Woman and man wearing security uniforms working on computer screens

Relevance of gender in the policy area

The complex and evolving security threats the EU is facing, such as organised crime, terrorism, cybervi­olence and hybrid threats, have placed security high on the political agenda of both the previous Com­mission (2014–2019) and the current Commission (2019–2024). In her political guidelines, President Ursula von der Leyen notes that ‘every person in our Union has the right to feel safe in their own streets and their own home. We can leave no stone unturned when it comes to protecting our citizens.’ However, it needs to be acknowledged that the policy area of security is not gender-neutral. Women and men, and girls and boys experience conflict, insecurity and threats differently and the impact of security policies is not equal across different groups.

A gender analysis of the EU’s main internal secu­rity priorities, which include tackling terrorism and violent extremism, organised crime and cybercrime, reveals important gender differences. For example, women are typically understood as passive victims of violent extremism, even though they have long been active in this field. Women have always been important actors in preventing and countering radicalisation and violent extremism. Just like men, women can also be sympathisers or supporters involved with groups engaged in terrorism and violent extremism. In terms of organised crime, the available data suggest that the majority of perpetrators are men. Even though some women also play a role in criminal activities, there remains a lack in academic literature and other studies of examination of women’s involvement. Estimates suggest that more women than men in the EU have experienced cyberviolence, while the perpetrators are typically men. Yet, as is the case with organised crime, little is known about the women who do engage in cyberviolence.

The approach to securing the external borders of the EU and to border control has largely been gender-neutral. In response to the increased mi­grant flows in 2015 and 2016, the EU’s approach to migration has been mainly ‘securitised’, stressing border management and disincentivising irregular migration. Although women make up approximately half of the population on the move and there is strong evidence as to their increased vulnerability during their journey as migrants, official reports pay little attention to this group of people and to the impact of gender on women’s experiences in dealing with the migration and asylum system. On the few occasions that women enter the conversa­tion, they are often framed as victims of trafficking, crime and sexual exploitation.

External security remains one of the dominant features of this policy domain, and it is most often concerned with issues of armed conflict, the neigh­bourhood and terrorism. These are often seen as the root causes of security threats, including forced displacement, border security and politi­cal violence. In discussions about armed conflict, women are often overlooked even though they are disproportionately affected. A number of studies have found that violence against women, including sexual violence as a weapon of war, is prevalent in situations of armed conflict. In times of social and political unrest, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings.

In order to develop a more inclusive security agenda that takes into consideration the needs, interests and priorities of different groups of women and men, and girls and boys, a gender-sensitive approach is needed. Mainstreaming a gender perspective in the field of security requires citizenship, human rights, engagement, inclusion and representation to be taken into account as an integral part of the wider security discourse.

Persistent gender inequalities still hamper women’s contribution to the security field. This brief focuses on the EU’s internal security policy and highlights some of the following main areas of gender inequality:

  1. gender, terrorism and violent extremism,
  2. gender and organised crime,
  3. gender and cybercrime,
  4. under-representation of women in the security sector,
  5. lack of available, reliable data disaggregated by sex and of gender statistics,
  6. securitising women’s rights

Gender inequalities in the policy area

Gender equality and policy objectives at the European and international level

International level


Policy cycle in security


Click on a phase for details

How and when? Education, training and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into agricultural policy. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Key milestones in the development of EU internal security

Current policy priorities at EU level

The EU’s mission is to build a European area of security. The aim is to offer practical solutions to new and complex security threats so that citizens feel secure. Many of the security concerns today have their origins in instability in the EU’s imme­diate neighbourhood.

See EIGE’s statistical brief on key findings on women's and men’s representation in decision-making positions in the security sector of the European Union

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