Case Studies

Case studies provide excellent insight into the practical challenges of SSR initiatives and provide an opportunity to learn from those that have been successful, and not so successful.  They help us to see the patterns of good practice, when to apply different approaches and what pitfalls to avoid.  Please add your own case studies to help us build a rich repository of examples from real experience.

Iraq - Current Critical Security Issues

Introduction and context

Iraq is a war-torn country which faces enormous security and justice challenges, including a large number of internally displaced persons and concerns that small cells of defeated ISIL remain hiding in rural areas. Iraq’s youth are protesting for a better future with less corruption, better governance and lower unemployment; whilst security forces are being accused of using armed violence towards civilians.

With the defeat of ISIL, Iraq can now focus on reconciliation, recovery and reform of the security and justice sector to efficiently meet the challenges the country is facing. Security sector reform and governance is pivotal for long term stability and peace in the country. The official launch of the SSR process in Iraq was made in 2015, but there are still major challenges facing security and justice sector governance.

This short knowledge product aims to address emerging concerns in a country of high interest to ISSAT Members. It builds on ISSAT’s work, as well as on open-source documents and maps out some of the critical challenges impacting the security landscape in a given country. This note also aims to be a conversation starter and ISSAT welcomes comments and contributions from its Members and Community of Practice.

Internal Population Displacement and Returnees

The humanitarian and displacement situation in Iraq are one of the world’s most volatile and acute. Large waves of displacement have been tracked for more than 50 years driven by a combination of factors such as internal armed conflict, external intervention and political, ethnic and religious oppression, in addition to natural disasters including floods and earthquakes. The latest wave of displacement began in late 2013, when ISIL began to take over large swaths of territory. At that point, 2.1 million people were already living in internal displacement due to previous conflicts. The number of IDPs peaked at 4.1 million in 2016.

A decrease in scale and intensity of armed violence in 2018 allowed for around 900,000 displaced Iraqis to return to their hometowns. Since 2014, IOM estimate that around 4.6 million (February 2020) IDPs returned to their hometowns, amidst concerns about forced IDP returns and IDP vulnerability. According to IOM, around 1.4 million Iraqis remain internally displaced (February 2020), with over seventy percent of those originating from the Northern Ninewa and Salah al-Din governorates.

IDPs face challenges in access to safety and security, fair standard of living, employment, land and property, documentation, family separation and/or reunification, participation in public affairs, and justice services. Furthermore, inter-communal divisions between host communities and IDPs are also representing a challenge for future reconciliation and reintegration. The question still remains how to reintegrate IDPs into their host communities, if they are unable to return to their place of origin.

Armed Groups and Insurgency

Insurgent attacks by Daesh fighters and Sunni militias in western and central-northern Iraq, as well as, terrorist attacks across the country, continue to threaten the safety and security of Iraqis. Citizens still feel threatened of ISIL or other extremist groups if they are not eradicated (NDI, 2019).

There is also insecurity in the south with armed tribal groups and violent confrontations between rival Shia military groups which seek to control neighbourhoods in the capital, Baghdad. The neighbouring ongoing conflict in Syria facilitates arms, drugs, refugee flow and people trafficking and enables armed groups operations.

ISIL has suffered from territorial downfall and are today almost eradicated from the territory. It is although estimated that between ten and twenty thousand ISIL fighters are still active in the region and remain a threat to stability. As a small-scale insurgency, they indiscriminately target Iraqi civilians and commit human rights abuses. The United States-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL continues its military operations in Iraq and Turkey focuses its operations in northern Iraq. The unstable and fragile security landscape in Iraq is jeopardizing a legitimate and efficient national security sector. It further demonstrates different interests and visions among the population based on sectarian, ethnic or regional ties. 

Civil Action and Youth Discontent

Since the Fall of 2019, Iraq and especially Baghdad, has experienced civil protests, as thousands of mostly young people, have been demonstrating in different parts of the country against corruption, unemployment and poor public services. The protests, which started off in a non-violent and peaceful manner, has become more violent as time has passed. Security forces have responded using water cannons, tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets. Several hundreds of protesters have been killed and thousands injured. Tens of thousands of residents in the southern governorate of Basra were reported to have been poisoned and hospitalized by polluted drinking water, fueling ongoing protests against government’s mismanagement of the neglected south.

Nearly 60% of Iraq’s population is under 25 years of age which is impacting the society and the country’s development. Lack of proper education, early marriages, gender inequalities and high unemployment rates are issues that affect the governance, security and justice needs by the population.

