The Role of Female Ex-Combatants in Peace Processes


Eloá dos Santos Prado – TRANSCEND Media Service

Pawn or Queen Pieces in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Programmes?


14 Jul 2021 – When a conflict erupts, for any reason, there is also a gendered phenomenon occurring with regards to the tendency to associate it to a male-dominant situation, which mirrors the entrenched patriarchal system tasked to deny women access to public and civic space. Either for ideological reasons or States abandonment or abduction or free-will recruitment, the role of women and girls in conflict must overcome the wife-victims-auxiliary role narrative, that is because female-combatants are a reality. Taking up guns, defying traditional gender roles with different attributions throughout the leadership exercise among of the ranks and likewise performing the key roles for the maintenance of the operational activities are examples of how female combatants have experienced a leap from female invisibility (Schwitalla et al 2007) to empowerment and relative gender equality (Steelbergen, 2020).

Already in the post-conflict setting, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) is a fundamental process to make ex-combatants social and economically integrated into the civilian realm. It is a sort of social engineering undeniably hard in the face of the grievances of those affected by violent disputes and the surge of new power dynamics, particularly considering the gender perspective of having female ex-combatants. For such reason, it is also a fundamental moment for unlocking changes of structural root causes of conflict and strain because peace, prosperity and development cannot be achieved without the genuine integration, participation and representation of women and girls in the DDR process, and further on.

Even though there is a wake-up call to (re) commit to gender equality, a topic that overlaps the agendas of stability and security (UNSC 1325)  and sustainable development goals (SDG 5), it is a fact that gender analysis is not strongly incorporated into the DDR planning, great critique to the UN-led processes, which tend to hinder women empowerment (Steenbergen, 2020). The symptoms of poor DDR planning is the lack of evidence-generating with no consistent data of how female-combatants have their different needs fulfilled, as prescribed by the encouragement hailed in the UNSC 1325.

Despite being crucial to crisis prevention with a look to the future, the DDR process is a short-term measure, risking missing opportunities to reformulate deep structural inequalities at all levels. Meaning, in other words, that institutional, political, civil, social, cultural, economic spheres may continue not prepared to receive and integrate women ex-combatant. That is a risky situation, buttressed by the stigmatization and marginalization of female ex-combatants (what may echo into an intergenerational problem regarding their children), containing all elements to push the country forward to relapse into conflict, due to poverty and lack of social cohesion.

There are examples coming from prior processes in Mozambique, Colombia, Nepal and Liberia, for instance, that illustrate the existent role of female ex-combatants in the DDR process, giving the flavour that participation must start much earlier, in the peace talks, when the rules for DDR are well settled. This short essay intends to briefly reflect how DDR gender-responsive can make female ex-combatants key for peace.

Gender assumptions in DDR and its consequence

It is a natural phenomenon for every individual relying on pre-conceived convictions to deal with a concerning matter.  Particularly when subjects challenging social rules are involved such as gender roles, which carries the concepts of masculinities or femininities, both heritages passed on from generations. In this vein, to begin the revolution in the peace process, two measures are needed. One, “gender-sensitive DDR programming must be linked into the entire peace process, from the peace negotiations through peacekeeping and subsequent peacebuilding activities” (Tarnalla, 2016). Two, guaranteeing that gender analysis is carried out and strictly observed beyond paper allowing beforehand the understanding of the relation of women with peace (positive peace) and conflict.

In the 2020 Report on Women, Peace and Security (S/2020/946) the UN Secretary-General highlighted that “delegations to peace talks are a reflection of the conflict and societal power structures” calling attention that gender is still entrenched in the pre-conceived ideas of negotiators, what at a global level may “risk of reversal of the advancements of gender equality”, a setback to the implementation of the  ‘left-no-one-behind’ principle of the Agenda 2030. Otherwise, letting women’s participation “waiting until after reconstruction – what is until the post-war – women are likely to lose opportunities for training and income […] Later is a patriarchal timezone” (Enloe cited in Steelbergen, 2020).

Even though there have been advancements in the field, it is noteworthy to revisit past experiences to learn from mistakes, such as the historical example of Mozambique by the year 1992, DDR planners overlooked women who joined willingly armed forces  or were abducted, leaving them invisible, in consequence, it was learned from local actors at the forefront later, “church and welfare organizations reported poverty, hardship and prostitution” (Mazurana and Cole, 2012)

The evidence indicates that the gender assumption of war and conflict being male spaces reflects in flawed DDR planning process, and in order to avoid it, learning from the past the Integrated DDR Standards (UN-led process) brought in the cross-cutting issues women, gender and DDR with the objective of establishing a framework that aims to overcome common problems, such as poor active outreach campaigns to have more female ex-combatants participants whereas communication and logistics are centred in high level male commandants; cantonment phase without gender needs assessment, which varies from inadequate spaces to inadequate access to services (i.e lacking psychosocial support to SGBV survivor and access to sexual and reproductive health); inadequate disarmament criterion (i.e. one person, one weapon); inadequate demobilization (i.e.  female supporters and females associated with armed forces and groups shall enter), and reintegration (i.e. considering self and public image of female ex-combatants and their economic participation).

Nonetheless, the effectiveness of DDR programmes demands an integrated approach to strengthen national accountability and women’s rights. That goes accordingly towards positive peace with the understanding of the gendered drivers of conflict and instability, tackling any form of insecurity caused by institutional and policy gender-blindness can open up a space for changes.

