Vlachova & Biason, 2003). Broad consultations held with civil society and other stakeholders as part of the reform process can enable women’s organizations to advocate for violence to be addressed within the wider discussion on institutional and sector-wide change. The involvement of women’s organizations, and particularly representatives of migrant, indigenous or other marginalized groups in participatory reform processes, is key for ensuring discussion on the specific security threats experienced by women and girls (among other concerns) are considered and integrated into policy actions and programmes.

    • Explicit policies and efforts to recruit and retain more women in security institutions and forces, which can contribute to improving women’s trust and perceptions of police and increasing reporting and awareness on the issue among personnel.

  • The revision of or adoption of new legislation: The drafting of a new law or amendment to existing legislation can offer advocates an opportunity to promote the inclusion of specific measures and actions to be taken by security institutions and personnel in relation to promoting gender equality broadly or specifically focusing on their role to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. These measures may relate to coordination with other entities; the creation of specialized units; specialized training; or specific procedures to be used in investigation. See more on measures that  may be  included within legislation related to the role of police and other law enforcement personnel in responding to domestic violence; sexual assault; forced and child marriage; female genital mutilation; honour crimes; maltreatment of widows; and dowry-related violence. (See also: Advocating for New Laws or the Reforming of Existing Laws in the Legislation module).  

  • Reporting and review of state efforts: Identifying promising practices and gaps can be accomplished through periodic monitoring and reporting undertaken by governments, such as those required by various international and regional agreements. Monitoring efforts and reports can draw international attention to inadequate protection and response mechanisms or violations of women’s human rights by security institutions and can offer an opportunity to promote sector specific recommendations for states to undertake. For example, see the CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations, the Mechanism to Follow Up on Implementation of the Belem do Para Convention (MESECVI) monitoring reports, and country reports by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences.  

  • Crisis recovery and reform processes developed during post-conflict periods: Gender roles and stereotypes are often challenged during conflict (for example, women may find economic positions or take on political roles that have previously been held by men, or participate in other ways during conflict periods). While this can provide an opportunity for longer-term change in gender relations and attitudes towards women, there are often efforts to re-establish more rigid gender roles in the post-conflict period. Specific opportunities to integrate gender and violence against women include:

    • Changes in leadership which enable reforms of the sector, particularly when there have been abuses of power by personnel (UNDP, 2002).

    • Statebuilding and peacebuilding programmes, which are often supported by international donors and focus on developing a state that is capable, accountable, and responsive to citizens at the same time as assuring basic security, promoting peace and reconciliation. These programmes often involve consultation with different groups in society and offer an opportunity to ensure that issues of gender equality and violence against women are understood and integrated into policymaking, programmes and priorities.

    • Rule of law programmes focusing on establishing a strong, independent legal framework and judiciary, which may promote increased civil oversight and accountability of the sector.

    • Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes can raise awareness and promote a change in ex-combatant attitudes towards violence against women, which is critical in addressing the potential for increased domestic violence during the transition period following a conflict, including abuse perpetrated by ex-combatants.

    • Efforts to implement Security Council resolutions (SCR) 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960, which increase focus on women’s security issues and violence against women within the broader peace and security policy agenda. For example, many countries are developing national action plans on SCR 1325, which are often produced through a consultative process and provide an opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of a clear mandate for the sector to address violence against women with specific objectives and a strong monitoring and evaluation framework, including indicators to measure performance. To see national action plans available by country, search the Secretary-General’s Database on Violence against Women.

    • For more detail, see the module on addressing violence against women in conflict and post-conflict settings .

(OECD/DAC, 2009)

  • The growing perception of access to security and justice as basic services (similar to health, education, etc.): This recent shift has led international organizations to focus on ensuring security for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups. This creates an opportunity to highlight the significant consequences of violence on women and girls, their families and communities and advocate for greater attention to their security needs.

To capitalize on these opportunities and respond to the challenges of working with the police and military, there are a number of key strategies that can be pursued across four main areas:

  • Establishing a strong legal and policy framework, which mandates the sector to address gender-based violence. This should entail:

  • Developing institutional capacities of security institutions and competencies of personnel. To ensure the sector has the operational capacity to effectively respond to the issue, system-wide investments in the institutional capacities, structures and processes are required, including the skills and knowledge of personnel needed to respond to incidents, protect victims, investigate and refer cases. This may include:

    • Establishing dedicated gender desks/ focal points at the national level within security institutions

    • Strengthening coordination mechanisms among police, health, justice and other sectors to ensure comprehensive, multisectoral responses

    • Implementing gender-responsive human resource policies and practices (such as quotas, promotion reviews and other measures to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in security institutions)

    • Institutionalizing pre- and in-service training for security personnel in women’s human rights, violence prevention and response, ideally with cross-sectoral participation (i.e. other service providers) to improve linkages between agencies

    • Providing complementary professional development, such as mentoring, study visits, and apprenticeship opportunities

    • Setting professional standards to ensure compliance and holding individual officers and units accountable for performance through their job descriptions and performance monitoring

    • Developing a comprehensive and harmonized data system to record cases

    • Maintaining adequate infrastructure and equipment at police facilities, such as vehicles, cameras, private interview rooms, emergency beds, and post-exposure prophylaxis and emergency contraception (for those trained to administer it in cases of rape)       

  • Improving service delivery to survivors of violence and women and girls at risk. The police (and in conflict/post-conflict settings, the military) play an important role in the effective response to victims of violence, ensuring that they are protected from further harm and facilitating redress for the crimes committed against them. It is essential that the police respect and uphold women’s rights in all aspects of their work, and particularly when responding to incidents of violence against them. This can prevent re-victimization of women and girls in the immediate response to an incident or during the investigation process; ensure that they receive the wider medical, legal and socio-economic assistance to which they are entitled; and facilitate the prosecution of the perpetrators of violence. Key approaches for improving service delivery include:

    • Promoting systematic and appropriate police responses to incidents of violence

    • Implementing standard procedures for the effective investigation and documentation of cases

    • Strengthening community-level coordination as part of a multisectoral referral network involving organizations and actors providing immediate medical assistance, psychosocial support, shelter, legal and economic assistance

    • Implementing specific operational procedures (related to deployment, patrolling patterns) to better protect women and girls

    • Establishing women’s police stations/ specialized units, acknowledging that while women often prefer reporting to another woman, appropriately trained men in the community can also increase reporting of violence

    • Investing in ‘one stop shops’ to meet the multiple needs of survivors in high density, high prevalence areas, and other feasible locations

    • Improving community-level security through community-based policing, coordination with informal security providers and alternative mechanisms and community engagement and outreach to strengthen community trust and collaboration with security actors, raise awareness of and to promote zero tolerance for violence against women and girls

    • Developing mechanisms to ensure compliance and accountability of personnel

    • Establishing governance and oversight mechanisms that hold the sector accountable. Effective governance alongside community, national, regional, international oversight is essential to provide checks and balances as well as to prevent abuses of power within the sector. Independent oversight (comprising supervision, inspection, responsibility and control) can ensure that institutions and actors, especially police and other uniformed personnel, respect the rule of law and the human rights of women and girls, within fulfilling their legally mandated roles and responsibilities. Methods for improving the sector’s accountability include (OECD, 2009; UN Secretary General, 2008):