Gendering and (Un)Gendering Police Reform: the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Researcher: Maria Eriksson Baaz
Project established February 2010

It is widely acknowledged that Security Sector Reform (SSR) plays a vital role in reconstruction and peace-building in post-conflict settings. This is especially the case in war-torn societies in which state security institutions are often partisan/non representative of the population, and responsible for (engage in) human rights violations against civilians. Dysfunctional core security institutions do not only threaten the security of civil populations (through human rights abuses, including sexual and gender based violence, SGBV) and long term peace building, they are also a major obstacle to development. The consequences of violence for individuals and entire communities (and the limitations in movement imposed by the fear there of) perpetuate poverty. Additionally continual pillaging, extortion, illegal taxation and other extra-legal income generating activities employed by state security personnel exacerbate these conditions. How then can one break cycles of abuse perpetuated by state security agents against the very people they ‘should’ protect? One recommendation emphasised in much recent policy literature is to increase women’s representation in state security forces. Increased participation of women is presented not only as a step towards enhanced gender equality, but as an effective tool of professionalization. Making state security forces more representative of the population through an increasing “feminization” will arguably reduce (in particular gender based) violence and civilian’s (in particular women’s) fear of state security agents.

Most research on gender and SSR so far has focused on the implications of women’s participation in peace-keeping forces. Much less is known about how gender discourses and identities inform security sector reform and civil-police/military relations in national security institutions in Africa . This research project analyses how gender identities inform police reform and civil-police relations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Inquiry into the relationship between gender and police reform is particularly important at this juncture in Congolese history, which is characterised by efforts to rebuild the police (and the armed forces) after over ten years of (still on-going) conflict. Moreover, the DRC provides an interesting case study (of analysis) since it has both a long history of violent conflict and abuse against civil populations, and women’s participation in the police force.

The research project critically explores the dominant discourses surrounding gender and police reform, by analyzing the experience from SSR in the DRC.  How are masculinity and femininity and their relation to policing and violence articulated and renegotiated among members of the police force and decision makers involved in SSR? How do notions of gender inform the allocation of women’s roles/tasks and positions/rank within the police force? How is gender and its relation to policing and violence articulated among civil populations: what (if any) are the differences in how men and women police officers are perceived by the population in terms of professionalism and providing (in)security for the population? Ultimately, the project aims at contributing to a better understanding of how gender identities inform SSR processes and civil-police relations. How does the DRC case relate to experiences from other contexts? What can we learn from the SSR efforts in the DRC?

Central Africa
Congo DR
Gender relations
Maria Eriksson Baaz
Women's role
human rights
military relations
security institutions
state security forces
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