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Utilizing Social Network Analysis to Study Communities of Women in Conflict Zones

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/ Synopsis This article proposes to study the plight of women in conflict zones through the lens of social network analysis. We endorse the novel idea of building a social network within troubled regions to assist in understanding the structure of women's communities and identifying key individuals and groups that will help rebuild and empower the lives of women. Our main argument is that we can better understand the complexity of a society with quantitative measures using a network analysis approach. Given the foundation of this paper, one can develop a model that will represent the connections between women in these communities. This model can then support work aiming to help women in zones of conflict.
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Journal of Humanistic Mathematics
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Utilizing Social Network Analysis to Study
Communities of Women in Con!ict Zones
James R. Gatewood
United States Military Academy
Candice R. Price
University of San Diego
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Utilizing Social Network Analysis to Study
Communities of Women in Conflict Zones
James R. Gatewood
Department of Mathematical Sciences, United States Military Academy, West Point NY
gatewood.james@gmail.com
Candice R. Price
Department of Mathematics, University of San Diego, CA
cprice@sandiego.edu
Abstract
This article proposes to study the plight of women in conflict zones through
the lens of social network analysis. We endorse the novel idea of building a
social network within troubled regions to assist in understanding the structure of
women’s communities and identifying key individuals and groups that will help
rebuild and empower the lives of women. Our main argument is that we can
better understand the complexity of a society with quantitative measures using a
network analysis approach. Given the foundation of this paper, one can develop a
model that will represent the connections between women in these communities.
This model can then support work aiming to help women in zones of conflict.
1. Introduction
To understand the plight of women in troubled regions it is important to
take into account their cultural, religious, economic and political experiences.
One has to learn the roles of women in times of peace to understand their
circumstances during times of war. A question that may arise is: Are the
women in the region seen as equal members of society or are/were they
subordinate to men [9]? Although women and men both struggle in zones
of conflict for rights and representation, “women often encounter structures
Journal of Humanistic Mathematics Vol 7, No 1, January 2017
4 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
of patriarchal authority in the national movement, the military, the private
sphere and through the discourses and practices of dominant belief systems”
[9]. In order to help empower these women, one has to take into account
their whole experience.
This paper puts forth a discussion of women in conflict zones and presents
a possible framework, a social network model analysis, to assist in rebuild-
ing troubled regions by understanding the connections that lie within these
communities. First, in Section 2, we provide a definition for conflict and
conflict zones, and discuss some causes of conflict. In Section 3, we explore
what women and their communities endure in conflict zones. In Section 4,
we discuss how a social network model can assist in addressing the needs of
women in these regions by providing the mathematical methods needed to
analyze collected data. With a network model in place, some policies can be
constructed to further benefit the lives of women in these zones. We conclude
this paper with a section (Section 5) on how to collect the necessary data to
implement a social model, including a sample survey.
2. Conflict Zones
We define conflict as “competitive or opposing action of incompatibles:
antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons)” [16].
The term conflict zone is more difficult to pin down as it can be viewed dif-
ferently by different factions. We will define a conflict zone as a “land area
that encloses flash points and critical areas of conflict” [14]. We distinguish
between three main types of conflict zones: terroristic, incursion and territo-
rial conflicts [4]. In the case of terroristic conflicts, the government control is
firm but there may be cases of isolated incidents of violence. The incursion
type of conflict is characterized by the situation in which government holds
control but there are still frequent armed incursions and withdrawals orga-
nized by the opposing groups. Territorial conflict relates to the case where
government loses control over the region and is usually engaged in direct
fighting with the opposition [4].
Though a developmental stage perspective may be desirable, it is often
difficult to distinguish between pre-conflict, conflict, and post conflict areas,
because conflict zones are sites of both change and continuity [10]. To fa-
cilitate a more coherent view of conflict zones it is useful to identify where
people, interest and events reinforce each other, where they are contested,
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 5
and even where they diverge [10]. There are various interests in conflict
zones, including simple survival; furthering of political and social agendas;
status and profit. The fact that these are not mutually exclusive shows the
importance of research and policy that examine the interests, motives, and
strategies of those within conflict zones.
2.1. Causes of Conflict
There is no single cause of conflict. Conflicts can be caused by a combi-
nation of the following factors as described in [3]:
Political and institutional factors: weak state institutions, elite power
struggles and political exclusion, breakdown in social contract and cor-
ruption, identity politics;
Socioeconomic factors: inequality, exclusion and marginalization, ab-
sence or weakening of social cohesion, poverty;
Resource and environmental factors: greed, scarcity of national re-
sources often due to population growth leading to environmental inse-
curity, unjust resource exploitation.
