Theoretical Approach


Prior research

WarEffects builds on three lines of literature broadly situated in i) quantiative cross-country research on women, peace and security, ii) rigorous micro-level research on the legacy of violence in civil wars, and iii) a large qualitative literature on gender and war.


First, recent quantitative research suggests that civil wars promote women’s political representation, but these accounts reflect country-level aggregate measures and often focus implicitly on a minority of political ‘elite’ women (e.g., female members of parliament). Thus, they do not inform us how subnational and individual-level variation in civil war exposure affect the majority of ‘non-elite’ women at the local level.


Second, another growing literature on the legacy of violence suggests that individual's exposure to violence often increases prosocial behavior and political engagement. Studies in this literature often use subnational data and individual-level surveys to explore the impact on social and political behavior. Moreoever, this accumulating evidence relies on rigorous empirical methods to understand the causal effect of violence. However, this literature has focused on social, political and economic outcomes, but has neglected the impact of violence on women's empowerment and gender relations.


Third, a large qualitative literature on women and gender during and after war provides various accounts ranging from women's further increasing discrimination due to increased war-related norms of masculinity to women's mobilization as a response to the threat of victimization. While this literature is perhaps the largest in terms of publications, the empirical evidence (e.g., lack of representative samples, sample selection bias) does not allow to draw any broader conclusions about if, when and how civil wars and armed conflict affect women's empowerment and gender relations.


Gaps and research questions

Taken together, these three research strands provide important departure points but do not allow us to learn about i) general patterns of the civil war-women's empowerment nexus among conflict-affected populations, differential effects in the family, the community and politics as well as the mechanisms underpinning improving or worsening women's empowerment.


These research gaps inform the central questions of WarEffects:

  1. Do civil wars affect women's empowerment and gender relation in the (private) household, the (public) community, and local politics?

  2. If so, what are the mechanisms through which (dis)empowerment operates?

  3. Under what conditions is empowerment more or less likely?


Theoretical Framework

Existing research makes ambiguous predictions on how civil wars affect women’s social and political empowerment. This is likely due to differences in methodology including different measures of civil war exposure, different analytical levels, different outcome measures, but also due to differences in country contexts. With WarEffects, we propose a multi-dimensional theoretical framework that integrates four key dimensions, specifies variations along these dimensions and thereby allows us to systematically develop and assess nuanced hypotheses on when, why and how civil wars promotes or undermines women’s empowerment. A central aspect of our theoretical approach is that it allows us to conceptualize and empirical assess variations in civil war exposure, women's empowerment, outcomes of interest, and the influence of local context conditions.



Figure 1 shows a tentative integrated theoretical framework which introduces these four dimensions.

(A) Types of exposure to civil war

(B) Levels at which women’s empowerment can materialize

(C) Outcomes that differentiate between changes in gender roles, influence and attitudes

(D) Moderating effect of local context conditions