Advances on War & Gender
The Micro-Level Effects of Civil Wars on Multiple Dimensions of Women’s Empowerment (WarEffects)

Funded by the European Research Council

Project website


After a significant drop after the end of the Cold War, the number of civil wars and armed conflicts has increased significantly since 2013. In 2020, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (2020) reported 55 ongoing armed conflicts. Civilians are heavily affected by violence, displacement, property destruction, and a deterioration in access to basic services. However, beyond their destructive impact, armed conflicts can also destabilize unequal social, political and gender relations and norms, thus potentially providing formerly marginalized groups (e.g., ethnic minorities, women) opportunities to achieve rights, decision-making power, and influence. Such "positive" by-effects of armed conflicts are uncertain, but under specific conditions (e.g. international support) these empowerment effects may be more likely. The aim of this project is to understand if, when and how armed conflicts contribute to women's empowerment.

Prior research and gaps

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. 

Theoretical approach

To address this challenge, we will develop a theoretical framework that helps to explore the effects of civil wars on i) multiple dimensions of women’s empowerment in the household and family, the community, and local politics. Moreover, we introduce ii) nuanced definitions for different types of exposure to civil war violence, iii) the difference between changes in gender roles and gender attitudes, and iv) the moderating effect of context conditions. Building on the variation of each of these four dimensions allows us to generate a large set of hypotheses to advance a systematic and nuanced understanding of when, why, and how civil wars promote women’s empowerment, and when they do not. 

Empirical design

To empirically explore these hypotheses, we will combine survey experiments, archival data, GIS, and qualitative research in Colombia, DR Congo, and Sri Lanka. While each country case has experienced several decades of civil war, there is significant within-case and between-case variation in social context, conflict dimensions, patterns of violence, and conflict status, rendering them ideal for exploring the local effects of civil war violence on women’s empowerment. Drawing on this comparative design will allow us to assess common patterns, divergences, and conditional effects. Altogether, this wealth of findings will establish a new conceptual and empirical research platform on the impact of civil wars on gender relations.

General information

Study area
Colombia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka

Research team
Carlo Koos (PI)
1 Jenny Skrogstad
2 Postdoctoral researchers (tbh)
1 PhD student (tbh)

Colombia: EAFIT Medellin, Universidad del Rosario in Bogota
DR Congo: Université Officielle de Bukavu, Research Initiatives for Social Development in Bukavu
Sri Lanka: University of Colombo

Time frame

European Research Council, Starting Grant