The triggers for these factors include: single acts, events or the anticipa-
tion thereof that set off violent conflict or its escalation (e.g. elections, behav-
ior of political actors, sudden collapse of currency, increased food scarcity)
[3]. While a history of conflict does not necessarily guarantee the further re-
ignition of tensions in an area, it does indicate the presence of socioeconomic
and political conditions that predispose a community to conflict [3].
Conflict is governed by a system of rules and norms. When there is an
absence of such systems to manage conflict and channel it into constructive
areas, it can become negative and destructive. Unfortunately, conflict in such
cases often creates temperamental and dangerous situations for vulnerable
populations, specifically women. Women and children are substantially more
affected by these kinds of circumstances and thus have a larger stake in
conflict resolution. And while women continue to be poorly represented in
formal peace processes, they contribute in many informal ways to conflict
resolution.
6 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
3. Plight of Women in Conflict Zones
It is difficult to make universal statements about the impact of conflict
on the lives of women because the extent to which conflict restricts women’s
freedom of movement depends on a number of factors. Differences in culture,
geography, and context play a role in the impact of conflict on women. In the
agricultural sector, women may take over responsibility for working the land,
caring for livestock, trading, or carrying out wage labour outside the home.
One key issue, though, is that women are often denied access to, owning, and
inheriting productive resources in their own names. In urban areas, a kind of
“feminization” of the informal sector takes place during conflict. Women may
regard work in the informal sector as a way of liberation and empowerment
or as a means of exploitation and survival.
For example, if we focus on forced displacement, in some cases displace-
ment can lead to greater mobility for women. In other contexts, women may
be perceived as less threatening and thus may have more mobility to carry
out economic activities which men are no longer able to do. Women may
also assume additional responsibilities such as taking on the role of primary
breadwinner. In some cases, women may be given priority for training and de-
velopment programs in health and education, as well as in income-generating
activities. The skills women gain enable them to assume new roles within
their households, becoming the main breadwinners. Men however may react
to these changes with depression, alcoholism, and an escalation of violence
against women in public and private [21]. The relatively small gains women
obtain during displacement do not necessarily translate to more equitable
gender relationships. These gains are usually not accompanied by any change
to the overall paradigms of gender differences, leaving women with new roles
to fulfill but no institutional leverage to fulfill them effectively [21].
Conflict is a gendered activity: women and men have different access
to resources, power, and decision making before, during and after conflicts
[22]. The experience of women and men in situations of tension, war, and
post-conflict reconstruction is significantly different. Approximately 80% of
today’s civilian casualties are women and 80% of all refugees and internally
displaced people worldwide are women and children [22]. As emphasized in
the Platform for Action of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on
Women, “while entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict
and terrorism, women and girls are particularly affected because of their
status in society and their sex” [22].
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 7
Women are caught in a paradox: while they are the main civilian victims
of conflicts, they are often powerless to prevent conflicts and likely to be ex-
cluded from the negotiations when it comes to their resolution. Women are
often confined to a marginal role in the post-conflict reconstruction and rec-
onciliation efforts. This exclusion of women from decision-making positions
prior to, during, and following violent conflicts, reinforces their victimization
[24].
The importance of including women and gender perspectives in the plan-
ning and implementation of peace operations is increasingly recognized. This
has led to some milestone achievements, such as the deployment of the first
all-female peacekeeping unit in Liberia; mediation efforts to end conflicts in
Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; supporting initia-
tives aimed at strengthening the presence and capacity of female officers in
peace operations, in places such as Afghanistan; strengthening the develop-
ment of gender-sensitive early warning strategies to prevent the outbreak of
conflict in Colombia and the Solomon Islands; advocating for women’s in-
clusion in the design, implementation and conduct of post-conflict elections
in Burundi; providing gender expertise in a variety of peace operations. In
order to rebuild these conflict areas women have to be directly involved in the
process [24]. However, women are still significantly underrepresented in most
areas of UN peace operations, in peace negotiations, and in national gover-
nance, particularly at senior levels. And while many policies have surfaced
to protect women in times of conflict, women’s issues are still often given low
priority and inadequate support. We propose that the mathematics of social
networks can and should be utilized in order to address the roles of women
in these processes. Once the connections and roles of individual women are
better understood, information can be better collected from or disseminated
within the community.
