Sabrina Karim, Ph.D.

Cornell University

City: Ithaca, New York

Country: United States

About Me:

Sabrina Karim is an Assistant Professor in the department of Government. Her research focuses on conflict and peace processes, particularly state building in the aftermath of civil war.  Specifically, she studies international involvement in security assistance to post-conflict states, gender reforms in peacekeeping and domestic security sectors, and the relationship between gender and violence.  Much of her research has been in sub-Saharan Africa, where she has conducted field experiments, lab experiments, and surveys.  She is the co-author of Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping: Women, Peace, and Security in Post-Conflict Countries (Oxford University Press, 2017).  The book was the winner of the Conflict Research Studies Best Book Prize for 2017.  Her work has appeared in International Organization, the British Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Peace Research, International Interactions, World Development, and Conflict Management and Peace Science.  Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Folke Bernadotte Academy, the International Growth Centre, and the British Research Council.  Born and raised in Colorado, Sabrina received her PhD from Emory University in 2016.  Prior to her doctorate degree, she received a Fulbright Fellowship and received her master’s degree as a Clarendon Scholar from Oxford University. She has an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Research Interests

Conflict Processes & War


Gender and Politics

Political Violence

Human Rights

Experimental Research

African Politics

Countries of Interest





Journal Articles:

(2018) “International Gender Balancing Reforms in Post-Conflict Countries: Lab-in-the-Field Evidence from the Liberian National Police, International Studies Quarterly

Tags: Experimental Research, African Politics, Gender and Politics

In the aftermath of civil conflict, war-torn states often require government institutions to be reformed. Gender balancing, or the inclusion of more women in security-sector institutions, is an increasingly common reform incorporated into state building processes. Our theoretical priors suggest that gender balancing may have implications in terms of unit cohesion, operational effectiveness with respect to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), and organizational gender norms. We study these propositions using laboratory experiments with police officers of the Liberian National Police (LNP). We randomly assigned the proportions of women and men in 102 groups of six LNP officers to observe their deliberative processes and group choices. In our experiment, adding more women increased unit cohesion, but we found no evidence to suggest that simply adding more women would increase group (or individual) sensitivity to SGBV. We also found that although there was an increase in participation and influence by women, male beliefs about women’s role in policing did not improve with the inclusion of women. As one of the first experimental studies to assess the effects of gender composition within the actual population of interest, our results shed light on how international interventions to address gender equality in post-conflict countries affect important outcomes related to security.

(2017) Restoring Confidence in Post-Conflict Security Sectors: Survey Evidence from Liberia on Female Ratio Balancing Reforms, British Journal of Political Science

Tags: Crime Politics, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

Civilian confidence in domestic institutions, particularly in the security sector, is important for stability and state consolidation in post-conflict countries, where third-party peacekeepers have helped maintain peace and security after a conflict. While other scholars have suggested that a strong security sector is necessary for mitigating the credible commitment problem, this article provides two alternative criteria for assessing security sector reforms’ effect on confidence in the security sector: restraint and inclusiveness. Female ratio balancing in the security sector meets these two criteria, suggesting that it has the potential to help enhance confidence in the security sector and thereby create the right conditions for the peacekeeping transition. The argument is tested using original surveys conducted in post-conflict, ex-combatant communities in Liberia. The expectations received empirical support. The findings indicate that restraining and inclusive reforms could improve trust in the state’s security sector. They also demonstrate the importance of considering gender in theories related to post-conflict peace building and international relations more broadly.

(2017) The Internationalization of Security Sector Gender Reform in Post-Conflict Countries, Conflict Management and Peace Science

Tags: Peacekeeping, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

With the passing of several UN Security Council Resolutions related to Women, Peace and Security, gender balancing security sector reforms (SSR)—or policies that ensure the equal participation of women in the security sector—have received increased global attention over the past two decades. However, to date, there is no explanation for variation in their adoption. This paper examines the internationalization of SSR gender reform, arguing that the presence of a peacekeeping mission within a post-conflict country affects the state’s resources and political will to adopt gender balancing reforms. We explore the effect of multidimensional peacekeeping using an original dataset on SSR in post-conflict countries, the Security Sector Reform Dataset, from 1989 to 2012. We find that peacekeeping missions increase the probability that a state will adopt gender balancing reforms in SSR. As the first cross-national quantitative examination of gender balancing reforms, these findings also shed light on the conditions under which states adopt security sector reforms more generally.

