Above all else, weapons are tools of violence and repression by those that use them and tools of financial gain by those who make and sell them. Every year, thousands of people are killed, injured, raped, exploited, or forced to flee from their homes as a result of the poorly regulated and irresponsible global arms trade. This trade continues to make our world a poorer, less democratic, more corrupt, and less safe place.
We have highlighted this problem throughout our 100 year history. WILPF has led a movement that emphasises the links between arms production, the arms trade, military expenditure, violent conflict, and the reduction of available resources for social and economic development and the promotion of gender equality.
A bit about arms trade
The global arms trade refers to the trade of conventional weapons, from small arms such as handguns and assault rifles, to tanks, aircraft, and warships, as well as ammunition, parts and components, support equipment, and other objects designed for military use. The arms trade fuels armed conflict and armed violence. It provides the tools that are used to uphold power and repress challenges, both in conflict as well as in peacetime.
Illicit, unregulated, and irresponsible transfers of weaponry, munitions, armaments, and related equipment across borders has resulted in the loss of millions of lives and livelihoods, and gross violations of fundamental human rights. In particular, the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons (SALW) increases the risk to both men and women’s security, and impedes their enjoyment of their civil, political, social, and economic rights in many different ways.
There is also a gender dimension to the trade and proliferation of arms, whereby women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. Within many cultures, the possession of arms defines and sustains notions of masculinity. Arms represent an expression of male power within already unequal societies. This in turn contributes to the normalisation of the possession and use of weapons, and to the terrorising of women and others through the threat and actuality of sexual and gender-based violence.
Furthermore, armed conflict tends to exacerbate views about what qualifies as masculine behaviour: group pressure usually amplifies men’s aggressiveness and inclination to treat women as inferior. Facilitated by arms, most often guns, men perpetrate sexual violence, forced trafficking, and prostitution against women as well as children; and often use arms to kill, threaten, or intimidate women and non-gender-conforming men or others in their homes and communities. Such rights violations not only occur during armed conflict, but in post-conflict and non-conflict situations.
The arms trade is a gendered business: almost all buyers, sellers, and users are men. This also includes the arms industry, media advertisers for weapons, state weapons producers, private weapons producers, gun dealers, brokers, and transporters. However, women are not just on the receiving end: they can also be perpetrators of armed violence and active in the arms trade, especially in the transfer and trafficking of weapons.