4. Model: Social Network Model
A social network approach to understanding the relationships between
women and their communities can assist in understanding how relationships
are formed and organized. When conflicts arise, instability within a region
causes social structures to break down. Often, women in these regions come
from communities where there is a strong emphasis on the relationships and
bonds between people [20]. In these communities, women depend much more
8 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
on each other than women do in western societies [20]. In order to begin to
rebuild communities in conflict zones, we must first understand relationship
dynamics. Since women play a central role in economic, social, and family
life, understanding how they organize the community might be a first step;
and, a social network model will assist in understanding the structures of
these groups.
A few questions that a social network model/approach might be able to
address include:
How do relationships between women form, organize into groups, and
exert influence under challenging conditions?
Which actors have the most influence in a group?
How do groups relate to one another?
Who are the most connected individuals?
The social network model can also assist in zones of conflict where outside
forces might become involved. In the example of Western World involvement
in African affairs, there can be communication challenges and cultural dif-
ferences; however, an understanding of the local social networks might help
alleviate some of the tension and stress by acknowledging how a particular
society organizes especially under taxing conditions. Thus utilizing a net-
work, task forces can be of greater assistance in conflict zones where they are
not a part of the community.
To reconstruct a community in devastated parts of the world, we propose
to start by rebuilding the lives of women within these conflict zones. This
approach differs from other attempts in trying to rebuild nations after conflict
in that it is concentrated on first rebuilding the lives of individuals and
communities and not the entire country all at once. Rebuilding communities
comes from understanding the diversity and cultural needs of women. This
approach allows one to view how human relationships interact and form and
requires more investment in detailed resources. This approach is sustainable
as it allows the rebuilding of communities to happen organically. A social
network model can support an understanding of how to optimize the use of
resources.
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 9
The modelers must make sure to incorporate women’s groups and their
activities. Furthermore they must be mindful of the cultural sensitivities
of the region and the historical role of women within the particular society.
Once the network is created, the next step is to examine the model to find
patterns and use the mathematical techniques discussed in the next subsec-
tion to seek out which communities have connections to understand the links
for cooperation and rehabilitation.
4.1. Mathematical Methods
Asocial network is a graph comprised of nodes and links. The nodes
are called agents. They are connected by links which describe the relation-
ship between agents. The analysis of social networks can explain how strong
the connections are and which agents are the most influential. The analysis
can also spot patterns and subgroups which may not have been noticeable
before. A network analysis approach is an innovative method in that every
observable entity is a part of the network as opposed to just a sample of the
population. We are also able to utilize the idea that networks can be embed-
ded in other networks. The complexity of a society can then be understood
with quantitative measures using a network analysis approach.
Social networks have already been used from mapping terrorist networks
to mapping the HIV positive field [12]. A social network model will strive
to identify central people in a network. In conflict regions it is rare that
only one individual can influence everyone; however, individuals must form
connections with others to get things accomplished [19]. We propose to use
social network analysis to exploit these bonds and links in order to further
understand the roles of women in conflict zones.
Due to the difficulty of gathering data in conflict zones, there is a dearth
of readily available network data to completely address the concerns in this
paper. Thus we will use a jazz musician social network [6] to demonstrate
what can be done to work on issues in conflict regions when the data from
these zones becomes available; see Figure 1. When we construct a social
network model addressing women in conflict zones, women will be the agents
and their relationships will be represented by the links. Our example will
nonetheless allow us to show how one can calculate centrality measures that
help determine the most influential members in the network. We utilize the
definitions given in [15] for these centrality measures.
10 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
Figure 1: Jazz Musicians Network. The graph representation was created by
the authors using data from [6].
4.1.1. Degree Centrality
Degree centrality was historically the first centrality measure introduced,
and it is conceptually the simplest. The degree of an agent is defined by
Equation (4.1):
Di=
n
X
j=1
aij (4.1)
where
aij =1 if agent niis connected to agent nj
0 if agent niis not connected to agent nj.
Note that the degree can be interpreted as the number of direct connections
an agent has. In this setting, therefore, we measure the centrality of an agent
to its network by the size of its degree.
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 11
An agent with high degree centrality is directly connected to many other
agents in the network; see Figure 2for an example. Given that this person is
highly connected to other people, there is a high probability that they have
readily available all the information flowing through the network. In a region
of conflict, such agents can be used to assess how and what information is
flowing through the network.
Figure 2: Jazz Musicians Network with degree centrality illustrated.
