Security Equality—What Is It?

Security equality for women
Local militia provide security services in Somalia. UN Photo/Tobin Jones

A question I am often asked is “What does gender equality have to do with security?”

There are many scholarly books and articles that go into depth about the different impact that armed conflict has on men, women, boys, and girls because of their different gender roles.

However, what does this mean in the day-to-day lives of real people around the world?

To shed some light on what this means, we can turn to the concept of security equality – coined by scholar Louise Olsson in her work on UN Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor in 2007.

What is Security Equality?

Just as “political equality” for women is about improving women’s political rights and increasing the participation of women in decision-making, "security equality" is about “the distribution of protection between men and women.”

Men and women are both targets of violence in a conflict, but the violence tends to take different forms for men and women. One example is the use of sexual violence, which is disproportionately directed towards women and girls, as acknowledged by UNSCR 1820.

Security forces’ strategy and choice of tactics to improve security in an area of operation, without consideration for the different experiences of men and women in the conflict, will result in varying degrees of protection for men and women, thereby adding to security inequality.

Therefore, the link between gender and security in practice is about how well a peace support operation can execute its mission mandate, particularly with attention to the different experiences, roles, needs and priorities of men, women, boys, and girls in a particular area of operation.

If a main goal of the operation is to protect the local population, then security equality—the different protection needs of men, women, boys and girls—must be addressed on the ground.