(2017) Maternal Health Care in the Time of Ebola: A Mixed-Method Exploration of the Impact of the Epidemic on Delivery Services in Monrovia, World Development

Tags: Health Politics and Policy, African Politics, Foreign Aid

Public health emergencies like major epidemics in countries with already poor health infrastructure have the potential to set back efforts to reduce maternal deaths globally. The 2014 Ebola crisis in Liberia is claimed to have caused major disruptions to a health system not fully recovered after the country’s civil war, and is an important and relevant case for studying the resilience of health systems during crises. We use data on the utilization of maternal health care services from two representative surveys, one conducted before the outbreak of Ebola, the 2013 Liberian DHS, and another, smaller survey conducted in Monrovia in December 2014, during the height of the epidemic. We focus exclusively on data for women aged 18–49 residing in urban Monrovia, restricting our samples to 1,073 and 763 respondents from the two surveys respectively. We employ a mixed methods approach, combining a multinomial logit model with in-depth semi-structured interviews. Our regression analyses indicate that deliveries in public facilities declined whereas they increased for private facilities. Furthermore, overall facility delivery rates remained stable through the Ebola epidemic: the proportion of home births did not increase. Drawing on insights from extensive qualitative interviews with medical personnel and focus groups with community members conducted in Monrovia in August–September 2015 we attribute these survey findings to a supply side “substitution effect” whereby private clinics provided an important cushion to the shock leading to lower supply of government services. Furthermore, our interviews suggest that government health care workers continued to work in private facilities in their local communities when public facilities were closed. Our findings indicate that resources to shore up healthcare institutions should be directed toward interventions that support private facilities and health personnel working privately in communities during times of crisis so that these facilities are safe alternatives for women during crisis.

(2017) Peacekeeping, Compliance with International Norms, and Transactional Sex in Monrovia, Liberia, International Organization

Tags: Peacekeeping, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

United Nations policy forbids its peacekeepers and other personnel from engaging in transactional sex (the exchange of money, favors, or gifts for sex), but we find the behavior to be very common in our survey of Liberian women. Using satellite imagery and GPS locators, we randomly selected 1,381 households and randomly sampled 475 women between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Using an iPod in private to preserve the anonymity of their responses, these women answered sensitive questions about their sexual histories. More than half of them had engaged in transactional sex, a large majority of them (more than 75 percent) with UN personnel. We estimate that each additional battalion of UN peacekeepers caused a significant increase in a woman's probability of engaging in her first transactional sex. Our findings raise the concern that the private actions of UN personnel in the field may set back the UN's broader gender-equality and economic development goals, and raise broader questions about compliance with international norms.

(2016) Reevaluating Peacekeeping Effectiveness: Does Gender Neutrality Inhibit Progress?, International Interactions

Tags: Peacekeeping, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

Since the adoption of UNSCR 1325, more female peacekeepers are participating in peacekeeping missions than ever before. Nevertheless, the current literature on peacekeeping effectiveness is largely gender neutral, discounting the unique role female peacekeepers may play in peacekeeping operations. This article addresses this missing piece in the literature by assessing how female peacekeepers and locals view the role of women in peacekeeping operations. Using interviews and focus groups conducted with peacekeepers in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and original surveys conducted in Liberian communities, it finds that there is an “access gap” that prevents female peacekeepers from fully contributing to the mission’s operations and therefore prevents the peacekeeping mission from reaching its full potential. The findings have broader implications for how to improve peacekeeping missions’ effectiveness moving forward.