The civil protests in Iraq are one in a series of similar global mass demonstrations that have occurred over the past years. They have had significant repercussions on the security situation in the country, as they reveal shortcomings of State institutions and test the civilian accountability over security actors. Strong national consensus has been formed around the need for the government to be responsible for all firearms control and regulation and removal of all armed manifestations in public spaces. These protests in Iraq are an important watching theme for donors in the security and justice sphere, as this not only demonstrate citizen’s dissatisfaction but also reveals clashes between citizens and government, and between youth and government. Increased training and capacities in human rights training and non-violent protests controls are areas that are in need for support.

Weak Governance and State Institutions

Iraq’s public sector institutions have not been successful in equitably allocating resources across the country and its population and extend basic public services, including access to security and justice in an effective manner. In a poll from NDI 2019, most citizens see the government from federal to local level as ineffective, and a vast majority (74%) acknowledge that they are not aware of the government priorities. For decades state institutions have been captured by sectarian interests and decimated by corruption. The politicization of state institutions and control over state resources have undermined the effective and equitable delivery of services, thus exacerbating the crisis of legitimacy, the challenges to state authority, and, ultimately, the spiral of violence that we see in Iraq today. As noted in the 2011 World Development Report, weak institutions and a lack of legitimacy undermine states’ ability to provide basic security, justice, and economic opportunities for their citizens and can therefore be a key cause of conflict. This holds true in Iraq, where the fragility of key public institutions and processes is reflected most starkly in the chronic weakness of its civil service, public financial management, state-owned enterprises, public investment management, and judicial system.

Lack of Public Trust

Weak governance and accountability, unrepresentative institutions and insufficient access to security and justice services across the country result in lack of public trust in public services. A recent survey from NDI revealed that lack of public trust and low confidence in national elections, drive perceptions that Iraq remains a divided country and increases support for protests. This further strengthens divisions according to sectarian lines in society. According to the Head of UNAMI, increased public trust in governmental institutions is key for development in Iraq, particularly after the fight against ISIL. Lack of public trust is also driven by a view of ineffective and unaccountable governmental apparatus.

Despite a general lack of trust, citizens tend to do have increased trust in army and police institutions, and in the Popular Mobilization Units[1] as the security situation is slowly stabilizing. However, citizens seem to have less trust in judicial institutions and provincial councils.

Today, Iraq needs robust and functional accountability mechanisms and community reconciliation to recover from conflict and its associated societal traumas. For this aim, restoring public trust in the judiciary and justice system to hold perpetrators accountable of key importance.


Endemic corruption is one of the main threats to Iraq’s stability, alienating the population from its ruling elite and driving young people into a protest movement that demands radical change. In a recent poll, more than 80 % of Iraqi’s were concerned, or very concerned, about corruption at the highest levels of government and the population perceive it to be getting worse. In Kurdistan, over 90% say that corruption is getting worse. Corruption among senior politicians and civil servants is systematically undermining trust in the government and destroys the legitimacy of leaders.

Transparency International (TI) scored Iraq on rank 162 out of 180 in 2019. This was a rise of six ranks compared to 2018 and Iraq is now on the same level as Cambodia and Chad. Further, Iraq was ranked by TI as the fourth most corrupt country in the Middle East, only better off than Syria, Yemen and Libya. For comparison, the three countries better than Iraq was Iran (146), Lebanon (137) and Egypt (106).

However, until now, political corruption has been primarily treated as an individual crime. Little recognition is given to corruption as primarily driven forward by the structure of the political system and the role that Iraq’s political parties play in it.

Public Financial Management

A recent survey from NDI reveals that the lack of financial stability is one of the main concerns among the population, and this sparks frustration and conflict. Enhancing public financial management is crucial for building the efficiency and effectiveness of state services and the situation in Iraq is no exception. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure accountability in the management of public resources. Weak public financial management increases the risk of mismanagement of resources and opportunities. In Iraq, formal channels by which public finance and procurement processes are managed hides the processes through which resources are raised and spent. Such parallel processes are unclear and difficult to change, especially as they tend to shift power from the state to other actors. This keeps a vicious cycle of a weak, unreliable and opaque public financial management system. 

Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations are common in Iraq. Security forces are accused of detaining suspects without court order, arrest warrant, or any other justification of arrest. Authorities are accused of violating the process for detainees to see a judge within 24 hours, to have access to a lawyer throughout interrogations or to have families notified of their detention. Detainees have witnessed torture in prisons, in some cases leading to death. Courts sentence individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences to death, frequently after questionable trials that reportedly rely on torture-tainted evidence.

Iraqi families with perceived ISIS affiliation because of their family name, tribal affiliation, or area of origin, have been denied security clearances required to obtain identity documentation or other civil documentation. This has impacted their freedom of movement, right to education, right to work, and right to apply for welfare benefits and obtain birth and death certificates. Although numerous ethnic and religious minority groups are living in Iraq, the government does not guarantee equal treatment and access to public services.  

Gender Inequality

Over recent decades, the rights of Iraqi women have been significantly weakened, and their parity with men has suffered setbacks in a number of areas. However, demands for increased gender equality are increasing.  While the legal position of women was relatively strong compared with other countries in the region and Iraqi women have traditionally taken part in society through education, labour and politics, this reality has now receded. The influence of women started to decline in the 1980s with Saddam Hussein. Women empowerment’s main constraints are largely economic, social, and cultural, driven by sectarian, ethnic and family-related boundaries. Harassment, domestic and sexual violence are constantly reported, and women have few legal frameworks that could be used to protect their rights. Iraq’s criminal code includes criminalizing physical assault but lacks any explicit mention of domestic violence, and even when sexual assault can be criminalized, it does not apply in a marriage. Donors need to not only focus on women, but also to steer gender programming to male roles and unpack traditional gender roles through for example public awareness campaigns.

Weak territorial integrity

Iraq has historically been a battleground in regional power struggles, and this is continuously reflected in its domestic political dynamics with a multiplicity of armed groups with ties to neighbouring states. While many areas of Iraq continue to be relatively secure, pockets of violence exist where armed groups continue to be active. PMU armed groups are operating and fighting in parallel with national security forces, and the myriad of security actors are undercutting state monopoly of violence and state legitimacy. This further leads to incoherent national defence and weak territorial control and integrity.

In addition, Iraqi provinces have a large margin for self-control and a legal right to create autonomous regions. One example of such a region is Kurdistan with its own judiciary, parliament and security forces, located in northern Iraq. In addition, Shia-dominated south has been demanding the right for an autonomous southern region, even though this is facing resistance from other opposing groups. With increased regional tendencies for autonomous rule along sectarian, ethnic and nationalistic lines, the State’s backbone risks further weakness and disintegration, increasing insecurity and lack of access to public services including justice by the population.

Tackling those sensitive challenges in a country like Iraq requires the presence and vested interest of regional, internal and local powers. This today is the biggest challenge Iraq is facing for its State-building and reform processes.

[1] Popular Mobilization Units (also known as Hash’d al Shaabi) are an umbrella organization consisting of more than 50 different militias with ties to the government, performing along the lines of national security forces.

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DCAF-ISSAT Iraq SSR Country Backgrounder

Case Study

Gender Mainstreaming Case Example of ISSAT’s mid-term evaluation of Swedish Police Project in Liberia

In 2018, the Swedish National Police (SNP) requested ISSAT to conduct a mid-term evaluation for its Police Cooperation project in Liberia. The project was implemented by the SNP between 2016 and 2019. The purpose of the project was to achieve improved quality of crime investigations including on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), basic crime investigation, basic crime scene investigation and cooperation between the Liberian National Police (LNP) and the Prosecution Service in three police station areas.

The components of the project focused on addressing important challenges and needs as formulated by the LNP and prosecutors such as:

  • Training in basic crime investigations, basic crime scene investigations and investigations of SGBV crimes.
  • Guidelines to optimise the quality control of any crime investigation case forwarded to the Prosecution Service.
  • Basic forensic equipment.
  • Improved premises and facilities for one stop centres and comfort rooms for SGBV victims.  
  • Improved cooperation between police and prosecutors.
  • Public awareness raising.

ISSAT’s evaluation was one exercise in a series of engagements with the Swedish National Police. It built on previous lessons learned studies on police reform in Liberia and national policy documents. The evaluation included a 7-day mission to Liberia and visits to local police zones for direct observations at police station level. The mission also included semi-structured interviews with beneficiaries as well as SNP normally based in Stockholm.


Main Takeaways

The evaluation was carried out based on OECD-DAC criteria (relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability) which is aligned with ISSAT’s methodological approach for evaluations. Guided by the terms of reference, ISSAT closely liaised with the project’s gender expert to understand and better integrate in the evaluation’s approach the main components of effective police investigations into sexual based crime and victim protection.


