Violent conflict, political settlement and intimate partner violence, Lessons from Northern Ireland

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Policy points:

  • An understanding of inter-personal (‘domestic’) violence (IPV) that incorporates coercive and controlling behaviour related to threats of harassment and psychological abuse, alongside physical violence, is vital in both conflict and post-conflict situations.
  • Given the investment in security sector reforms and DDR that to date has predominantly favoured male-led organisations, the role of women post-conflict should also be considered in future resource allocation.
  • DDR processes have significant implications for women experiencing IPV.
  • The decommissioning of illegally held weapons and the regulation of legally held firearms should become more of a focus in negotiations on disarmament and normalisation as these have IPV-prevention dividends.
  • In formulating policy relating to IPV in conflict and post-conflict societies, statutory agencies should take into consideration the impact of, and connections between, violent conflict and IPV.
  • Service providers place a greater priority on training and data collection in relation to IPV when there is a shift in focus from the ethno-national conflict to other forms of violence such as IPV.
  • Responses to IPV are transformed when increased choices/options open up allowing victims to turn to more legitimate sources of help following a conflict.
  • In post-conflict societies increased reporting and improved access to criminal justice agencies is just as likely an explanation for the increase in IPV as the return home of armed combatants.
  • Institutional reforms to policing that form part of a peace process political settlement and help to establish a more representative, transparent, accountable police service can have a positive impact for victims of IPV.
  • The re-orientation of a conflict-focused and militarized ‘police force’ to a more community based police service is a key factor in increasing victim confidence in policing following a political settlement.

Abstract:

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global phenomenon, but it is shaped by the socio-political and cultural factors that exist within a given society. A key factor shaping IPV is the presence of violent conflict, although empirical research on the precise ways in which IPV and conflict connect has been scarce. Drawing on a Northern Ireland case study, this briefing paper seeks to address this gap by investigating how the transition from violent conflict to peaceful political settlement has shaped experiences of and responses to IPV. More specifically, the research investigates changes across three key areas, namely policing, paramilitarism and firearms. It does so on the basis of findings from more than 100 in-depth semi-structured interviews with women victims of IPV from across Northern Ireland conducted at two junctures; first in 1992 during a period of protracted violent conflict, and more recently in 2016 at a time of enduring peace. The findings trace the changes that have occurred across each of these areas and highlight the problems that remain in the post-conflict environment. The policy implications of these findings for political settlements are outlined below.  The research contributes to better understanding of how IPV shapes women’s participation in peace processes, and how peace processes can re-shape violence beyond the conflict in ways that enable the fuller participation of women.

Keywords: Northern Ireland; Conflict; Gender

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