A Critical Approach to Women’s Post-Conflict Empowerment
In the wake of war, gender equality reforms have become part of a standard toolkit for recovery. International actors have championed laws and policies intended to bring about peaceful, democratic transitions that foreground women’s rights. These include political gender quotas, legislative reforms criminalizing domestic violence, and programs championing women’s labor market participation and socioeconomic empowerment. These reforms are essential for advancing women’s rights, and yet evidence suggests that these reforms have substantial limitations. The Women’s Rights After War Project will advance our understanding of how to further advance women’s rights and equality in the aftermath of war—vital prerequisites for security and democracy. To do so, we compare and evaluate women's rights interventions that followed war in 10 countries. The project prioritizes an innovative and important re-theorizing of what constitutes “women’s empowerment,” which will directly inform advocacy, policy, and legal efforts directed at securing women’s rights and equality with men. The insights of the project can also be used to more effectively advance women’s political and economic inclusion to secure a more durable peace after war.
Using an innovative multi-stage and multi-method research design, this project compares and evaluates women's rights reforms in 10 countries that have experienced armed conflict since 1980: Nepal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Uganda, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Liberia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We select these cases to capture broad geographic diversity among countries that have implemented women’s rights reforms during their constitutional and legal re-drafting processes that followed war. The WRAW Project asks three core questions: (1) Who benefits, and why, from postwar gender reforms? (2) How does the implementation of these reforms shape social divisions, peace, and security more broadly? And finally, (3) How are differently situated women able to take advantage of the rights and empowerment opportunities presented, and how do they define the terms of their own empowerment? We examine reforms across five issue areas: family law; criminal justice; international legal frameworks; economic opportunity programs; and political representation. Using subnational quantitative data and innovative participatory research methodologies, the project will explore the conditions under which the implementation of gender reforms can advance women’s rights. While doing so, we also examine how such reforms can reinforce existing socio-political cleavages, aggravate conflict-era fissures, and/or serve politically expedient goals. We anticipate that these processes, which ensure that some women benefit while others remain sidelined, are detrimental to the pursuit of durable postwar peace.