LESSON 1: Gender equality approaches need to be an explicit part of the evaluation methodology

Throughout the data gathering phase, ISSAT ensured consistent inquiry into the project’s gender sensitive approaches and strategies. Under each of the evaluation criteria, ISSAT looked at gender relevant issues and dimensions. The results of ISSAT’s evaluation found that SNP systematically promoted gender equality, and allocated resources for combatting sexual and gender-based violence crimes. This reflected Swedish commitment to this gender equality and combatting SGBV, through project strategies that promoted awareness-raising among local counterparts.


LESSON 2: Gender equality subject-matter expertise is essential for articulating project impact

The Swedish National Police included a gender expert as part of the project’s team. The gender expert on SGBV was not based in Liberia but deployed up to four times a year. Having a gender expert as part of the project further strengthened the quality of the project’s deliverables, as well as the communications capability for the project to create traction and ownership of its priorities amongst stakeholders. It increased focus on SGBV reporting, achievements and outcomes for Swedish National Police, as well as enabled greater synergies between the different work streams. 


LESSON 3: Build on what works at the local context

ISSAT’s evaluation demonstrated that the Swedish support project achieved positive results from its capacity building engagements on SGBV because it built on existing training material already used by the Liberian National Police and the UN Mission in Liberia. This method ensured that the project’s contribution was consistent with current skills and techniques used by LNP. The added value of the SNP was therefore to bring in practical implementation techniques addressing victims of SGBV. This made the trainings and practical elements relevant and grounded in a Liberian context rather than in a Swedish model, contributing directly to the success of the project.


LESSON 4: Comfort rooms are an effective protection measure if used appropriately

Another key output of the Swedish support project was the usage of comfort rooms where victims can report SGBV crimes. Comfort rooms require minimal maintenance costs if used in a consistent manner. ISSAT’s evaluation showed that it is important to establish guidelines and objectives for their usage to prevent improper, or unintended usage of the dedicated facilities. Moreover, comfort rooms need to be included in national regulations, operational documents and strategies in order to enable continuous monitoring and review of their usage by SGBV victims.


LESSON 5: Donor coordination on cross-cutting issues is crucial

ISSAT’s evaluation demonstrated that engagement in coordination activities ensures critical information gathering on primary needs when it comes to SGBV crime investigations and forensic evidence gathering. Active and close collaboration between donors and national stakeholders in the form of task forces or coordination groups strengthens the effectiveness and impact of donor efforts and programming. It also provides a platform to explore whether the project is on the right track and opens new channels to troubleshoot if and when the project faces resistance, blockages or challenges.


LESSON 6: Avoid revictimization during evaluation of SGBV programming

To safeguard and protect the victims of SGBV crimes, there is a need for rules and procedures to be put in place in the methodology in order to prevent “revictimization” of victims. Questions and discussions on the person’s prior traumatic experience and re-examination of details and actions that explain the incident and the police’s response could put the SGBV survivor at risk, as well as expose their family or community members to unintended consequences. Evaluation teams conducting impact or effectiveness reviews of a SGBV programs need to design their approach avoiding revictimizing the victims.


Lesson 7: Use awareness-raising campaigns as an outreach tool and not only for visibility

When awareness campaigns are used as a strategy for the project to achieve its objectives, it is important that these are used as outreach channels to raise awareness on SGBV rather than merely be project visibility tools. Such campaigns also enable continuous monitoring on SGBV issues and serve as powerful advocacy tools for national counterparts to their maintain focus on those crimes and combatting them. Projects that integrate empirical evidence of outcomes in their awareness campaigns tend to achieve higher levels of conviction and credibility, particularly on a complex and culturally charged subject area such as SGBV.

Case Study

The Creation of a Republican Police in Benin

Background and Introduction

Benin's development relies heavily on its ability to attract foreign investments and on tourism. In a West African region troubled by violent events, the country's security is therefore an essential condition to its future wealth. Benin's security and defence forces have been facing the traditional threats posed by serious and organised crime, road blockages and illegal exploitation of the sea for many years. The extension of terrorism from the Sahel into Benin is an emerging risk for the stability of the country. It became a reality on May 1st , 2019, with the assassination of a guide in the Pendjari Park and the kidnapping of French tourists near the border with Burkina Faso.

