Gender is more than just focusing on women. The majority of gender sensitivity in PVE programming focuses on women’s roles and participation in PVE. It may be more productive to think of gender as a frame of analysis that incorporates all people: women, girls, men, boys and those who define as neither or both. Consider how different women, men, boys, girls and those with other identities experience life in different ways depending on, for example, their age, class background, life experience, disability, or educational level.

Gendered expectations play a role in why some women and men choose to take up arms and others do not, although the same gendered expectations can lead to very different results. The expectation placed on men, for example, to be a breadwinner and protector, including expectations to ‘protect’ or control ‘one’s women’ be it at the personal, family or community level, can lead some men to join a VE group, while others may choose to flee the conflict-affected area with their families and thus better protect and support them.

Gender dynamics and recruitment in Syria

Research on gendered impacts of the violent conflict in Syria, as well as the gendered dynamics of recruitment into armed groups, showed that societal expectations of men as protectors of and providers for the family are making men and boys more vulnerable to joining armed groups in Syria. In the Syrian refugee context, men’s vulnerabilities have not been given the same degree of consideration as those of women and girls, who tend to be seen theoretically as the most vulnerable.

Source: L. Khattab and H. Myrttinen, ‘Most of the men want to leave’: Armed groups, displacement and the gendered webs of vulnerability in Syria, London: International Alert, 2017

Hard security approaches can have a negative gendered impact programming. Counter-terrorism measures often disproportionately target men. This not only discriminates and stigmatises men who fall under a certain profile, but can also be counter-productive, contributing to their reasons for joining a VE group. Women may also join or support VE groups for the same reasons that men do, but also to escape gendered expectations. This has an impact on PVE programming which can fall into the trap of seeing only men and boys as the perpetrators or vulnerable to VE and women as the peacebuilders.

People face different layers of vulnerabilities, from the heightened risk of physical and sexual and gender-based violence including sexualised torture, sexual exploitation and abuse, early and forced marriage, to a shift in gender roles. Women can experience having to take on multiple roles in the family and public sphere as pressure is placed on the male members of their families, or they are killed, incarcerated or have their mobility curtailed.

Men can face suspicions of being extremist. Men and boys can also be very vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This risk is increased during incarceration, arrest or detention.

Persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity are often at an increased risk of physical and sexual violence, abuse, harassment and extortion.

Gender does not stand alone from other social factors. Gender in PVE programming needs to be seen relationally and in conjunction with other factors such as age, ability/disability, class, geographic location and marital status. Pay attention to how VE and PVE impacts on different men and women at different times.
Gender sensitivity is not about 50/50 programming. Understanding gendered push and pull factors well as investigating the role of gender in creating various kinds of pressures and vulnerabilities is an essential part of building effective PVE programming. This involves basing programming on analysis rather than assumptions about gender relations and population dynamics. Success is not about reaching target numbers of men and women, but is about the quality of engagement and engagement with the ‘right’ men and/or women.