Gender-Specific Vulnerabilities

A group of Somali women stand near a water point at the Dayniile IDP camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, on March 6, 2017. UN Photo/Tobin Jones

The disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women is firmly established in the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security – Resolutions 1325 and 1820. These two resolutions have become standard principles in UN-led post-conflict reform processes. They recognize the need of special protection of women and girls, training of troops on prevention and reporting on sexual violence, and for the equal participation of women, including increasing the number of women in the police. Read more here.

It is well known that rape has been used as a weapon of war. Gender-based violence is however more than rape. It includes:

  • Sexual harassment, sexual abuse, forced pregnancies or prostitution
  • Domestic violence: physical, sexual, psychological harm inflicted by family members or intimate partners, or economic (for instance denying women access to resources)
  • Traditional harmful practices: female genital mutilation, honor killings, dowry related violence
  • Human trafficking


While gender-based violence happens in all types of societies, the risk of it increases during and after a conflict. Women also report being extra vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence and harassment in public space and at night; and during harvest and festive seasons when money is available and the consume of alcohol may increase. The absence of effective law enforcement as a consequence of war may also open up for trafficking activities led by criminal networks.

Although women are seen as the victims and men as the perpetrators of GBV, there are high levels of unreported cases in which men are among the abused. There is indeed a high level of unreported cases of male abuses. Cases against men are often not taken seriously by the police, and male victims are often ridiculed. The LGBTI community and the more overall transgender community is also very much subject to this type of violence. For more information, watch this Digital story: 


Inadequate reporting and handling of gender-based violence is a major problem. First, not all GBV offences fall under criminal codes, and thus may not be reported to the police at all. Secondly, the reporting procedure is lengthy, and there is often a lack of female officers to handle the victims. Even in places with suitable formal procedures, GBV is considered a taboo and victims risk being further violated and abused, and even raped, when reporting a case at the police station. In many places, domestic violence is regarded as a family matter, and an abused woman may be convinced to reconcile with her husband, rather than register a criminal case. You may learn more in this Digital Story from Pakistan:


Fighting Gender Based Violence is a serious challenge that needs to be addressed at various levels:

  • On an individual level, survivors need to be aware of their rights and have the confidence to report a case.
  • On a relational level, survivors need to have support from their family/larger community.
  • On a structural level, suitable laws and support services need to be in place, and survivors need to have access to these services to ensure their rights are protected, including their confidentiality


Dealing with GBV requires a multisectoral approach, where police, health and education department and civil society activists and organizations work together to ensure effective response and prevention. Since these issues are sensitive, trust-building and confidentiality between the different actors involved is paramount.

Finally, women and men in post-conflict settings may also be vulnerable to different types of insecurities. Men may be more subject to physical violence and threats than women, as well as extra vulnerable to mental problems and stress. This may be due to having taken part in the fighting or to social expectations of having to provide for family members when livelihoods may have been lost. Men are generally also more vulnerable than women to drug abuse. Read more about our gender-focused work package.