(2016) Explaining sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions The role of female peacekeepers and gender equality in contributing countries, Journal of Peace Research

Tags: Peacekeeping, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is an endemic problem in UN peacekeeping missions. It is not only a gross human rights violation, but also threatens to challenge the legitimacy of the peacekeeping mission and undermines the promotion of gender equality in host countries. We examine if the composition of peacekeeping forces along two dimensions – the proportion of women and the records of gender (in)equality in the contributing countries – helps explain variation in SEA allegations. Analysis of mission-level information from 2009 to 2013 indicates that including higher proportions of both female peacekeepers and personnel from countries with better records of gender equality is associated with lower levels of SEA allegations reported against military contingents. We conclude that substantial reductions in SEA perpetrated by peacekeepers requires cultivation of a value for gender equality among all peacekeepers – improving the representation of women may help but still stops short of addressing the root of the problem.

(2016) Building a more competent security sector: The case of UNMIL and the Liberian National Police, International Peacekeeping

Tags: Peacekeeping, Conflict Processes & War, Crime Politics

Increasingly UN peacekeeping missions are helping to implement security sector reforms (SSR), including gender reforms, targeted at the local police of host countries. This study uses the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Liberian National Police (LNP) as a way to explore whether SSR may have helped improve individual officers' professional and gender competencies. Conducting a novel lab-in-the-field experiment, we test the individual competencies of 612 LNP officers, also analysing possible determinants of these competencies. We find that most officers have knowledge about statutory crimes and evidence gathering, most officers participate in group activities, almost half are aware of gendered crimes and that male and female officers are equally competent. However, our results suggest that the reforms are at the nascent stages of working, and that more focus should be put into basic training and gender mainstreaming in the Liberian National Police, especially as new recruits are added.

(2013) Female Peacekeepers and Gender Balancing: Token Gestures or Informed Policymaking?, International Interactions

Tags: Peacekeeping, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

Since the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 (2000), which is referenced in most of the mandates for peacekeeping authorizations and renewals as of its adoption, UN peacekeeping forces have begun a process of gender balancing. While we have seen an increase in the numbers of female peacekeepers during the decade 2000–2010 and variation in the distribution patterns of female military personnel, we do not know if female military peacekeepers are deploying to areas that are safest or to areas with the greatest need for gender-balanced international involvement. Because the decision-making authority in the allocation of peacekeeping forces rests with the troop-contributing countries, which might not have bought into the gender balancing and mainstreaming initiatives mandated by the UN Security Council, we propose and find evidence that female military personnel tend to deploy to areas where there is least risk. They tend not to deploy where they may be most needed—where sexual violence and gender equity has been a major problem—and we find only a modest effect of having specific language in the mandates related to gender issues.

Books Written:

(2017) Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping: Women, Peace, and Security in Post-Conflict States, Oxford University Press

Tags: Peacekeeping, Gender and Politics, Conflict Processes & War

The first empirical exploration of peacekeeping with an emphasis on the implications for gender (in)equality. Uses a positivist empirical approach to explore dynamics informed by feminist international relations scholarship. Provides a comprehensive overview of gender reforms in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Uses new cross-national data on female peacekeepers globally and sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions. Includes first hand accounts from female peacekeepers

Media Appearances:

Blog Posts:

(2017) Council on Foreign Relations

Preventing Peacekeeper Abuse Through Equal Opportunity Peacekeeping

(2016) US Institute for Peace

Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in War and Peace: Recommendations for the Next U.S. Administration

(2016) Political Violence at a Glance

Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Peacekeeping Missions

(2016) Huffington Post

Terrorism, Democracy, and Social Media: Thoughts on the Recent Terrorist Attacks in Bangladesh

(2015) Washington Post

U.N. Peacekeeping and Transactional Sex

(2015) Huffington Post

Does the Ebola Epidemic Threaten Liberia’s Peace?

(2014) Huffington Post

Who Fired Live Rounds in West Point? The Answer Matters for Liberians

(2014) Huffington Post

Recent Ebola Media Attention May Help Curb Epidemic in Liberia


(2016) International Growth Center

Building trust in a reformed security sector: A field experiment in Liberia