From Paper to Practice: Working Towards Gender-Transformative Programming

20 November 2019   ·   Christina Bermann-Harms, Melanie Coni-Zimmer, Sonja Katharina Schiffers

Germany‘s new interministerial strategies on Promoting the Rule of Law, Security Sector Reform, and Transitional Justice all include gender-responsive language. The Federal Government should now ensure that gender will figure prominently in the implementation process by investing in training and taking steps towards gender-responsive and -transformative programming.

Conflict affects women and men in fundamentally different ways. It often perpetuates and increases gender inequalities and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Hence, sustainable crisis prevention and peacebuilding not only require women’s participation and responding to women’s needs but also a transformation of gender relations that goes beyond focusing solely on women, and includes men in the conversation on gender and power relations. Germany’s new strategies on support to the Rule of Law (RoL), Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Transitional Justice (TJ), launched in September 2019, provide the conceptual framework for more gender-responsive and gender-transformative approaches. If thoroughly implemented, the strategies can contribute to sustainable peace as well as gender and social justice. 

Germany’s commitment to taking the gendered impact of conflicts into account is based on (inter-)national frameworks, such as the 2017 Guidelines “Preventing Crisis, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace”, referring to the UN Agenda on Women, Peace and Security (1325), the German National Action Plan 1325 (2017-2020), the Development Policy Action Plan on Gender Equality (2016-2020), and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Gender in the three strategies

Importantly, all three strategies pursue a human rights-based approach and are largely gender-responsive. The following examples serve to illustrate how gender was integrated. First, the Strategy of the Federal Government for Promoting the Rule of Law stresses the need to improve access to justice for women and marginalized groups and ensure accountability for human rights violations. It also seeks to support equality-oriented legislation and enhance women’s legal protection from violence. The RoL strategy moreover aims to strengthen women human rights defenders, who are often targeted by gender-specific threats and violence.

Going even further, the Strategy to Support Security Sector Reform refers to “human security, inclusivity and gender equality” as a guiding principle. It includes many specific measures that respond to different needs of men and women, for instance the utilization of gender-sensitive tools to identify security needs. Moreover, the strategy seeks to enhance women’s equal inclusion in the security sector and to contribute to tackling SGBV in the security forces, for example through assisting in the development of codes of conduct.

The strategy to support Dealing with the Past and Reconciliation (Transitional Justice) is arguably the most far-reaching concerning gender. The strategy acknowledges that social norms can lead to the exclusion of marginalized groups from participating in social and political life. Importantly, the strategy considers the promotion of gender equality in TJ and reconciliation processes a priority area for Germany’s involvement. In contrast to the other two strategies, the TJ-strategy explicitly refers to the principle of intersectionality, i.e. intersecting forms of discrimination.

Overall, the strategies exhibit a relatively high level of gender-responsiveness, meaning that they aim to “systematically incorporate or address specific gender needs of men and women.” This is an important commitment made by the ministries involved. However, gender-transformative ambitions are only partially evident. These approaches go much further as they work towards “transforming harmful gender roles, norms and relations that serve to reinforce gendered inequalities.” It would be desirable that ministries take these more ambitious approaches during the strategies’ implementation. In general, the strategies are vague on implementation and monitoring, leading some observers to demand the development of action plans to detail the envisioned implementation of the strategies. Implementing the following four recommendations will be crucial to ensure that the strategies can contribute to sustainable peace as well as gender and social justice.

Recommendation 1: Invest in dissemination and training

After an intense phase of consultation with civil society and academia as well as interministerial coordination and drafting, the three new strategies were only recently launched. The next step must be for the ministries to disseminate the strategies and to raise awareness amongst their own divisions as well as implementing organizations and partners in conflict-affected and fragile states. Not only German diplomats must be involved in implementing the strategies; the same holds true for staff of the GIZ, the German police or the armed forces, among others. Gender-responsive and -transformative issues should be highlighted in all dissemination and training efforts related to the 2017 Guidelines and the new strategies. Dissemination and training should not only target the governmental sector but also include working with civil society active in development, civilian crisis prevention and humanitarian aid that are involved in implementing the strategies.

