Certain issues are central to the success of demobilization and reintegration programs. Such is the case of gender. Female ex-combatants, for example, require special support. Many have been subject to gender-specific abuse. Others may have experienced certain social freedoms during conflicts, only to be subject to pressure to return to more traditional female roles afterwards. Young male ex-combatants may be stigmatized and excluded if they are unable to find work or access land, thereby making them vulnerable to future mobilization.
To address all of these gender issues, the MDRP launched LEAP: Learning for Equality, Access and Peace in 2007. LEAP is a flexible program aimed at strengthening the impact of MDRP programs on gender issues.
LEAP activities include:
- Technical assistance to ongoing programs
- Pilot projects to explore innovative ways to strengthen gender approaches in D&R (for example: support to female ex-combatants in DRC)
- Generation of empirical data and subsequent development of strategic guidance and operational best practices (for example, studies on youth and conflict in Burundi and Rwanda)
In its first year of implementation, LEAP has trained many partners involved in D&R programs on mainstreaming gender. It has created gender focal points in Angola, Burundi and the Republic of Congo. It has also provided technical assistance in almost all of the national programs for the vulnerable groups of ex-combatants, most particularly children and women. This assistance covers the development of vocational training, the promotion of income generating activities, physical rehabilitation, and social reintegration support.
With the help of LEAP, some countries, such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Republic of Congo, are in the process of establishing gender action plans within their DDR programs.
LEAP has helped cast a light on the difficult situation of female ex-combatants and women associated with armed groups. Indeed, it has helped guarantee equal access to the benefits of demobilization and reintegration for men and women ex-combatants, while acknowledging special needs for women such as separate encampments, increased security, gender-sensitive psychosocial support, etc.