The larger the node, the higher the degree centrality measure. The graph repre-
sentation was created by the authors using data from [6].
4.1.2. Closeness Centrality
This measure expresses the average social distance from each individual
to every other individual in the network. The concept of social distance is
easily understood by considering the example of the “Erd˝os number” of a
mathematician, calculated by finding the shortest path of connections from
any one mathematician to Paul Erd˝os based on “collaborative distance” de-
fined via joint authorship of mathematical papers [5]. Someone who has
12 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
written a paper with Erd˝os is considered to be 1 degree away, while anyone
who has written a paper with someone who wrote a paper with Erd˝os is 2
degrees away, and so forth.1This same concept can be applied to any social
network and is known as closeness centrality.
To calculate closeness centrality we use the following definition:
Ci="n
X
j=1
gij )#1
.
Here gij represents the number of links in the shortest path connecting agents
niand nj. In this way an individual with a direct tie to everyone else ends
up with the largest closeness value. An example demonstrating this notion
is provided in Figure 3below.
One property of closeness centrality is that it tends to give high scores
to individuals who are near the center of network communities in an overall
larger network. High closeness centrality individuals tend to be important
influencers within their local network community. They are often respected
locally and they occupy short paths for information spread within their net-
work community. If we can identify the agents with high closeness centrality
measure in a conflict zone, important information can be released to these
few agents and spread among the population fast.
4.1.3. Betweenness Centrality
Betweenness is another measure that uses the concept of counting the
shortest paths between individuals in a network. It has different properties,
however, from closeness centrality. To calculate betweenness centrality, we
start by finding all the shortest paths between any two agents in the network.
Then, we count the number of these shortest paths that go through each agent
as in Equation 4.2. This number is betweenness centrality.
Bi=Pi<j gjk (ni)
gjk
(4.2)
1Editor’s note: A recent paper in Journal of Humanistic Mathematics studies the
Erd˝os collaboration graph and its evolution as the Human Genome Project has developed;
see “Some Effects of the Human Genome Project on the Erd˝os Collaboration Graph” by
Chris Fields, Volume 4Issue 2 (July 2014), pages 3–24, available at http://scholarship.
claremont.edu/jhm/vol4/iss2/3/, accessed on January 12, 2017.
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 13
Figure 3: Jazz Musicians Network with closeness centrality illustrated.
The larger the node, the higher the closeness centrality measure. The graph rep-
resentation was created by the authors using data from [6].
Here gjk is the number of links in the shortest path connecting agents njand
nk, and gjk (ni) is the number of these paths that contain agent ni.
The results of this calculation can help us find the individuals who are
necessary conduits for information that must traverse separate parts of the
network. These are usually very different individuals from those with high
closeness. High betweenness individuals often do not have the shortest av-
erage path to everyone else, but they have the greatest number of shortest
paths that necessarily have to go through them; see Figure 4for an illustra-
tion in our jazz musicians network example. Another example would be the
highway map of the United States. Cities in the Midwest like Chicago and
Denver have higher betweenness centrality than New York or Los Angeles
because many shortest paths that include cities on the east and west coast
have to pass through those cities. In a social network, high betweenness
individuals are often found at the intersections of more densely connected
14 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
Figure 4: Jazz Musicians Network with betweenness centrality illus-
trated. The larger the node, the higher the betweenness centrality measure. The
graph representation was created by the authors using data from [6].
network communities. These agents are known as brokers. They are well
positioned to perform brokering roles across these clusters in the sense that
they connect otherwise disconnected people who yet may benefit from an
exchange of information.
Brokers are often critical to social networks in conflict zones as they col-
laborate across social clusters and can maintain the spread of information
through an entire network. Because of their locations between network com-
munities, individuals with high betweenness are often overlooked. This oc-
curs because they are not central to any single social cluster, and instead
reside on the periphery of several such clusters. These clusters tend to en-
gender more trust and admiration within rather than outside of the cluster.
Women in conflict zones that have a high betweenness measure can assist in
sharing information among various clusters of a social network.
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 15
4.1.4. Eigenvector Centrality
Probably the most mathematically sophisticated centrality measure, eigen-
vector centrality measures how well connected an agent is to other well con-
nected agents, reminiscent of the catchphrase: It is not what you know but
who you know. High eigenvector centrality represents a highly connected
agent that is connected to other highly connected agents.