National security was already a key issue during the 2016 elections campaign. As new Head of State, Patrice Talon quickly expressed his vision for the transformation of the security sector in the Government Action Programme (GAP) 2016-2021 and the National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2025. The documents set out the ambition to rationalise the public administration and the government’s architecture. The GAP lists eighteen sectoral projects aiming at strengthening public security and national defence, including, risk prevention, civil protection, integrated management of border areas and internal security.

The creation of a single internal security force under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security through merging the police and gendarmerie, was included as a potential measure to improve the security sector’s management. The operationalisation of this commitment came on the 1st of January 2018, when the creation of the "Republican Police" was announced. This major initiative, transforming Benin's security sector, only has one recent precedent, being the reform of Belgium's police initiated on the 1st of January 2001. Benin’s security apparatus is being redefined, as a result of the disappearance of those two very old structures, which contributed through their culture and traditions to its architecture and governance. The new structure now brings together some 10,000 police officers and is intended to be a hybrid of two organisations with different practices and understandings of internal security. 

In reality, regional instability and emerging security threats require Benin’s political authorities to implement an effective system for anticipation and response. The creation of the Republican Police is only the first step, and a new National Security Strategy is now expected in the first half of 2020. While the police-gendarmerie merger could define the reform’s outlook, it constitutes a major challenge for the country with foreseeable advantages and disadvantages on the structural and functional levels.

The Challenges of the Merger

Strategic Challenges

Fundamentally transforming the organisation of a security institution requires national security policies and strategies that identify priority objectives and the capabilities required to achieve them. Throughout 2017, the committee set up to prepare for the merger of the National Police and the National Gendarmerie has worked without a national security sector strategy or a national security policy. With no political or strategic guidance at its disposal, the committee based its work solely on the will of the Head of State.

Ideally, national authorities generally set the framework for security sector reform (SSR) through a security policy document and a transformation plan that reconciles aspirations and means. Experience shows that it is important that these key documents integrate internal security, defence and justice and are the product of a truly comprehensive and inclusive dialogue, resulting in a widely shared vision. The Head of State’ political will, while crucial to reform, is not sufficient on its own to set priorities and bridge the gap between divergent views on the technical aspects of a difficult transformation. The lack of long-term planning has also led to fears of an unpredictable process and a foreseeable difficulty for the State to meet costs not previously assessed.

Structural Challenges

The first structural challenge concerned the human resources and economies of scale that needed to be achieved as units and functions were streamlined into a single organisation, avoiding duplication. As a result of two hierarchical structures merging into a single structure, many officers found themselves without command responsibilities. The merger affected the employment of nearly three hundred officers. Some were placed at the disposal of the General Directorate of the Republican Police while others remained without operational assignments. To improve the situation of these officers and in order to avoid an excessive number of idle officers, a temporary solution was found by deploying several of them to peacekeeping operations under the umbrella of multilateral organisations.

On the positive side, the merger has improved security coverage by rationalising the distribution of security forces throughout the country. The density of the security network in Benin was insufficient by international standards, particularly in the border areas and in the north of the country where the risk of religious radicalisation is greater. Localities that used to have both a police station and gendarmerie barracks are now under the jurisdiction of a single police station, thus avoiding conflicts between bodies, ambiguity of responsibilities and wasted resources. The financial savings generated as a result of the merger have made it possible to set up units in localities where there was no police presence. In spite of the police-population ratio remaining unchanged, the security service has come closer to the population with nearly 85% of the territory being covered, compared to 55% before the merger.

Functional Challenges

The aim of the merger is to have an integrated internal security force, with a hybrid functioning system, retaining some aspects particular to the gendarmerie, such as military police whilst operating both in cities and isolated rural areas. A complete functional harmonisation will be a long-term process due to the deep divergences between the two institutions. For example, the gendarmerie was organised with officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, whereas the national police had a four-corps structure of peacekeepers, peace officers, inspectors and commissioners.  The gendarmes were subject to availability requirements as per the military regime, while the police benefited from a human resources management system, closer to the rest of the civil service administrations. The Chain of Command among the gendarmes was inspired by the military system, which uses a staff-type structure consisting of functional offices (B1 to B9), whereas the command structure of the national police was a mixture of administrative and paramilitary aspects with technical directorates, central directorates, etc. As a result, many challenges arose when the staff of the two former institutions were transferred and reclassified into the new corps and ranks. A key opportunity and enabler for the merger was the previous internal police reform process which adopted a two-corps organisation (non-commissioned officers and officers), which facilitated the transfer and reclassification for the merger.

