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Why work with the security sector?

Last edited: December 29, 2011

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  • Police officers, and in some settings, military personnel, may be the first state responders to incidents of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and trafficking, among other forms of violence women experience. Although security personnel may have limited reach outside of key towns and cities in many contexts, cases of violence against women are frequently reported to the police (and in conflict-affected or post-conflict settings, to the military). While family members, civil society organizations, traditional and local leaders often provide initial support to survivors of violence, the police are a survivor’s first point of contact with the state in many cases (Population Council, 2010; ICCLR/UNODC, 1999), and it is critical that they have the institutional and human capacities to respond appropriately and sensitively to the needs of survivors. This will encourage survivors to report their experiences of violence and provide them with the relevant services and referrals to medical and psycho-social assistance, as well as shelter, legal, economic and other supports.
  • The police (and in certain settings, the military) can play a key leadership role in preventing violence against women. Personnel may employ a range of actions such as working with community groups and leaders to identify specific threats to women’s security and plan prevention strategies; using specific deployment strategies to stop or deter incidents of violence; engaging in outreach activities; and communicating how they will work to address the issue, which can send a message to the population that the behaviour is not acceptable. Police commitment to addressing violence can create momentum for partnerships with government officials and service providers, which is critical for advancing comprehensive multisectoral responses with holistic support for survivors.
  • Public perceptions and trust in security personnel (most often police), can be influenced by police responses to violence against women. Security responses also influence the decisions of women, their families and communities to use the services of and collaborate with security personnel or turn to other actors for the provision of protection and justice (e.g. vigilantes, customary authorities). In situations where police (or other uniformed personnel) are highly visible in communities, they may be able to act as positive agents of change by modelling behaviour which challenges existing norms around violence and promotes more gender-equitable attitudes and practices.
  • Law enforcement and other uniformed personnel at times perpetrate violence against women and girls. This violates their mandate and can diminish confidence and trust in security institutions, reducing the effectiveness of the sector as a whole. Ensuring security personnel are held accountable for any abuse of women’s rights and understand the causes and consequences of such violence is key to ending impunity in the sector and society more widely.
  • Integrating issues of violence against women (and gender mainstreaming more broadly) is a core component of a comprehensive, effective and sustainable security sector reform process. Establishing targeted and sector-wide approaches to these issues can result in more representative, non-discriminatory security institutions, which respect human rights of men and women and are trusted by civilians, particularly survivors of violence (OECD/ DAC, 2009).