Gender balancing or Gender mainstreaming in Security Sector Reform

Photo by Ra’ed QutenaCC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Dra. Aseel Al Awadhi – 1 of 4 women to become the first to win seats in Parliament in Kuwait

In 1997 the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO) released a report highlighting the importance of what encompasses Security Sector Reform (SSR) “it is a transformation of all actors in a security system towards accountability, transparency and democratic governance”[1]. One of the core aims of SSR is to create stability and security for citizens and it further aims to transform the political system where the security sector has been regarded as masculine, abusive, corrupt to one that is accountable and legitimate. However, it was only after the year 2000, when the United Nations (UN) resolution 1325[2] was adopted that research begun to include gender perspectives. The gender debate in SSR has become a significant domain of research within SSR programmes. Gender and SSR research has been centred on justifying the inclusion of women in security reform in governments and the importance of gender equality dimensions within SSR programmes, as well as being part of the international development agenda[3]. Policy documents and resolutions[4] have been developed aimed at addressing the need for a gender sensitive-SSR approach.

In respect to SSR two approaches have emerged within the scholarship, namely: gender mainstreaming and gender balancing. These two approaches encompass contrasting ends in understanding gender integration within SSR. Gender balancing is based on “the promotion of equal participation of men and women in security institutions and oversight bodies”[5]. The importance of gender balancing is to recruit and retain women in the security sector and in governance sectors. On the other hand, gender mainstreaming focuses on increasing participation of both men and women in policies and programmes while considering the implications, experiences, concerns of both men and women as the vital part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes[6].

The fundamental difference between gender balancing and gender mainstreaming is apparent when both approaches are measured on a scale of quantity versus quality. Gender balancing becomes an approach based on data. It centres on quantity because gender participation is measured by number of women contributing to security sector institutions. For this reason, it rests on the assumption that women’s participation is based on “face value” rather than an “added value”. It can be said that gender balancing has no element of effective transformation, it may include a gendered aspect but it is not transformative. It includes women just for the sake of inclusion per se. It has a notion of “add women and stir politics”[7]. In contrast to gender balancing, gender mainstreaming is a transformative process, precisely because it encourages participation of both men and women. It is the participation of both men and women that enables SSR to identify the fundamental security concerns and how they can be addressed. The significance of gender mainstreaming in SSR is to acknowledge the different security needs, interests and priorities of women and men including boys and girls. As a result of gender mainstreaming, SSR strategies can offer a wide range of responses to the different needs which both women and men experience within the security sector.

It is for this reason that private, local and national institutions should consider gender mainstreaming rather than gender balancing. Gender mainstreaming is an inclusive and representative process[8] and therefore provides an effective method to address gender-related challenges such as patriarchal systems, which women may come across within an institutional structure. Above all it can help bridge the gap between quality and quantity. Gender balancing may even be regarded as highlighting quantity over quality, and this is problematic because it overlooks the importance of women adding valuable input.

In essence, gender mainstreaming should go beyond SSR, and other institutions need to consider adopting an approach that goes beyond numbers and representation, such as gender balancing, and opt for gender mainstreaming. It is only then that the perception of “add women and stir politics”[9] will no longer be relevant.


[1] OECD-DAC, 2007, Hand book on Security Sector Reform, Supporting Security and Justice. Paris. p5.

[2] UN resolution 1325 adopted on 31st October 2000

[3] Mobekk, E., 2010. “Gender, women and security sector reform”. International Peacekeeping. Vol. 17:2, p278

[4] OCED-DAC, 2008. Gender & Security Sector Reform Toolkit; UN resolution 1325, 1997.

[5] Ibid.

[6] UN Economic and Social Council, Report of Secretary-General, 1997, Coordination of the Policies and Activities of the Specialised Agencies and Other Bodies of the UN system: Mainstreaming the Gender Perspective into all Policies and Programmes in the UN System”, UN doc, E96IV13.

[7] Eriksson, M and Utas, M, 2012. Beyond “Gender and Stir” Reflections on gender and SSR in the aftermath of African conflicts. The Nordic Institute.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

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