On the operational level, gendarmes and police officers do not have the same approach for conducting their work. For example, the use of warning shots for law enforcement was not authorised for police officers, whereas gendarmes were allowed to revert to this measure. In May 2019, violent clashes in Cotonou pitted demonstrators against the republican police and the army, who were accused of firing live ammunition. This incident illustrates operational difficulties for the police that remain to be addressed.  

Whilst the police has performed its duties in urban areas, the gendarmerie has been perceived as an institution representing the State in the countryside. In addition, public space, public order and safety are concepts with different meanings and interpretations in rural and urban areas. For example, the function of local intelligence gathering occupies an important place in the police function and is highly organised, whereas the gendarmerie engages in terrain surveillance and practices mobility of units for operational defence of the territory.

Beyond these initial differences, a major challenge is to bring together very different institutional cultures and individual perceptions of their role in Beninese society. The personnel of the two institutions did not have the same codes, nor the same social representations of the service they render to the population. The gendarmerie emphasized its republican character as the protector of State institutions, while the police demanded greater proximity to the population, to whom it provided a public service of security and protection of citizens' rights.

Conclusion and Way Forward

The medium and long-term success of the merger process requires the establishment of a rigorous monitoring and evaluation system. The creation of a single internal security organisation should in theory strengthen its effectiveness by allowing pooling means and resources and covering more localities. It is nevertheless crucial to be able to monitor the merger and its long-term effects. Clear benchmarks for performance have yet to be established. Without a roadmap it is unlikely that there will be any tracking to evaluate the effectiveness of the new institution.

After the launch of the eighteen security sector reform projects included in the GAP, the decision was taken in 2019 to draft a National Security Strategy (NSS), integrating the vision of the Armed Forces General Staff and the General Directorate of the Republican Police. This initiative will have to consider key cross-cutting themes, such as the prevention of violent extremism, democratic control of the security sector, gender equality and human rights. If those topics are not mainstreamed in a sensible and sustainable manner, the risk will be that they will be subject to divergent interpretations and left to the discretion of officials at various levels.

The political vigour with which behavioural changes have been imposed on police personnel, particularly in terms of reducing harassment and petty corruption, has led to a perceived improvement in the security situation for the population on the country's main routes and in major cities. The question now arises as to the extension, viability and sustainability of the reform process, which depends largely on the State's ability to finance it and on the combined support of Benin's citizens and police officers.

Security reform processes must be backed by social and economic development programmes. The National Security Strategy currently being drawn up should fill the gaps by bringing clarity and coherence to the entire SSR process.

ISSAT Case Study Examples
ISSAT’s main role is to provide operational support to reinforce the international community's security and justice reform capacity. Through our case studies, we present our donors and community of practice with contextualized examples of reform processes that could be useful in their areas of priority. This case study is based on the observations and reflections of one of ISSAT SSR expert following a deployment in the country. The case study also aims to work as a conversation starter, and we welcome comments and contributions from our readers.

Case Study

Gender Mainstreaming Case Example: Training Curriculum Development – SSR Contribution to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE)

In 2018, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland mandated ISSAT to develop a course on the “Contribution of SSR to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism” (SSR-VE). The objective of the mandate was to create a 5-day course that included a strong component on the prevention of violent extremism (VE) and that covered dimensions related to human security, governance and engagement of local communities. The courses were later piloted in Bamako, Mali and in the Hague, Netherlands.

From the onset, ISSAT adopted a gender-sensitive approach to course development and delivery, given the significant link this thematic area has with community security and its relevance to the safety and livelihoods of men, women, boys and girls

Entry points for Gender Equality

Gender references in the course’s founding documents

The course’s terms of reference set explicit gender equality commitments for the course. The course design paper emphasised that Gender related considerations will be mainstreamed throughout the Programme. It focused on presenting evidence-based experiences reflecting the critical importance of gender sensitive analysis in addressing the unique needs of local communities, the challenges of injustice and marginalisation on different segments of society”.

Anchoring gender equality considerations in the course’s vision and founding documents not only provided a common understanding of the importance of gender equality and SSR but also ensured that this aspect was mainstreamed throughout the course material. It also enabled the course facilitators to be more committed to the need for greater focus on gender equality within their individual sessions.