It is clear that priorities and experiences with regard to integrating gender into their work vary across ministries and implementing organizations. Institutionalizing gender-responsive and -transformative approaches is an ambitious project and would require a change of culture in some ministries. However, this might also be an area for intensified exchange of knowledge and good practices between ministries as well as developing and providing joint trainings for staff from all ministries involved. Germany could even follow the example of the UK government, which has pioneered the idea of recruiting gender advisors. These experts “provide leadership, practical advice and input” on gender issues for different government departments and in the field.

Recommendation 2: Establish responsibility and create ownership

Furthermore, it would be important to have gender focal points in the different departments of ministries involved in implementing the strategies. In general, gender focal points would be responsible for raising awareness for gender issues within their respective departments, assist colleagues and senior staff in including gender aspects in their work and build capacity. More specifically, gender focal points would also have an important role in advocating and supporting the gender-transformative implementation of the three new strategies. In order to be effective, it is essential to provide gender focal points with the necessary resources, particularly time, capabilities of exerting influence and high-level support.

Recommendation 3: Move from gender-sensitive analysis to gender-responsive and -transformative programming

Importantly, all three strategies mention the intention of the involved ministries to jointly develop gender-sensitive conflict analyses. Such conflict analyses should also include evidence compiled and written by civil society organizations, including women’s organizations, researchers and governmental institutions in conflict-affected states, to ensure depth, legitimacy and local ownership.

Conducting gender-sensitive conflict analyses is a necessary step to develop gender-responsive programs and projects. Next, it is crucial to include gender issues in all stages of the project cycle – from working on strategy development, to program development and assessing project proposals to monitoring and evaluation. Once again, this is an important area for interministerial exchange as well as learning from international partners. For example, the UK has taken several measures to increase the gender responsiveness of its cross-departmental Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. 

Recommendation 4: Ensure monitoring, transparency, and accountability

Monitoring and regular reporting on the strategies’ implementation by the German government as well as conducting evaluations are one of the steps towards establishing transparency of engagement as well as accountability vis-à-vis the beneficiaries and the German public. The 2017 Guidelines and the three strategies include general commitments to monitoring and evaluation, including references to interministerial efforts and joint evaluations. But neither of these documents provides information on how this will be done. This has led to much criticism, particularly from civil society organizations. It would not only be important to set up monitoring systems for the 2017 Guidelines and the three strategies, but to also include gender-related indicators in any monitoring system or in (joint) evaluations.

Germany should be more ambitious and tackle root causes of gender inequality

By and large, the three new intergovernmental strategies can be considered as gender-responsive. During implementation, Germany should take a more ambitious, gender-transformative approach, which requires working with gender roles and stereotypes, including masculinities, in order to tackle root causes of inequalities and violence which lie in the different distributions of power over material and immaterial resources. Such a progressive agenda advocated by civil society and academia often contrasts with more conservative voices in ministries and beyond. In addition, such an approach might also conflict with norms and attitudes in conflict-affected and fragile states. Given Germany’s ambition to pursue a value-based foreign policy, sustainable conflict transformation and crises prevention, however, the Federal Government should not shy away from tough discussions – domestically and abroad.


This blog post draws on discussions held during the 1st Annual Conference of the Advisory Board on Civilian Crisis Prevention in Berlin on September 25, 2019. During the workshop “Implementing the New Joint Strategies: How to Ensure Gender-Responsiveness“, conference participants discussed ideas and open questions on the gender-responsive and -transformative implementation of the three strategies. Expert inputs were provided by Megan Bastick (DCAF, Geneva), Prof. Dr. Susanne Buckely-Zistel (Philipps-Universität, Marburg) and Jeannette Böhme (Medica Mondiale). 

Frauen Frieden & Sicherheit Gender

Christina Bermann-Harms

Christina Bermann-Harms is Peace Building Officer at the Consortium Civil Peace Service (Konsortium ZFD) and the Working Group Peace and Development (FriEnt), with extensive experiences of working in conflict contexts.

Melanie Coni-Zimmer

Melanie Coni-Zimmer is a Senior Researcher and Project Director in Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF)’s research department on transnational politics. Since 2015, she has been a member of the German Federal Government’s Advisory Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention. @MConiZimmer

Sonja Katharina Schiffers

Sonja Katharina Schiffers is Head of the Program Area Gender and International Politics at Polis180 - Grassroots Think Tank for Foreign and European Affairs and a Member of the Advisory Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding. @sonjakathar