Risks versus transformational opportunities in gender-responsive security sector reform

Eleanor Gordon, Ciara McHugh, Jane Townsley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This article investigates the gap between policy and practice in gender-responsive security sector reform (SSR) by exploring the ways in which risks perceived to be associated with gender-responsive SSR in conflict-Affected environments legitimize inaction. A typology of risks is presented, which range from risks to individuals, security sector institutions, and peacebuilding efforts and encompass security, programmatic, fiduciary, and reputational risks. The risks are analyzed to consider the extent to which they are present and could be managed, mitigated, or avoided, rather than stall action. This article argues that the process of determining what constitutes a risk, and what constitutes a risk worth taking, is inherently political and serves to reinforce dominant power relations, including gendered power relations. The article then discusses the risks that result from inaction and the opportunities that are missed when arguments about risk trump gender responsiveness. As a result, it is argued that gender inequalities persist, women continue to be marginalized within and beyond the security sector, and transformational opportunities that could lead to sustainable peace are missed. The article concludes by arguing that the potential risks resulting from not advancing gender-responsive SSR far outweigh the perceived risks associated with it.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberogaa028
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Global Security Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • gender
  • peacebuilding
  • risks, transformational opportunities
  • security sector reform

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