Gender parity among course team and participants

ISSAT invested considerable efforts in aiming for equal representation within the training team. The curriculum development team, as well as the facilitation teams had equal representation between men and women.

The main challenge remained in ensuring gender parity amongst training participants, an area where ISSAT has the lowest margin for impact. In spite of its active follow-up to include women participants, at the first pilot session in Bamako, only 3 women (14%) attended the course, as a direct result of low numbers of female applicants. The second pilot session in the Hague, women’s participation rate was higher, at 47%.

A comparative analysis of both training sessions highlights the importance of gender parity for more representative, relevant and diversified discussions of security and justice reform related issues. It also fosters a stronger engagement by participants with regards to the course topics. 

Determining the level of gender equality awareness among participants

ISSAT determined the level gender equality awareness among training participants through participant applications analysis and pre-course questionnaires. Accordingly, ISSAT adapted course content to the participants needs. This step is of key importance in anchoring the training material in the trainees’ needs and in ensuring that the debate around gender equality matures from the introduction to basic themes and issues, towards more complex understanding of gender roles and implications on security and justice institutions’ effectives, accountability and legitimacy.

Content development

The SSR-VE course content development efforts sought to raise awareness on the importance of developing gender-sensitive SSR programmes that are based on gendered analysis of community security aspects and strive towards gender equality in access to services, as well as, in service delivery. It aimed to change the current focus of the SSR community which is predominantly on dealing with the recruitment of men and boys in extremist groups, and rebalance it towards the often-overlooked recruitment of women and girls and on the roles that they play in the community and in security institutions.

The two pilot courses also included a session on “confidence-building between citizens and uniformed forces” which included a focus on gender equality and human-rights based approaches. This session introduced a role-play session to illustrate that women, men, girls and boys have different experiences of (in)security and included exercises to discuss the roles of different groups in preventing violent extremism. In addition, the good practices of inclusivity and representativeness were extensively discussed in SSR thematic sessions on governance, criminal justice and policing. The key message conveyed in the framework of the SSR and governance session, was on the key role gender equality plays in strengthening the effectiveness, accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of security and justice institutions. During the criminal justice chain reform session, facilitators addressed the issue of access to justice and the exclusion of specific groups due to their cultural, gender, age or socio-economic backgrounds. The session on community engagement focused on the conditions for the community violence reduction (CVR), discussing how to empower men, women, boys and girls and promote social cohesion.

Course delivery

In the delivery of its two pilot courses, ISSAT recognises the importance of developing gender mainstreaming strategies that are culturally sensitive. Understanding the context in which the training was delivered was of primary importance to the facilitators. The course’s delivery approach was designed taking into consideration deep-rooted beliefs and gender sensitive values among participants. Course facilitators ensured that gender equality issues were addressed in a relevant manner to the local and regional contexts. For example, LGBTQ relevant issues were more easily addressed during the second pilot training in the Hague.


  • Set clear gender equality related outcomes, objectives and deliverables in the course’s founding documents. It helps secure team-wide commitment since the onset and ensure focus on this key policy priority throughout the design and delivery of the course.
  • Allocate sufficient time to explain and deconstruct the notions of gender, gender mainstreaming and gender equality. Often, participants have preconceived conceptions of what is meant by gender. Having an open discussion on what gender is, at the beginning of the course can help build a common understanding among participants and consequently enable a richer and more productive exchange during the sessions.  
  • Seek equal gender parity among training participants through proactively disseminating course applications among potentially relevant female participants. This can be particularly challenging, due to the low representation percentages of women in many security and justice institutions. The impact of diversity amongst training participants is very high on the level and quality of the discussions, as well as, on the strength of the message the course communicates on the organisation’s commitment to gender equality.
  • When gender parity is not achieved, facilitators should adopt alternative strategies to compensate for this gap. Such strategies could include the use of additional female facilitators or guest speakers, the establishment of ground rules that enable all participants to intervene without fear or intimidation, or the promotion of an open discussion among course participants on positive or negative gender-related experiences in their professional and/or personal lives.  
  • Establishing evidence or experience-based insights and examples prior to the course are key to the course’s success. Facilitators need to increasingly refer to existing research and evidence on gender dynamics and masculinities as related to the course’s topic. Cultural specificities related to gendered and social constructs within the geographical context of the course’s venue also need to be taken into consideration in order to maximise the training’s impact and to avoid cultural gaffes.

Case study published in January 2020. 

