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Gender-Related Development Interventions in Armed Conflicts: One Size Does Not Fit All.

Updated: Feb 16

Salwa Mansuri. Resident Intern, Princeton Foundation for Peace & Learning; and Graduate Candidate at the London School of Economics.


International Development focuses on “improving the lives of individuals worldwide through areas of need and interest”. These areas of interest typically range from healthcare and gender equality to robust governing structures in armed conflict to sustainable and renewable energy production. These areas of interest are formally documented as part of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are a list of 17 goals adopted by member states of the United Nations on the 1st of January 2016. Rather than merely focusing on development in isolation, the goals focus particularly on development interventions that are sustainable and seek to foster inclusivity.

In the most recent speech at the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres galvanized the international community and called for a “Decade of Action”, highlighting that there are just under 10 years to accomplish the SDGs . He called upon members of civil society, youth, business leaders in the private sector, researchers in academia and other stakeholders to collectively work towards the accomplishment of the SDGs. Civil society members and organizations have called for a “super year of activism” that accelerates and bolsters efforts towards achieving the 2030 targets. At the core of such discourses lie three key agendas: tackling growing poverty, the empowerment of women and girls, and climate emergency.

Problem Statement

This blogpost focuses particularly on educational interventions for women in armed conflict in the Global South. The argument commences by evaluating contemporary education development interventions implemented in areas of conflict and finds them as homogeneous, one that implement a “one-size fits all” approach. Our analysis suggests the current interventions largely dismiss the heterogeneous, dynamic and diverse experiences of women in armed conflict in the Global South. In particular, it focuses on the lack of integration of individualized voices of women in the contemporary interventions. Developmental interventions must do more than just create blanket frameworks curated by experts and implemented across all fragile zone contexts without any customization. More importantly, a participatory approach is required to fulfill the diverse and individualized educational needs of women and girls in armed conflict.

Contemporary Educational Interventions for women in armed Conflict (the Global South)

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action launched in 1995 by 189 member states of the United Nations was one of the few nascent development interventions that recognized the role and impact of women in armed conflict as an area of urgent and critical concern. Educational Interventions for Women in Armed Conflict are adopted by various stakeholders including but not limited to international organizations, civil society and grassroots organizations, government entities and philanthropic initiatives. However, considering the limited scope of this blog and the wealth of education-related development interventions, this blogpost focuses particularly on international development organizations like the United Nations Girl’s Education Initiative and other entities that work in various country contexts simultaneously. This is not to say, however, that grassroots level organizations or governments should implement homogenous interventions, but rather, that the homogeneity visible in contemporary interventions stems largely from institutions and organizations that work in an international context as discussed subsequently

Evidence 1: “Operational Framework for Effective Support in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Contexts of the Global Partnership for Education

An example of a “One Size Fits All” Policy and approach is evident in an organization called “Global Partnership for Education”, is a multi-stakeholder fundraising and collaboration platform that aims to foster quality education for young women and girls across the Global South. It has a key vertical called “Education in Crises Situations”. This branch of the organization helps countries in armed conflict rebuild and strengthen their educational systems sustainably to foster education democracy and equality. The organization has most recently created a “Operational Framework for Effective Support in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Contexts”. The policy document paper mentions the need to “strengthen gender-responsive planning and policy development for system-wide impact”. Such approaches underpin the assumption that a singular response is like to create an impact across the system. Even within the policy framework, neither is there a mention of interaction with young women and girls in conflict zones nor the integration of their perspectives in the policy framework. In particular, even its guiding principles range from actors such as “national governments, donors, civil society, teachers, philanthropy and the private sector” (p.4) as necessary to “inclusive, evidence-based policy dialogue”. Evidently, contemporary development interventions and frameworks have invariably excluded potential input precisely from stakeholders they aim to serve. None of the interventions discussed so far directly and appropriately involve inputs from women and girls from grassroots communities.

The United Nations Girl’s Education Initiative was launched in 2000 at the World Education Forum and fosters global partnership to “close the gender gap in education and unlock the transformative power for every girl, everywhere”. Most recently the United Nations Girl’s Education Initiative published an evidence review that aimed to mitigate “Threats to Girl’s Education in Conflict-Affected Contexts”. The Evidence Review was guided by three main questions. Firstly, “What are the main threats to girls’ education in conflict-affected contexts? Secondly, what type of interventions positively contribute to overcoming these threats? and thirdly, “How can lessons from these interventions inform programming to improve girls’ education in conflict affected contexts?”. As evident in the guiding questions, none of them have focused on the role or perspectives of women and girls and their respective educational needs in armed conflict which in turn inhibits inclusive implementation of the survey itself.

Even the reports and documentations were largely focused on critically evaluating “reports and documents recommended by reviewers”. This is not to dismiss the fact that there is an occasional mention of interaction with communities such as “Community participation and engagement in program design and implementation helps ensure that actions are contextually responsive and increases the likelihood of success and sustainability”. However, they didn’t specify the level of participation from girls/women. Community is a relatively broad term, one that may or may not involve direct perspectives of young women and girls. Their perspectives could be overshadowed by senior members of the community, thereby hindering holistic and comprehensive community-level grassroots participation.

Conclusion & Way Forward

Contemporary education interventions especially for women in armed conflict rely thoroughly on practitioners, experts, literature and evidence reviews. These approaches are undoubtedly and inevitably crucial to effective program implementation and evaluation. However, critical evaluation of contemporary approaches demonstrates the lack of voices of women and girls in their own educational needs within a conflict setting. Though this article primarily focuses on two examples from international organizations such as the UN and non-governmental organizations such as Global Partnership, it aims to encourage not only such institutions in amplifying and including women’s voices but also other development and education-related interventions for vulnerable and marginalized populations at large.

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