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Dissertation and Book project

Women’s Security After War: Protection and Punishment in eastern DR Congo

My dissertation examines the consequences of armed conflict for women’s security. Building upon theories of wartime violence, norms and crime deterrence, I argue that armed conflict continues to affect women’s security because it fosters protective masculine norms. Gendered expectations lead men to engage in protective behavior, rooting out crimes that they believe threaten their communities. Yet, men are also given greater leeway to perpetrate more private forms of violence. Protective masculine norms theory thus has positive implications for punishing and deterring sexual violence, but harmful implications for punishing and deterring domestic abuse.  

Following the elaboration of my theory, the book project turns to four empirical chapters that integrate quantitative, qualitative and experimental evidence from fieldwork in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The first empirical chapter describes the gendered nature of protection and how communities prepare for repeated exposure to armed violence. Qualitative data drawn from a random sample of respondents tell a story of growing community reliance on local dispute mechanisms and on community men to provide essential components of security. This chapter establishes the centrality of local sanctioning in conflict contexts and introduces how people perceive rape and domestic violence within their communities.

The second empirical chapter uses original quantitative data from 20 villages and a matched pair design to examine the effects of armed conflict on people's preferences for sanctioning local crimes. I find that armed conflict increases how severely people prefer to punish rape but decreases how severely people prefer to punish domestic violence. These findings support a theory of protective masculine norms, where armed conflict heightens local demand for male protection and alters people’s willingness to punish other community members for their crimes. This framework revises purely structural theories of post conflict insecurity, which point to infrastructure and institutional damage as the source of criminal behavior.

Since sanctioning is a public act subject to group dynamics, the third empirical chapter presents evidence that the effects of armed conflict on preferences are relevant for group sanctioning. Based on an original measurement design implemented across 80 focus groups in these 20 villages, I show that group punishment is more extreme than individual preferences, but the effects of armed conflict remain consistent. A within-subject experimental design also reveals that punishment becomes more extreme as people update their preferences to be more convergent with expressed group norms. This demonstrates how norms associated with armed conflict endure in the post conflict space. 

The fourth empirical chapter brings the discussion back to women’s security by looking at how perceived sanctioning of rape is related to levels of rape and domestic abuse. I show that sanctioning norms are observationally related to fewer incidents of rape across 700 villages in eastern DR Congo, but differently related to domestic abuse. I draw upon external data sources to validate this finding and strengthen the claim that armed conflict continues to affect rape and domestic abuse because of its effects on social sanctioning.

This dissertation sheds light on an undertheorized aspect of masculine norms in war and demonstrates how local norms can change to fundamentally alter women’s security. It also provides a model of how quantitative studies can be grounded in local processes and perceptions through close integration of qualitative research methods.

Advisors: Macartan Humphreys (Columbia University), Jack Snyder (Columbia University) and Dara Kay Cohen (Harvard University).