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Reimagining Women’s Security in Societies in Transition

Start Date: 2004

Completion Date: 2006

Project Summary: This ESRC funded project will contribute to an understanding of the role and experiences of women in contemporary post-conflict societies by means of an examination of the gendered meanings of security.

Funders: This project is funded under the ESRC New Security Challenges Programme (Ref no RES-223-25-0066)

Project Partners: This project was carried out through a unique research partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, University of Ulster, Democratic Dialogue, and with research associates at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa and the Lebanese American University in Beirut.


Professor Paddy Hillyard Queen's University Belfast
Professor Monica McWilliams NI Human Rights Commission
Professor Gillian Robinson INCORE, University of Ulster
Dr. Margaret Ward Womens Resource and Development Agency
Brandon Hamber INCORE, University of Ulster
David Russell NICIE and Associate, Queen's University Belfast

The project was officially launched in New York 12-13 October 2006 at the United Nations University


Research Briefing Paper June 2004 (pdf)

Key Findings October 2006

Hamber,B, Hillyard, P, Maguire, A, McWilliams, M, Robinson, G, Russell, D and Ward, M, 'Discourses in Transition: Re-imagining Women's Security', International Relations, Vol 20 (4): 487-502, 2006

Hillyard, P, McWilliams, M and Ward, M (2006) Re-imagining Women's Security: A Comparative Study of South Africa, Northern Ireland and Lebanon. Northern Ireland Gender Audit.

Palmary, I (2006) Re-imagining women's security: A Comparative study of South Africa, Northern Ireland and Lebanon. South African Gender Audit.

Working Papers October 2006 (Please contact authors directly for papers)

  • Issues in comparative methodology in researching women’s security
    Prof Gillian Robinson

  • Need peace agreements recognise women?
    Dr David Russell

  • Still too many men in the room': an examination of the political and public representation of women in transitional societies
    Dr Margaret Ward

  • Women's Empowerment, Security and Peace Agreements”
    Dr Mona Khalaf

  • Rethinking Human Rights, Human Security and Violence Against Women
    Prof. Monica McWilliams

  • We must be very careful how we emancipate our women: shifting masculinities in post-conflict societies.
    Dr. Brandon Hamber

  • Law, Constitutions and the Protection of Women's Security
    Amy Maguire

  • Gender, Security and Policing in Transition: Some reflections on post-Agreement developments. 
    Prof. Paddy Hillyard and Amy Maguire


Project Overview: June 2004. Work on this project began in January 2004.


This project will contribute to an understanding of the role and experiences of women in contemporary post-conflict societies by means of an examination of the gendered meanings of security.  The study will be undertaken through a research partnership between the University of Ulster and Democratic Dialogue and with research associates in South Africa and Lebanon.

Data Collection Techniques:

In the three societies, (i.e. Northern Ireland, South Africa and Lebanon) we will:

  • Conduct ten interviews in each country with a selected number of key people in politics and those involved in peace-building organisations and institutions.
  • Carry out at least nine focus groups to explore issues around security and empowerment with the following groups of people –
    • 1: Women in economic reconstruction
    • 2: Women in NGOs
    • 3: Female Party activists
    • 4:  Male Party activists
    • 5: Women in public life
    • 6: Men in public life
    • 7: Male Ex-combatants
    • 8: Female Ex-combatants
    • 9: Victims
  • Produce a gendered audit of post-conflict development focusing on the outworking of peace agreements in terms of mechanisms, structures and relationship building.

In each of the components the research will be highly focused in terms of the people selected, the questions asked and the issues explored. The gendered terrain is too large for one small project. The aim therefore is to emphasise the comparative element of the research and to draw out the similarities and the differences in the three countries on key selected areas and issues. The key issues can be conceptualised in the form of a matrix with the dimensions of the outworking of peace agreements running along the top of the matrix and four selected areas in which they have impacted upon the security of women running down the matrix below.


Dimensions of the Outworking of Peace Agreements





Areas of Impact


Personal security

Civil participation

Political participation


The research will explore for the four selected substantive areas, the extent to which the outworking of peace agreements has produced new structures, such as new institutions  (e.g. gender commission; equality laws), new mechanisms (e.g. proportional representation, quotas), as well as changes in relationships (e.g. new networks, lobbying groups, NGOs, etc.).  It will then assess the impact and outcome of these changes on women’s security and empowerment. For example, has the use of quotas (mechanism) enhanced women’s empowerment in terms of civil and political participation? Has a Domestic Violence Act (structure) increased levels of personal security for women?  Has lobbying increased women’s socio-economic power?

Based on an initial audit of mechanisms, structures and relationships, an interview protocol will be designed. This will be piloted in two focus groups in Northern Ireland.  A finalised protocol to guide the focus groups and interviews, broadly similar in each context, will then be developed.


A report on gendered notions of security, comparative lessons, on-going problems and best practice regarding the integration of women in public life in the three case-studies will be produced and seminars in all three countries will disseminate the findings at local level.  In addition an international conference will be convened  in Northern Ireland to ensure dissemination across the broader international community.

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