Conflict and Insecurity

Women’s leadership and empowerment are critical to breaking cycles of conflict and instability that threaten global security and lasting peace.

Sector Overview

Conflict, instability, and insecurity reinforce and exacerbate gender inequality. Though women and girls are disproportionately affected, they remain underrepresented in efforts to mitigate conflict and support post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery. Conflict and instability often lead to increases in other forms of violence and exclusion experienced by individuals of marginalized groups, particularly ethnic and Indigenous women, youth, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ individuals. Moreover, belonging to more than one of these groups can create compounding vulnerabilities that further affect a person’s access to opportunities, services, and benefits during and post-conflict.


State Insecurity

Equality and the security of women and girls is closely linked to state stability. Higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower risk of conflict between and within states. Insecurity exacerbates structural inequalities, further reinforcing economic, political, social, educational, legal, civic, and wealth disparities. Moreover, sexual violence is used as a weapon by state actors, security forces, paramilitaries, criminal entities, and peacekeeping forces primarily against women and girls, but also against men and boys, and LGBTQI+ individuals. States that fail to address gender inequalities and prevent, mitigate, and respond to gender-based violence (GBV) during peacebuilding and recovery risk a return to violence.


Despite evidence of women’s critical contributions to stability, women remain significantly underrepresented in peace and security decision-making and peace processes. Efforts to prevent conflict and promote peace are significantly undermined when women are deterred from participating for fear of reprisals and violence. Supporting and protecting the integration of women with diverse identities, perspectives, and experiences in these processes enables innovative approaches to peacebuilding. Between 1992 and 2019, women constituted, on average, only 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of signatories, and 6 percent of mediators in major peace processes. However, research shows that when women meaningfully participate in peace processes, the resulting agreements are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years because women’s participation broadens the range of conflict drivers and potential solutions under discussion.

Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism

Women and girls are frequently overlooked in efforts to counter violent extremism, despite their roles as survivors, preventers, peacebuilders, policymakers, and security actors, as well as supporters and perpetrators. The systematic rape, enslavement, and trafficking of women and girls is entrenched in the ideology and practices of certain violent extremist organizations (VEOs), while men and boys, particularly members of the LGBTQI+ community, are often subjected to sexual violence and forced recruitment. Efforts to address violent extremism are more effective and sustainable when women and girls are co-leaders in the response and when they have the opportunities and resources to mitigate it.

Women play many different, active roles as perpetrators, victims, and mitigators. Some women are leaders, informants, recruiters, or enforcers in VEOs, joining for a complex range of socioeconomic, political, religious, and psychosocial reasons. They may participate directly and/or encourage their relatives or social connections to join. Others work to counter the ideology and actions of these groups by influencing their families and communities to identify and resist VEO influence, working with local and national authorities and participating in early-warning response systems.

Emerging Priorities

Competition over resources is expected to worsen as the climate crisis results in more insecurity, shifting patterns of human movement, and more pronounced inequitable power dynamics. Compounded impacts of crises, including conflict, often have a disproportionate impact on women’s and girls’ food security as reflected by their reducing diversity of diets or abstaining from food consumption to make more food available to others in the family. At the same time, women and girls also have unique challenges dealing with the impacts of food insecurity and climate change due to gender norms and gendered access to resources. Climate change and conflict are inextricably linked as compounding crises that undermine past development gains while threatening future outcomes. In situations of conflict and crisis, during which affected populations rely on humanitarian assistance and other aid to meet their basic needs and begin the challenging process of recovery and resilience, USAID must design our efforts to address the distinct needs of women and girls.

The meaningful participation of women stakeholders in conflict prevention and resolution efforts enables a more comprehensive understanding of the drivers of conflict and facilitates more effective and inclusive negotiations and agreements. Women can play a critical role in building the foundation for a political solution to the conflict and can provide crucial insights on the gendered effects of the conflict that require specific attention in negotiations and peace agreements. The participation of women in all phases of the solution development and negotiations can enable the creation of comprehensive, effective agreements and lay the groundwork for more inclusive implementation that contributes to lasting peace and security.

Women, Peace, and Security

Recognizing that countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women have full and equal rights and opportunity, the United States enacted the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, and the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS Strategy), supported by USAID’s Women, Peace, and Security Implementation Plan. Investing in women’s empowerment and leadership helps break cycles of conflict and instability that threaten global security and undermine countries’ abilities to thrive.

To work toward this, the WPS Strategy identifies three separate, yet interrelated, strategic objectives: 

  1. Women are more prepared and increasingly able to participate in efforts that promote stable and lasting peace. 

  2. Women and girls are safer, better protected, and have equal access to government and private assistance programs, including from the United States, international partners, and host nations. 

  3. U.S. and partner governments have improved institutionalization and capacity to ensure WPS efforts are sustainable and long-lasting.

Promising Approaches

  1. Encourage the inclusion of women leaders and organizations in preventing conflict and promoting stable, lasting peace around the world, including through support for women-led initiatives to prevent and fight extremism.
  2. Address the distinct challenges women and girls face in conflict- and disaster-affected areas.
  3. Promote the protection of women’s and girls’ access to humanitarian assistance and their safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation.
  4. Promote the integration of women into security and governance mechanisms, including disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes.
  5. Recognize and address the relationship of gender inequalities — such as GBV — with violent extremism and conflict, and support researchers and/or investigative journalists to collect information and empirical data.
  6. Increase traditional media and social media’s narratives and stories on the distinct experiences of women and girls in conflict- and disaster-affected areas.
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