In partnership with the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin, ACLED is pleased to announce the launch of our new data on political violence targeting women and the accompanying report, ‘Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal’: Political Violence Targeting Women.

Read the executive summary of the report below, and access the full report here.

A list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on ACLED’s new gendered Associate Actors is available here.

Executive Summary

Women around the world are facing unprecedented levels of targeted political violence. New data on political violence targeting women collated by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) – in partnership with the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin – confirm that the threat of political violence towards women has grown, in particular over the past 18 months, and is currently at its highest level recorded since 2018.

These data offer a new tool to track politically motivated attacks on women over time and across countries; address a number of critical gaps left by the constellation of efforts over the years to monitor and assess political gender-based violence; and will also complement the range of essential past and ongoing initiatives.

‘Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal’: Political Violence Targeting Women introduces the new categorization added to the ACLED dataset and presents the first full analysis of data on political violence targeting women, as well as demonstrations predominantly featuring women. It unpacks key developments in political violence and demonstration activity involving women within the public sphere, ranging from war-time sexual violence and attacks on female politicians, to active repression of women engaged in political processes. It confirms expected patterns previously uncovered: women experience a high level of political violence during war; the report also reveals surprising new trends, including the disproportionate use of intervention and excessive force against demonstrations featuring women.

Access the full report here.

Top Trends

Political violence targeting women is increasing in the short term; there are twice as many such events reported during the first quarter of 2019 than during the first quarter of 2018:

  • Women are frequently targeted where levels of organized violence are high, such as during conventional warfare. This includes groups targeting women in the course of or as a weapon of war, such as the targeting of female civilians by snipers in a contested territory. Both Syria and Somalia are indicative cases.
  • However, even where levels of organized violence do not top the charts, women often still face high levels of targeting. This includes actors targeting females outside of conventional conflict, such as attempts by the state to enforce order through repression, or a mob targeting a woman accused of indecency. Burundi and Pakistan are indicative cases.

Political violence targeting women extends beyond sexual violence, which makes up only one-third of all violence targeting women events:

  • Political violence targeting women takes a variety of forms and varies across region and context.
  • Sexual violence, abductions/forced disappearances, and mob violence are all proportionally more common in violence targeting women than in political violence in which gender does not drive targeting choices.
  • Non-sexual attacks targeting women are the most common form of violence targeting women. These non-sexual attacks — such as attempted assassinations of female politicians, or repression by state forces — account for 47% of violence targeting women, while sexual violence accounts for 34%.

Political violence tactics targeting women vary by region:

  • Non-sexual attacks are the predominant way in which women are targeted in the Middle East, accounting for 82% of all events (e.g. in February 2019, pro-Houthi snipers targeted a civilian woman in Al Hudaydah in Yemen).
  • Sexual violence is the leading type of violence targeting women in Africa, accounting for 42% of all violence targeting women on the continent (e.g. in April 2018, a Fulani militia raped a woman in Anambra, Nigeria over land issues). Sexual violence is also widespread in Southeast Asia, and makes up 36% of all violence targeting women there (e.g. in November 2010, a soldier raped a girl in Shan state, Myanmar).
  • Mob violence makes up a third of all violence targeting women in South Asia, reflecting the prominence of mob violence more largely as a feature of the region’s conflict landscape (e.g. in March 2019, a mob assaulted a married woman in Assam, India over an illicit affair by pouring kerosene oil on her and attempting to set her ablaze).
  • Abductions and forced disappearances are comparatively more common in Africa relative to other regions, where they make up 10% of all political violence targeting women. The Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 is a highly publicized example, spurring the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.

Perpetrators of political violence targeting women also vary across regions:

  • Anonymous armed groups have carried out the largest proportion of violence targeting women from the start of 2018 to the present. Violence against women by unidentified armed groups (UAGs) constitute one-third of such events over that time period.
    • UAGs are the primary perpetrators of this type of violence in Africa, and in Southeastern & Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This points to the importance of capturing violence involving these anonymous agents.
  • Of identified and named groups, political militias[1] are responsible for the most violence targeting women in Africa; state forces carry out the largest proportion in the Middle East; and mobs, including those with links to political parties and religious groups, are the primary perpetrators in South Asia.

Demonstrations featuring women face disproportionate levels of excessive force:

  • Demonstrations featuring women are on the rise; in nearly every region of ACLED coverage, the first quarter of 2019 featured record or near-record high levels of demonstration events featuring women.
    • ‘Demonstrations featuring women’ entail those in which demonstrators are made up entirely or a majority of women (e.g. a gathering of mothers of prisoners), a women’s group (e.g. Women of Zimbabwe Arise [WOZA], the Free Women’s Movement [TJA] in Turkey, or the All India Democratic Women’s Association [AIDWA]), or around women’s rights specifically (e.g. women’s reproductive rights, or policies around women’s clothing).
  • Across all regions, the vast majority of demonstration events (a category that includes non-violent public gatherings and violent demonstrations) featuring women are peaceful protests in which demonstrators do not engage in violence or vandalism and are not met with any intervention, by state forces or otherwise.
  • However, higher proportions of demonstration events featuring women are met with excessive force (e.g. live fire) and intervention (e.g. arrests, tear gas) than demonstrations not featuring women, especially in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and across Africa. This intervention usually comes at the hands of the state.

The new data on political violence targeting women are publicly accessible via ACLED’s website — both through the data export tool as well as a curated data file — and also via ACLED’s API on a weekly basis, allowing users to monitor these trends in near-real-time for analysis, programming, early warning, advocacy, and more.

If you are an organization collecting information on political violence targeting women, or demonstrations featuring women, and are interested in a partnership with ACLED to help extend coverage of these threats to women further, please reach out to us at admin@acleddata.com.

Access the full report here.

[1] ACLED defines these groups as armed, organized political gangs, often acting on behalf of political elites.

© 2019 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.

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‘Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal’: Political Violence Targeting Women
Roudabeh Kishi
Roudabeh Kishi
Roudabeh Kishi is the Research Director of ACLED. She oversees the quality, production, and coverage of all ACLED data across the globe; leads research and analysis across regional teams; aids in new partnerships with local sources and users; and supports the capacity building of NGOs and conflict observatories around the world. Dr. Kishi holds a Ph.D. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland with specializations in international relations and quantitative methodology. She is fluent in English, Farsi, and basic French.
Melissa Pavlik
Melissa Pavlik
Melissa Pavlik is a Research Analyst at ACLED studying overarching trends of armed conflict across and within ACLED’s regions of study. She has degrees in Statistics and Political Science from the University of Chicago, and is currently studying in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. Her research focus include violent non-state actors and the intersection between the international political economy and political violence.
Hilary Matfess
Hilary Matfess
Hilary Matfess is a Research Analyst with ACLED and a PhD student at Yale University. She received a BA in International Studies from Johns Hopkins University and an MA in African Studies from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. She is the author of Women and the War on Boko Haram: Wives, Weapons, Witnesses.
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