Case Study

Gender Mainstreaming Case Example: Training on Ending Combat-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV)

Following a request made by the Swiss Embassy in India, ISSAT delivered presentations on CRSV at the workshop “Integrated Programme on Mainstreaming Gender in UN Peacekeeping to end Conflict Related Sexual Violence”. The workshop was organised by UNWOMEN India and the United Services Institute of India and took place in New Delhi in February 2018. ISSAT contributed to the 4-day programme designed to improve UN peacekeepers’ ability to address and prevent CRSV in their operational environment. A total of 37 participants attended (17 of which female), from 10 countries in the region.

The initial request was for a senior ISSAT advisor with strong familiarity of CRSV as well as contextual knowledge to complement the pre-determined training programme. ISSAT was able to identify a senior advisor who was also a serving officer of rank in the army and who had practical experience in facilitating and coordinating an audience of military officers. As such, ISSAT was able to provide additional support in strengthening the overall delivery of the programme by, for example, helping to adapt the workshop methodology to the specific audience and by identifying entry points for early warning signs from a military perspective.

With regards to the workshop, ISSAT aimed to ensure the legitimacy of the facilitator as a knowledgeable peer with the goal of building rapport with participants through understanding of the military culture and substantive knowledge of the relevant norms and good practices. Under this pretext, the methodology applied by ISSAT aimed at linking policy to practice, including focusing on how strategic documents such as the UN Security Council Resolutions 1820 and 2272 and SDG5 would translate at the multiarray tactical level.

Main Takeaways

Adapt your methodology to your audience to facilitate discussion and generate impact. Gender is not an easy subject for discussion, even more so when it comes to CRSV. The methodology used in discussions by the facilitators can sometimes backfire and create contrary effects than those planned when operating in highly masculine cultures. To overcome this, ISSAT followed the Pebbles and Ripples Methodology where a light start was chosen, i.e. a UN Video on LGBT rights  with positive messaging (a small pebble which created a small ripple), so as to engage the audience in the discussion. If the audience is convinced of the significance of the matter and the impact they can have, then the atmosphere is ripe to discuss trickier concepts such as the role of officers in addressing CRSV. Starting with small pebbles also gives the facilitator the space to be able to build credibility and trust with the audience and lead discussions in the right direction.

Using the military mindset to one’s advantage with a peer to peer approach: Being a ranking military officer herself, the ISSAT senior advisor understood she could hold conversations with participants and use her gender as an advantage to steer discussions towards reciprocal learning and sharing. However, establishing credibility with the male-dominated participants was a necessary first step which had to be anticipated and worked into the methodology.

Preparation of visually attractive knowledge products to summarise key policy documents. Understanding the complexities of CRSV, the ISSAT facilitator was proactive in reaching out to UNICEF, OHCHR and internal DCAF expertise to cover as many perspectives as possible, including issues of Children in Conflict and Victim’s Information Management & Referrals. However, to ensure key messages were delivered, a concise and informed aide memoire (infographic) was designed by ISSAT. The aide memoire provided information on how to connect policy and practice. The document highlighted key UN approaches, international norms and various operational measures to be undertaken when combating CRSV.

This teaching aid served as a conversational piece when engaging course participants bilaterally in a peer-to-peer setting. In one example, a participant who was about to be deployed in a field mission in the capacity of staff officer responsible for Human Resources approached the ISSAT facilitator and thanked her for the productive debate during the training which he initially thought would be a waste of time and that he only attended because it was mandatory. As a result of the training, he had come to realise the relevance and importance of his role. A few months later, the ISSAT facilitator received an email from the same advisor who was now deployed and who expressed appreciation on how the training and the practical guidance received in being utilised in the staffing of the mission in question.


The sustainability of trainings can be strengthened through follow up tools related to the training such as impact assessment questionnaires, discussions in common online spaces such as the ISSAT Community of Practice (CoP) forum or ideally through formalised coaching plans to identify and track behavioural change of participants on gender related issues. This will allow the success of the trainings to not be dependent on the personalities participating but rather an alumni system that takes into account time and further capacity building needed to internalise even the simplest of messages.

The knowledge product created on CRSV aimed at translating international frameworks to the practical field settings is a key contribution of ISSAT to the service of the international SSR community. It is also an excellent teaching tool. Visually attractive knowledge products on other cross-cutting issues on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda need to be developed and broadly distributed through online dissemination in addition to the physical distribution during face to face trainings.

Case study published in July 2019. 

Case Study