The Gender and Conflict initiative unites faculty, students, and researchers at Harvard Kennedy School and beyond to study gender in non-violent and violent social movements and the social and institutional factors influencing the prevalence of gender-based violence.

Wartime Sexual Violence

Rape, sexual assault, and violence against women are severe human rights violations, yet they remain widespread around the globe. Although men and boys experience gender-based violence as well, women around the world are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, both during peace and wartime. Preventing violence against women, including sexual violence, is crucial for improving the well-being of women globally, and for creating a more peaceful and more equitable world. How can we combat rape and other forms of sexual violence and improve women’s health and well-being?

To find the right policy strategies for combating sexual violence and rape, we need to develop a better understanding of its causes and driving forces. For example, research has shown that rape in wartime settings is not necessarily deployed as a strategic weapon as usually assumed, but can be used as a mechanism of socialization to strengthen unit cohesion amongst armed groups that recruit soldiers by force and abduction.

SVAC Database

In order to address and identify which armed groups have reportedly perpetrated sexual violence in recent conflicts, Dara Kay Cohen, Ragnhild Nordås, and Rob Nagel co-direct the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict Database. The dataset draws from annual reporting from the US State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. These data have been helpful for academics and policymakers to understand the patterns of sexual violence, its causes, and its consequences.

Women, Authoritarianism, and Social Movements

Acknowledging and integrating women's insights, experiences, and capabilities into all aspects of peace processes and security efforts is vital in building a more gender-equitable world. Research shows the ways in which women’s participation in resistance movements can lead to more sustainable negotiated settlements and more durable democracy after civil wars.

Unfortunately, women’s political and economic empowerment is now stalling or declining around the world. According to Georgetown University’s Women, Peace, and Security Index, the implementation of gender equality laws has slowed in recent years, as have gains in women’s educational attainment and representation in national parliaments. How can we protect and expand women’s rights and freedoms essential for effective peacekeeping?

With the generous support of Carol J. Hamilton, Harvard Kennedy School has strengthened its commitment to gender and security. The Carol J. Hamilton Funds support a thriving and collaborative community among scholars of gender, conflict, and sexual violence.

Research Highlight: Women’s Participation and the Fate of Nonviolent Campaigns 

Written by Erica Chenoweth. The Women in Resistance (WiRe) data set is the first of its kind to catalog women’s participation in 338 maximalist resistance campaigns in every country in the world from 1945 to 2014 (i.e., those campaigns that call for the toppling of an oppressive government, or territorial self-determination). Because the data set identifies both nonviolent and violent maximalist campaigns, it provides a comprehensive and systematic look at various dimensions of women’s participation in both types of resistance.