Is SSR male dominated?

05/09/2016 @ 17:21
by Megan Bastick

In an article in 2008, I wrote that “post-conflict SSR processes tend to be planned, agreed and implemented by men. This is true both as regards the personnel of donors and institutions supporting SSR and the individuals involved in countries’ SSR processes.”  A number of others have made or repeated this claim, but how true is it? Have things changed in the last 8 years?  DCAF ISSAT's team is very obviously gender balanced.  Female Ministers of Defence are becoming less of a novelty

Writing about this issue again, I'd be very interested in the thoughts of others in this community. 

Do you think that the "international SSR community" is male dominated?  Do you find women and men equally represented in SSR processes that you are engaged with?  What evidence would you present, anecdotal or empirical?

Thanks for your input!

09/01/2017 @ 13:21
by Thammy Evans

Callum - do you know what studies have already been done, if any, on the role of women in building security? I think this subject is usually phrased around the role of women in 'peacebuilding' as opposed to 'providing security'. Is there a difference in these two perspectives?

Back to the point about women in the security sector, it is notable that, for instance, the first two female four-star generals in the USA 'Like most high-fliers in this most traditional of careers, they “stay inside their lanes,” as those in uniform like to say. They haven’t tried to change the military in their own way, so much as strived to fit and succeed inside its peculiar culture. Bottom line: they’ve spent decades trying to blend in, not stand out.' (Time, 13.08.2012, paragraph 4)

As I think is now well documented, it usually takes a number of outlyers to be able to be 'safe' in doing things differently, and I think we are still some way from having the 'critical mass' for women to make a tectonic difference in how we approach, deliver, and perceive SSR. An example of this is the case of Germany: women were only allowed to join combat units in Germany in 2001. It takes a many years to 'grow' Colonels and Generals, and as a result, (with the exception of the German Medical Corps), there are still no high-ranking German officers.

14/09/2016 @ 19:04
by Callum Watson

Hi Megan,

Interesting question and you've had some thought-provoking responses.

I would agree that this is true when it comes to planning and agreeing SSR processes. Female defence ministers and senior members of the armed forces are becoming less of a novelty but they still stand out as the exception to the rule.

I'd like the build on something that Thammy mentioned and ask, are we guilty of applying a "male gaze" to what constitutes the SSR process and its implementation? I'm reminded of a related but non-SSR context in which I was with a group of academics and INGOs meeting with a woman's organisation in Belfast and as we introduced ourselves, they said "well, you're all much bigger experts than we are - we're not sure we'll have much to tell you." This women's NGO, however, worked on skills training, promoting employment opportunities for young people (initially mothers but then fathers too), organised joint excursions with children from the other side of the city through a partnership with another women's organisation and even went to speak to families that tried to prevent their children from attending. It struck me that they were actually playing a role in implementing the peace process - perhaps a greater one than those who struck the Good Friday Agreement but have since moved on to other projects.
I wonder if we do the same thing in the implementation of SSR. Many international organisations that work on SSR processes are male dominated in the sense that men occupy senior positions, but actually a majority of the legwork behind the scenes is done by women. It made me wonder if we perhaps have a bias towards recognising and documenting the work of those in more male-dominated aspects of SSR and in this way, we empower male agents more than female ones. This will also feed the legitimacy of those who find their ways to the table. Perhaps the task of implementation is more balanced than we think, but this "male gaze" creates some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe if we researched and acknowledged the contributions of women (and indeed recognised that most of SSR does not happen at the senior levels of governmental and security institutions), we might play a role in changing this.

Just a thought - interested in what those more involved in the process make of it. 

07/09/2016 @ 09:56
by Mirko Daniel Fernandez

Hi Megan,

In my experience, I continue to find the SSR community to be very male dominated in the consultancy world with the exception of human rights and gender expert consultants. Larger institutions involved in international relations and security, like DCAF-ISSAT tend to have a more balanced representation.  I believe that one of the reasons for this is how patriarchal social norms in the labour market continue to promote a competitiveness that favours men over women.  I found one study on women in corporate America that indicated a trend for companies to select and internally promote men based on their potential whereas their female colleague’s competencies for promotion were judged alongside their longevity in the company or “loyalty”.

That said I would be interested in a similar study targeting the international SSR community especially considering the weight of how gender equality is promoted in international human security policy.  It would be particularly interesting to have disaggregated figures on the different human security themed units or rosters such as those managed by the EU, UN or independent organisations that also include ethnicity or geographical representation. Security is a broad topic so I recognise it will be a difficult endeavour to identify such units/rosters.

Also, even though most of the development work occurs in the global south, I have not observed a proportionate representation of female SSR expert consultants from the global south countries operating without the title of gender or human rights expert. I see gender equality and geographic representation (from the global south) in expertise as having a symbiotic relationship in the success of SSR. 

I have also observed (like probably everyone else) that the duty bearers in the SSR process are mainly represented by men, whereas, the rights holders active in the SSR process, in particular victims groups, are mainly represented by women. In the vast majority of cases the female members representing the security forces in the SSR process do not have decision making powers nor do they come from ethnic/minority communities comprising of persons or groups considered most vulnerable (as a result of embedded societal discrimination).  I believe it is important to have empirical data on how gender equality policy obligations are being implemented in peace and security programming from a human rights perspective. In particular, how SSR support programmes have increased the decision-making power of women in the security and justice sector. I would also include in such the study the influence of the social-economic profiles of the women studied.  

Finally, I see the justice sector in general as having a more balanced gender representation than the security forces. However, I have observed less ethnic/minority representation in the justice institutions, across the genders, than in the security force institutions; a small but important detail in my opinion.  If we are looking at discrimination at the heart of gender inequality I believe any study should also identify the biggest winners and losers of the status quo. 

06/09/2016 @ 15:45
by Daniel de Torres

Hi Megan, very interesting question. Reading your observation and Thammy's reply, I believe that this gender imbalance is a side effect of the "securitization" of SSR. As SSR has ventured into more unstable environments--where the challenge is not just political transition but often simmering or even open conflict--the "reform" in SSR and the "governance" in SSG have yielded to an emphasis on security delivery. The increase in train and equip assistance as part of international support for CVE and counter-terrorism has, on the one hand, overwhelmed the efforts focused on good governance and transparent oversight and, on the other hand, blurred the lines between SSR and capacity building assistance focused on security delivery. This emphasis on the "SS" rather than the "R" has made active and retired security professionals--mostly military and police--the planners, managers, and resource experts for this type of work. Since the majority of those professionals tend to be men, voilà: you have a built-in bias towards men. 

06/09/2016 @ 10:16
by Thammy Evans

Dear Megan,

Thank you for this thought-provoking topic. Aside from my own team and the Africa and Gender Division upstairs, I can't find much evidence to the contrary of your statement. The current (increasing) set of female ministers of defence are predominantly advised by male colleagues, a large number of whom hail from the armed and police services, at least at some point in their careers. There are few female generals even in donor nations who get to advise a minister, prime-minister or president directly, or provide input into security and defence reviews at home, nevermind abroad. A look at the recent Canadian public consultation for their defence review illustrates this point.

Nonetheless, things are changing. However, we still shed little light on the many ways in which women influence and build security in their own positive ways, as opposed to the external manifestations of large and political reforms and reviews.

Much work remains, and the devil is in the detail.