Gender-responsive early warning system coupled with early response

A gender-responsive early warning system – which is also coupled with an early response system – can both serve the purpose of flagging imminent and emerging incidents and risks such as violence, and strengthen collaboration between relevant of actors involved in relation to risks of violence and conflict. We know today that early warning systems that are people-centered ensuring that appropriate, applicable, and timely early warnings also reach the most vulnerable, including women, -are the most effective ones. They facilitate risk-assessment, information sharing and can support gender-disaggregated data collection relating to risks and incidents to enable prompt and appropriate response. 

Early warning methods developed around elections usually analyze both qualitative and quantitative data. Decisions on which methodology to adopt for an early response system are typically designed depending on early warning tools available and the capacity of implementing organization to exploit them effectively. 



Allocating resources and building capacity of both analysts and response actors can be helpful and effective methods, as well as increasing the pool of response actors to ensure that interventions are suitable and effective. With a lack of gender-disaggregated data, gender-sensitive indicators can help provide nuanced and contextual information to strengthen early warning systems’ predicative capacity and ensure that they can better respond to challenges faced by women from all walks of life and in all their diversity.  

What is an early warning system?

Early warning has been defined as ‘the set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely 

and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities and organizations threatened by a hazard to prepare and to act appropriately and in sufficient time to reduce the possibility of harm or loss’ by United Nation’s Disaster Risk Reduction. It usually consists of four main elements: risk assessment, monitoring and warning; dissemination and communication; and response capability.  

A gender-responsive early warning system  

A gender-response early warning system ensures risk preparedness, response and contingency planning, while proactively considering gender by making some adaptations to respond to the specific needs, concerns, and capabilities of marginalized gender groups. In that way, it proactively (re)designs approaches, policies, and practices to reduce gender-based inequalities and to meet the needs of all people. 


The first step is to conduct a gender-sensitive risk assessment. 

Gender inequality and social marginalization increases vulnerability to incidents and risks of violence. The less economic, political, and cultural power women and gender minorities have before an event, the greater their suffering during and in the aftermath. Gender norms (e.g. men being viewed as decision-makers), gender roles, and gender-based violence can increase the vulnerability of women and gender minorities. Efforts to consider gender need to be intersectional – lack of political rights, low social capital, ethnicity, age, health, disability, gender, gender identity, and sexuality influence vulnerability and capacity to respond to early warning. 

Research has shown that women in marginalized gender groups tend to participate less in early warning systems and initiatives because of lack of autonomy, mobility challenges, social isolation and persecution, and gendered assumptions (e.g. that men represent a household). Marginalized gender groups do, however, demonstrate high levels of interest in participation in such initiatives but feel their voices do not matter or are not welcome. Proactive efforts are therefore needed to include the needs, priorities, and capabilities of marginalized gender groups, and magnify their voices at every stage. A thorough context analysis takes this into account.

Introducing gender-sensitive indicators 

Efforts to integrate gender-sensitive indicators into global or national early warning systems have often been ad hoc and inconsistent, despite vast empirical research demonstrating the clear linkage between gender inequality and risks of conflict and instability, including violence. In fact, research from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) research shows that two factors primarily limits effective integration of gender-sensitive indicators in early warning systems:

  1. Unavailability of subnational gender data and challenges in collecting it 
  2. Overreliance in existing early warning systems on long-term structural gender indicators, including rates of women in parliament or rights of women enshrined in constitution, which fall short in identifying any rapid changes in risk, such as outbreak of violence.

Indicators to consider when developing an early warning framework, based on IFES’s framework on gender-sensitive indicators and adapted to a gender-sensitive early warning systems relevant to practitioner in electoral assistance:

Number of reported incidents of gender-based violence, including sexual violence

Violence prevention

As levels of gender-based violence are known to rise in times of conflict and crises a rising in such levels of violence can indicate or signal rising insecurity in society. 

Number of threats against/incidents of intimidations of/attacks on women in public roles.

Violence prevention

Women in public roles, such as political, journalists, women human rights defenders (WHRD) can be seen as challenging gender norms. It is important to monitor online threats, intimidation and harassments against women in public roles, which not signals rising levels of misogyny in society and can point to heightened risk of gender-based violence. 

Number of misogynistic or sexist references in the media, including on social media, or at campaign rallies/events.

Social norms

Increased use of hate speech by political leaders, community leaders and non-state actors used to reinforce traditional gender norms can undermine efforts to promote inclusion and gender equality and silence women and other marginalized groups. 

Number of electoral violence events


Electoral violence against female voters, candidates and electoral officers isa results of deeply ingrained patriarchal stereotypes. 

Restrictions on CSO’s and women’s organizations


Restrictions or silencing of CSO’s, including women’s organizations, can be fuel conflict and/or unrest.

Number of female-headed households


Rapid changes in female-headed households can indicate potential for an outbreak in violence or conflict, particularly as it can indicate absence of men in community due to arrests, kidnapping or killings. 



Data collectors can be deployed directly from national institutions well placed and mandated to monitor early warning signs, including but not limited to Human Rights Commissions and civil society organizations including women led and youth led groups.  . It is critical that data gatherers are gender-sensitized with background in collecting gender-disaggregated data and conducting gender analysis to properly assess complexities when collecting and analyzing gender-sensitive indicators. 

For working on introducing gender-sensitive indicators, programmes and projects can work with, and support expert data collectors, including from civil society, think tanks and similar actors. 








Costs may be related to facilitation, including travel, lodging and logistics for facilitators, practitioners and experts. It is difficult to measure exact costs as it will highly depend on and vary from context to context, but these are general cost figures to consider as a minimum. 




UNDP and UN Women also supported prevention and response to Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWE) through the Gender Elections Engagement Room (GEER) which was hosted by the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) in collaboration with Malawi Police Service to strengthen response. GEER played a big role in creating a safe political space, notably a suspect who had beaten and undressed a female party supporter in early 2019 was arrested and prosecuted.





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