Sexualised violence in conflict: Norwegian capacities and challenges

Executive summary:

This report addresses the challenges and opportunities facing Norway in relation to the combat against sexualised and gender-based violence (SGBV) in war and conflict situations. In presenting a map of Norwegian actors and agencies in the field, it constitutes a critical resource that both emphasises Norway's potential to contribute and recommends proposals for improvement.

The context of the report is international commitments to address, prevent and limit sexualised violence (SV) in conflict, as embodied in UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008); the efforts of relevant actors in Norway to work towards fulfilment of these goals; and the current limitations in the way of these actors achieving best practice.

The content of the report is based on a qualitative mapping study conducted in Norway during spring 2010. This collates some of the work and research being done in Norway across the spectrum of issues that SGBV raises. The people interviewed represent ministries and other government institutions, the academic sector and/or civil society in various parts of Norway.

The main findings are threefold:

  •  First, research on the subject is in several important respects incomplete and unsystematic. The gaps relate to the number and type of cases analysed, and the scholarly discipline that is brought to bear in this analysis.
  • Second, although Norway's condition is one of peace, equality and relative prosperity, including a well-functioning police and justice apparatus, it still faces a major challenge in combat various forms of sexualised violence. In meeting this challenge, the focus of argument should perhaps shift from the smooth running of the security apparatus to questioning and affecting social attitudes.
  • Third, the lack of attention towards men in all areas (research, treatment, policy, empowerment projects) is alarming. In a conflict or post-conflict setting, men and boys’ disempowerment and alienation from society should be of high importance at the international agenda to combat SV. There is a real need to have men on board, in order to avoid further gender stereotyping that (for example) perceives the concerns around SV as “women's issues” and men as inherently violent.

These findings are in turn the basis of three recommendations:

  •  First, the term “gender approaches” in peace operations too often is taken to mean simply increasing the number of women in the police and army, or increased attention to women’s situation and problems. Instead, the focus should be to assess security challenges for the population under threat. If, for example, fear of rape is a daily concern, then this is a security threat with an equal status to combat wounds.
  • Second, there is a need to apply context-sensitive approaches, including humility and understanding towards the society in need, and asking questions about what has worked previously in the relevant setting to curb the level of SV and why these mechanisms are not currently functioning.
  • Third, there should be greater attention to the armed forces and their understanding of SV, amounting to a debate on the very nature of conflict-related violence and relational violence.

There is vast knowledge and experience among Norwegian professionals from different sectors. In the ongoing efforts to design new projects or strive for best practice in the field, they should be consulted. At the same time, we strongly encourage better transparency, cooperation and information flow among these actors in Norway to advance the international agenda to end the scourge of sexualised violence in war and conflict situations.