Empowerment, Reintegration, and Female Ex-Combatants: A Critical Feminist Peacebuilding Analysis of UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Programs in Liberia and Nepal

  • Michanne Steenbergen

Student thesis: Phd


The participation of female combatants in conflict has increasingly been recognized in feminist literatures and in policies and programs concerned with reintegrating ex-combatants and building peace. This has illustrated that female ex-combatants often experience empowerment through their role as combatant; however, this empowerment is lost upon reintegration. To make sense of this apparent disappearance of empowerment, I look at United Nations-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (UN-led DDR) programs, particularly the reintegration aspect. This is because DDR programs are often significant interventions in terms of scope and funding, and designed as 'social engineering' to turn combatants into peaceable civilians. This thesis addresses the following research question: "In what ways have UN-led DDR programs, particularly the reintegration aspect, supported or undermined female ex-combatants" empowerment in Liberia and Nepal? To address this research question, this thesis draws on what I consider critical feminist peacebuilding scholarship. Specifically, I draw on three analytical strategies commonly used in critical feminist peacebuilding scholarship to make sense of female ex-combatants' empowerment in relation to reintegration and UN-led DDR. These strategies include female ex-combatants' experiences and narratives of empowerment, gendered narratives and multiple local-international interactions producing hybridities in UN-led DDR. Drawing on 77 semi-structured interviews with female ex-combatants and DDR officials, conducted over five months of fieldwork in Liberia and Nepal, this thesis argues that female combatants experienced empowerment during conflict. With reintegration, much of this empowerment is subsequently lost. This thesis concludes that UN-led DDR largely undermines female ex-combatants' empowerment through multiple gendered narratives and hybridities in UN-led DDR. This thesis has various implications. Firstly, this thesis builds on and contributes to feminist literatures on DDR, female ex-combatants, and empowerment through the case studies of Liberia and Nepal, by highlighting gendered narratives and hybridities in UN-led DDR have undermined female ex-combatants' empowerment. In doing so, this thesis applies insights from critical feminist peacebuilding scholarship on experiences, narratives, and hybridities and extends these to DDR. Secondly, for UN-led DDR policy and programming, and liberal peacebuilding more broadly, this thesis underscores the need to rethink how female ex-combatants are supported in liberal peacebuilding, including UN-led DDR, to contribute to an emancipatory peace.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCristina Masters (Supervisor) & Laura Mcleod (Supervisor)


  • Liberia
  • female ex-combatants
  • reintegration
  • Nepal
  • DDR
  • conflict
  • empowerment
  • peacebuilding
  • peace
  • gender

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