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Targeted operational measures

Last edited: December 29, 2011

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Where community-based policing is not feasible, for example, in settings where infrastructure is weak and resources are limited, providing security and protection to women and girls at a local level is a main challenge. Communities may be located a significant distance away from the nearest police station with limited or no means of communication or transport, which limits the ability of police to implement preventive measures, provide protection for women and girls at risk and respond rapidly to incidents of violence.

Additional challenges related to fear of stigmatization or retaliation in response to reporting abuse, lack of trust with police, are among other barriers preventing women from receiving adequate security in various urban and rural settings.

Alongside long-term efforts to strengthen police presence and capacity within communities, there are a number of approaches that can be taken by the police and other uniformed personnel or local security groups, where relevant, to improve security provision, protection and prevention for women and girls, whether in resource-constrained stable contexts, conflict-affected or humanitarian settings. Targeted measures to improve women’s security include:

  • Conduct specific patrols to provide preventative physical protection in places and at times where women and girls are at risk. Examples of patrolling to provide preventative physical protection include:

    • Firewood/Water Route Patrols: Armed/unarmed security personnel accompany women and girls when they are collecting firewood or water beyond camp/ community perimeters to anticipate and avert predictable risks such as “firewood rape”. Key lessons include:

      • Mobility/speed of patrols is critical for a rapid response to sexual assault and can also have a deterrent effect.

      • Patrols are well-received when they are close enough on the ground to discern potential threats, but not so close as to impede women’s normal routines, and when communities have been given advance notice as well as on the day of patrols.

      • Managing community expectations is important, since patrols may be cancelled due to low troop density or gaps between the departure of a contingent from the duty station and the operationalization of their replacement.Attention must be paid, so that patrols, in their efforts to prevent or neutralize armed violence, do not simply displace it.

      • Firewood/water patrols are particularly effective when trust is built between participants and patrollers through “firewood (or water) patrol committees” that discuss timing, frequency, route selection, distance and how the patrol will be carried out.

    • Market Area/Trade Route Patrols: Armed / unarmed security personnel accompany women to/from market and along trade routes and ensure market areas are secure. Key lessons include:

      • In addition to helping prevent violence against women, these patrols can help improve trade and contribute to economic development.

      • Rehabilitating transportation permits women to travel with children, rather than leaving them unattended.

      • Sealing market entrances before sunrise and keeping a patrol in the area for the duration of trade can help ensure a “weapons-free zone” and facilitate women’s economic activity.

    • Foot Patrols on School Routes/Around fields: Armed / unarmed security personnel patrol school routes and field and/or escort women and girls to school or their fields to ensure their security. If relevant, this can also include targeted mine risk awareness for women/girls helps to ensure physical security in connection with accessing fields.

    • Night Patrols: Armed/ unarmed security personnel patrol community (or camp) perimeters and risky zones. Night patrols have a considerable element of surprise, which keeps potential perpetrators of crimes at bay. A visible presence can also provide congregation point for at-risk civilians. Night patrols can also include the use of headlights, flares and illumination mortars to increase visibility in at-risk zones.

    • Border Patrols: Security personnel patrol border crossing-points to check for signs of human trafficking. Security at border crossing-points helps to protect uprooted populations (the majority of whom are women and children) and monitor the movement of arms, troops and resources, including cross-border human trafficking in women/girls for sexual slavery and enforced prostitution.

  • Establish safe havens/demilitarized zones, which are established and patrolled by uniformed personnel to give women and girls temporary security during a period of heightened risk. These are particularly relevant in conflict situations, following a natural disaster, during political chaos or other humanitarian context, and in high violence areas where establishing safe areas can respond to situations where insecurity has triggered sudden displacement.

  • Establish temporary operating bases/mobile operating bases, where security personnel engage in long-range patrols in areas with no permanent army or police presence. Such patrols are useful in conflict-affected and humanitarian settings and in more stable settings, can also be (re)deployed on a periodic basis, for example in times of rising tension when violence against women can increase rapidly.

  • Establish coordination mechanisms between the police/ military and alternative/ informal security providers: In many cases, especially where police capacity is weak or where security forces are perpetrating violence, informal security structures already exist (e.g. vigilantes, neighbourhood watch groups) to provide protection to community members. It is important that legitimate groups are recognized and encouraged to work to prevent violence against women and girls. Equally, coordination mechanisms and protocols should be set up between these groups and the local police or military to provide an effective response to incidents of violence. Coordination mechanisms may include:

    • Police-military collaboration to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear.

    • Communities and civilian-based alarm, warning systems or hotlines to alert the police as rapidly as possible to incidents or potential risks (e.g. rebel groups in the area, increased harassment reported by women).

    • Joint police-civilian patrols or sharing of patrol responsibilities depending on the time of day or week, which can enhance community confidence. It may be particularly important for women police officers or local women to accompany such patrols to make them less intimidating.

(Adapted from: UNIFEM. 2010. ‘Addressing conflict-related sexual violence: An analytical inventory of peacekeeping practice’, UNIFEM. New York).


Example: “Sungu-Sungu” community watch (Tanzania)

In Dar es Salaam, community-based watch groups, ‘sungu-sungu”, create new employment opportunities for the inhabitants in the different neighbourhoods and strengthen the collaboration among different sectors of society (traders, youth, residents), under the guidance of the local authority (ward) and in collaboration with the police. Some residents and local businesses pay a small monthly fee to finance the local guards. Other groups of sungu-sungu are made up of residents themselves who dedicate some of their time to work within the group. Sungu-sungu groups promote community-based initiatives and collaboration to improve safety and to address the causes of crime to prevent violence in their communities (Raising Voices website; UN Habitat Safer Cities website).