To calculate eigenvector centrality, we first construct an adjacency ma-
trix, A, that describes who is connected to whom in the social network. We
use equation aij for our entries in the matrix; see Figure 5below. Using
the eigenvalue equation, Av =λv, we calculate the eigenvalues λthat are
the scalar solutions to this equation. There can be many different λvalues;
we choose the largest eigenvalue. After making this choice, we then find the
associated eigenvector. This eigenvector, v, provides us the eigenvector cen-
trality measure for each agent in the network. The largest component in the
eigenvector corresponds to the agent with the highest eigenvector centrality.
n2
n1n3
n4
n5
A=
01100
10101
11010
00101
01010
Figure 5: Sample graph and adjacency matrix. Example graph with 5
vertices and 5 edges and its adjacency matrix AG.
High eigenvector centrality individuals are usually the leaders of the com-
munity. These are the agents in the network that governments, organizations,
and those who are catalysts for change would seek out to better understand
the needs of the community. They can also be utilized to create global
changes to the social network. When studying women in conflict zones, it
is important to connect with these leaders to find what information and
resources are needed in the community.
An example demonstrating this notion in the context of our jazz musicians
network is provided in Figure 6below.
16 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
Figure 6: Jazz Musicians Network with eigenvector centrality illus-
trated. The larger the node, the higher the eigenvector centrality measure. The
graph representation was created by the authors using data from [6].
5. Data Collection
One way to determine the well being of women in conflict zones is to con-
duct surveys. When conducting a survey, one can try to ask questions that
will lead to information about an individual’s family, community and social
structure. In Appendix Awe provide an example of a survey with specific
questions that could help develop a social network model. Gathering all the
data and incorporating the findings into several social network graphs, one
can begin to see the social structure among women. One can then analyze
the data collected by utilizing the methods discussed in Section 4. Commu-
nicating constantly with women involved in these surveys will build trust and
can also empower them to take control of their situation or at least utilize
the power they have to rebuild their lives.
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 17
Although we believe that this is an appropriate tool to approach women
in conflict zones, there are limitations to this course of action to gathering
data. As with any survey, researchers must ask themselves the following
questions before embarking on the study:
Which communities do we want to study?
How do we define community?
What are the cultural biases we as the researchers bring to the study?
What are the aims of the study?
Who in the community is included and excluded in the study?
Researchers must be cautious and understand the challenges of collecting
data in conflict zones. Because political events associated with conflict can
lead to destabilization and chaos, researchers must be aware of issues such as
apathy, displacement of families, refugee status, and negative repercussions
from opposing forces. Also, researching in such a zone is not a “neutral” ac-
tivity [1,2]. Situations in these zones are fluid and results drawn from survey
data may or may not be valid conclusions of the true impact. Researchers
should also consider that they have some impact during conflict, even if
minimal. Furthermore standard survey processes might or might not be ap-
plicable when drawing conclusions. A researcher in a conflict zone also has
to take into account that there will be numerous unpredictable parameters.
With all these caveats, we enthusiastically endorse the idea that building
a social network model within troubled regions based on these surveys will
help us understand the structure of women’s communities and identify key
individuals and groups that will in turn help rebuild and empower the lives
of women.
18 Social Network Analysis of Women in Conflict Zones
A. Sample Survey
1. Id Number
2. What is your Age?
3. Which gender do you identify with?
a. Female
b. Male
c. Other
4. Where geographically do you reside (your community group)?
5. Who are the members in your community?
(Family members, friends, associates, etc)
6. With whom do you communicate with on a daily basis?
7. Who do you respect and value to make decisions in your life? Or whose opinion do you
consider when making decisions?
8. Which groups do you associate with or are a part of?
(Church groups, community organizations, places, etc)
9. Do you hold any leadership position in any organization?
James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 19
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James R. Gatewood and Candice Rene´e Price 21
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... A tool to study social interactions is social network analysis (SNA) which has previously been used in several domains, including natural resources governance or conflict management (Gatewood & Price, 2017;Ngaruiya & Scheffran, 2016). The use of SNA brings together a quantitative and qualitative approach for the integrated analysis of political, economic or social processes in connection to structural and environmental processes (Bodin & Prell, 2011). ...
... The use of SNA brings together a quantitative and qualitative approach for the integrated analysis of political, economic or social processes in connection to structural and environmental processes (Bodin & Prell, 2011). Conflict has the potential of breaking social structures in a region (Gatewood & Price, 2017). As a result of the conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and governmental forces in northeast Nigeria, communities are displaced and forced into new social structures. ...
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