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The Impact of Firearms on Women

May 4, 2016
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Non-violent monument. Photo credit: ϟ†Σ/Flickr.

The differentiated impact of firearms on women is rarely taken into account when addressing the firearms issue. Yet, firearms possession and use are clearly gendered: guns are mostly owned by men[1], and women killed by guns are likely to be killed in a gender-based violence homicide.

Firearms, femicides and gender-based violence

Firearms constitute an important threat to women’s human rights. Indeed, firearm femicides can be strongly correlated with the level of firearms availability. For example, on the frequency of intimate partner homicide-suicide, the rates in countries with wide availability of firearms, such as Switzerland or USA, are higher than in the Netherlands where the possession of firearms is very restricted. A fact even more striking: firearms are used in a third of all femicides worldwide[2].

Furthermore, firearms may also be involved in femicides as a way of intimidating or coercing the victim. Such cases are, unfortunately, severely under reported. In a study carried out in a region of Pakistan characterised by a high level of possession of firearms, it was found that women felt they were in danger not only because of gun violence, but also because of physical abuse. It was found that guns are used to threaten women within the family more frequently than they are used to kill. Indeed, in intimate partner homicides, there is most generally a history of violence that did not however prevent the perpetrator from possessing a gun[3].

Moreover, the correlation between high rates of sexual violence and the flow of firearms has been demonstrated in countless examples.

Firearms and the patriarchal system

With men almost always the bearers of guns, power imbalances between men and women are further distorted. The threat that firearms represent to women both within the household and on the streets, to their lives, to their physical integrity and to their freedom is closely linked to the imposition of patriarchy.

Current levels of regulation or the implementation of regulation regarding firearms are not enough.

When it comes to civilian ownership of guns, measuring perceptions of firearms i.e. among Liberian women and men, show that both groups overwhelmingly referred to as guns as a threat to safety rather than a source of security[4]. It is essential to strictly regulate the possession of guns and to implement regulations closely, by processes that must take into account the gendered aspects of gun possession.

Firearms constitute a threat for women’s rights and security, but also represent an element which reinforces the domination of men over women and this patriarchal system. A stronger regulation of firearms would reduce gender-based and domestic violence as well as femicide. Enforcing the Arms Trade Treaty, the UN Programme of Actions on Small and Light Weapons and other related UN Security Council resolutions would be a great step forward.


[1] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2013. Chapter 2: Too close to home – Everyday dangers, small arms survey 2013. Cambridge University Press: page 30

[2] Matthias Nowak, Femicide: A Global Problem Research Notes Armed Violence Number 14. Small Arms Survey, 2012. http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/H-Research_Notes/SAS-Research-Note-14.pdf

[3] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2013. Chapter 2: Too close to home – Everyday dangers, small arms survey 2013. Cambridge University Press

[4] ibid

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