As societies emerge from conflict, men's dominance at all levels of decision-making ensures women never feel truly secure according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
In a unique study of women's security and participation in three post conflict societies—Northern Ireland, South Africa and Lebanon—researchers found that women see security differently from men. And because men dominate the institutions of peace-making and peace-building, they often fail to consider the specific security needs of women.
The investigation, which was part of the ESRC's New Security Challenges Programme, was carried out through a research partnership between the University of Ulster, Queen's University Belfast and Democratic Dialogue and with research associates in South Africa (Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation) and Lebanon (Lebanese American University in Beirut).
In all three case studies, women saw security as much more than physical safety. It was about feeling represented in societal institutions, having a job, an education for their children, a good health service and a feeling that society recognised the specific interests of women.
"For me, the word security in Arabic is not to be afraid. First, not to be afraid to be hungry, to move, to think, and to be misjudged," explained a Lebanese woman to the researchers.
Yet the ceasefires that signalled the ending of the conflict in all three countries and made the first significant step in bringing security and safety to people's lives had not been followed by reconstruction efforts that freed women completely from violence.
In Northern Ireland and South Africa women expressed concern that 'normal' crime was increasing in communities and that gender-based violence had increased, partly as a result of the demobilisation of ex-combatants. In all three societies women criticised policing in the transitional environment and found that the provision of security remained heavily influenced by patriarchy and gender-insensitivity.
Professor Paddy Hillyard, from Queen's University, Belfast and the leader of the project, said: "The dominant institutions of the state following peace-processes remain overwhelming male. Their transformation has to be part of the reconstruction effort before women can feel truly secure".
All the evidence from the research indicates that the UN resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security must be fully implemented so that women can play a full and equal part in societies coming out of conflict. The UN resolution affirms the important role of women in conflict resolution and peace building, and demands that women be equally represented in all spheres of public life.
The South African experience clearly demonstrated the critical importance of including women at all levels of decision-making. In Northern Ireland the experience of the Women's Coalition provided evidence that women operate in a manner very different to male politicians, stressing issues that differ from traditional political preoccupations. In Lebanon women played a much more limited role and their marginalisation was reflected in women's perceptions of their own and their children's insecurity.
The case studies show how women experience violence in multiple ways and from a myriad of sources. From the family and community, through societal structures of class and power, violence against women continued during post-conflict transition. Measures addressing the inequalities of power between men and women have to be addressed. As one respondent commented: "There are still too many men in the room when post-conflict settlements are negotiated."