The Micro-Level Effects of Civil Wars on Multiple Dimensions of Women’s Empowerment

Funded by the European Research Council


After a significant drop after the end of the Cold War, the number of civil wars and armed conflicts has increased significantly since 2013. 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 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 violence, insecurity, and war affect gender relations, power distributions between women and men, and gender norms.

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) or aggregate gender equality indicators. Thus, they do not inform us how subnational and individual-level variation in conflict exposure affects the majority of ‘non-elite’ women. 

To address this challenge, we propose a theoretical framework that explores the effects of conflict, wars, and violence 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 conflict and 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. 

To empirically explore these hypotheses, we 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 and gender relations. Drawing on this comparative design will allow us to assess common patterns, divergences, and conditional effects. 


2024 (with Summer Lindsey). Legacies of Wartime Sexual Violence: Survivors, Psychological Harms, and Mobilization. American Political Science Review. Online First.

2024 (with Richard Traunmüller). The Gendered Costs of Stigma: How Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Affects Civic Engagement among Women and Men. American Journal of Political Science. Online First.

2023 (with Alexander De Juan, Felix Haass, Sascha Riaz, Thomas Tichelbäcker). War and Nationalism: How WW1 Battle Deaths Fueled Civilians’ Support for the Nazi Party. American Political Science Review 118 (1): 144-162.

2022 (with Summer Lindsey). Wartime Sexual Violence, Social Stigmatization and Humanitarian Aid: Survey Evidence from Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Journal of Conflict Resolution 66 (6): 1037-1065.


Funding agency and program:
European Research Council
Starting Grant

Principal investigator:
Prof. Dr. Carlo Koos

Funding period:

Study areas:
Democratic Republic of Congo
Sri Lanka

Funding volume:
1.8 million Euro