Conflict as Catalyst: The Role of Conflict in Creating Political Space for Women

16 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2021

Date Written: January 19, 2021


Despite the panoply of rights set forth in international and domestic legal frameworks and the proven benefits associated with women’s presence in leadership roles, global percentages of women in positions of power remain low. A number of factors account for this phenomenon, including entrenched institutional and cultural practices and structural inequalities that prevent women from fully participating in public life.

Although a rights-based approach is often advocated to remedy gender disparities, an analysis of global data reporting percentages of women as heads of state and government, as well as in judiciaries, demonstrates that women tend to achieve power more readily in countries emerging from conflict than they do in times of peace. This occurs for several reasons. Pre-existing patriarchal norms and institutions – as well as deeply ingrained racial, ethnic and gender inequalities – that contribute to conflict are often destroyed or discredited, requiring restructuring or rebuilding altogether. Post-conflict reconstruction efforts, often supported by assistance from international advisers, can provide opportunities to bring states into compliance with international norms and best practices with respect to gender equality. Conflict can also alter narratives about gender, power and leadership since during and after conflict women are presented with opportunities not necessarily available to them during times of peace.

Nevertheless, although conflict may present a more effective catalyst for women’s political advancement than litigation does, legal and constitutional language alone may not be sufficient to alter cultural norms and deeply embedded structural inequities. Power dynamics, physical and sexual violence, and women’s internalized thinking all need to be addressed in order to ensure long term political presence and economic gain.

Keywords: International law, constitutions, conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, gender equality, CEDAW, structural inequality, political parties, quotas, peacebuilding, international development

Suggested Citation

Warren, Christie S., Conflict as Catalyst: The Role of Conflict in Creating Political Space for Women (January 19, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Christie S. Warren (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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