Socio-ecological model and gender-transformative approach in DDR process

In the social and behavioral science, studies of peace and conflict point out that “the impact of arms transfers on human rights, noted ownership and use of arms-related closely to specific expressions of masculinity, power and control that furthered gender discrimination” (UN Secretary-General Report on WPS, S/2020/946), then noteworthy that the supposed gender equality achieved during disrupted times has, in fact, more to do with an attempt to “standardize bodies and eliminate opponents” (Herrera et al 2019). Bearing this initial premise, even though the status quo of female ex-combatants is challenged, undoubtedly their identities are in a deconstruction process hence the socio-ecological model appears to lend assistance to individual, family, community and institutional levels, making gender transformation a new reality for peace achievement in macro perspective.

Sadly, current DDR is more an ought-to-be when facing gender as a cross-cutting issue, because self-reintegration is still a common measure resorted by female ex-combatants. They go for themselves fearing stigmatization, either be it as sexual violence survivor or promiscuity, or the judgement of treason and association with violence betraying family and offspring by the community members (Herrera et al 2019). In any case, facing already an internal battle, women are pushed back to a social shadow and to a powerless position, when they could contribute to society with new skills and roles apprehended, besides their outreach capacity and models of social and political leadership in the transition process, where men outnumber women in decision-making and influential positions.

Recalling that social and economic recovery and rehabilitation are the utmost expectation of the DDR programme, perennial changes to ensure sustainable livelihood and social cohesion depends on the development of community-based actions targeting the feeling of the host community about female ex-combatants, in order to counter fear, misinformation and rumours aiming at sown the seed of the opportunity for structural changes, “raise awareness within society of the needs of demobilised women and girls currently shunned by their families and communities” (Schwitalla et al 2007) what denotes a need to a proactive programme. Therefore, influencing people to embrace changes is part of a localized process, counting on tailored context-specific changes handed over by local actors chances of inclusivity are greater too, then in a multi-effort, the civil society and media need a revival to support a strong DDR programming towards the fulfilment of women and children rights, due to their capacity to influence political efforts.

All the cycle of protection aims to galvanize it into the framework for institutional and policy changes for concrete societal engineering, considering that many countries are far behind the concrete implementation of human rights, because “even when they are not involved with armed forces and groups themselves, women are strongly affected by decisions made during demobilization” (IDDRS framework). “This is as especially challenging time for women and girls known  to have been in armed groups because their violations in traditional forms of female respectability, so often tied up with patriarchal constructions of chastity and virtue will put them at odds with traditional forms of feminity are often re-entrenched in the post-conflict” (Mazurana and Cole, 2012).

The salient turning point for conflict prevention is to transform State’s commitment to women’s rights. Participate in public life and perform influence, instilling their economic and political participation because women tend to reinvest more money into family and community needs, warming up the economy. Though, for reaching that out it, we are back again to the initial question, why have women joined armed groups, guerillas and other non-state actors?

Final Remarks

Any DDR programme faces its complexity due to the context-specific situation and is not always neutral with gender stereotypes, which resonates from the pale women participation in peace processes, less than 6% of current negotiations had a woman taking decision (UN Secretary-General Report, 2020). To foster a reflection, in 1915, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) advocated for the inclusion of women’s participation in peace and security talks during World War I calling for its ending; why is there resilience in this ‘old’ matter?

The neuralgic point of this matter is to open wide the reality of the struggles in fulfilling gender equality in peace and security issues with the drastic consequence of mirroring tokenism of women’s visibility likewise in DDR processes.

Female ex-combatants are fundamental agents to remodel structures towards peace and development. Without them, there is a risk of an open-ending cycle of violence, poverty and setbacks in the rights’ compliance and enjoyment. The intrinsic prosociality behaviour women would better contribute transcends them as individuals, reaching their offspring, family, and community.

A shifting paradigm in evidence-generating and evidence-based DRR programmes may grant female ex-combatants the status and visibility needed to grasp based on consistent data the understanding and possibly better solutions to re-signify women’s political and social role, a bit of the power-sharing so long stereotyped. Then the first action ahead is to move from the ought-to-be to a consistent supportive programme to women, once ex-combatants.


HERRERA, A.L.R and DÍAS, O.H. (2019). En búsqueda de visibilización: experiencias y necesidades de las mujeres excombatientes de las FARC-EP en el escenario de construcción de paz. Reflexión Política Año 21 (42), 9-28. Available at , accessed 23 Jun 2021

MAZURANA, D. and COLE, L. (2012). Women and Girls and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, Chapter 9, pp. 194-215. Available at, accessed 14 Jun 2021

SCHWITALLA, G. and DIETRICH, L.M (2007). Demobilisation of female ex-combatants in Colombia. Forced Migration Review, issue 27, pp. 58-59. Available at accessed 20 Jun 2021

STEELBERGEN, M. (2020). Female ex-combatants, peace and reintegration: reflections on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes in Liberia and Nepal. Centre for Women, Peace and Security: Research at LSE. Available at, accessed 19 Jun 2021

TARNAALA, E. (2016). Report: Women in armed groups and fighting forces: lessons learned from gender-sensitive DDR programmes. Norwegian Peacebuilding Resoruce Centre (NOREF). Available at, accessed 25 Jun 2021

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325

United Nations  Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards: Module 5.10 – Women, Gender and DDR. Available at, accessed 19 Jun 2021

Women and peace and security: report of the United Nations Secretary-General, S/2020/946. Available at, accessed 19 Jun 2021


Eloá dos Santos Prado is a Lawyer and Humanitarian Aid Worker in Emergency. Graduate Student of the Master in Conflict, Peace and Security joint programme of the Universitat Oberta de Cataluñya and United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Specialist in International Relations, Geopolitics and Global Governance, Universitat Oberta de Cataluñya and Institut Barcelona d’studis Internacionals,

Tags: ,

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Aug 2021.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: The Role of Female Ex-Combatants in Peace Processes, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

Comments are closed.