Gender and disarmament: gender perspective

Gendered impacts of the use and trade of weapons

Women and men can suffer disproportionate or differential impacts from the use or proliferation of weapons, inside or outside of armed conflict. Men tend to make up the majority of direct victims of armed violence. Sometimes, they are targeted just for being men. Women, however, can face differential impacts from the use of weapons such as exacerbated social and political inequalities and pressures from the increase in female-headed households; inequalities in access to survivor assistance; and higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Gender diversity in disarmament

The underrepresentation of women in disarmament and arms control discussions, negotiations, and processes is fueled in part by the tendency to treat women as vulnerable victims, usually grouped together with children and the elderly. This framing reinforces persistent constructions of women as the “weaker sex”, in need of protection by “powerful” men, and enables women’s continued exclusion from authoritative social and political roles. Meanwhile, the framing of all military-aged men as “potential” or actual militants entrenches a tendency to support “violent masculinities”—a social construction in which masculinity is linked with preparedness to use military action and to wield weapons.

Gendered perspectives on disarmament and arms control

The framing of women as weak and vulnerable is also often used to construct “a feminized and devalued notion of peace as unattainable, unrealistic, passive, and (it might be said) undesirable.” The devaluation of certain perspectives, ideas, and, interests because they are marked as “feminine,” coupled with the equation of masculinity with violence gives war positive value as a show of masculine power. This means that even if women do participate in negotiations or discussions on matters related to peace and security, their positions or ideas are often forced to conform to the dominant perspective in order to be taken seriously. This is not to say that women bring one perspective to a conversation and men bring another. It rather highlights the gendered understandings of war and peace, disarmament and armament, strength and weakness, which dictate what is considered “acceptable” by the dominant perspective in such conversations.

UN resolutions

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, is a watershed political framework recognising that men and women experience wars differently. It requires these differences be taken into account and recognises that women’s full and equal participation in all aspects and stages of peace processes is essential to building sustainable peace. Resolution 1325 “makes the pursuit of gender equality relevant to every single Security Council action, ranging from elections to disarmament efforts.” However its promise to transform women from victims to peacebuilders has not been realised in practice. There have been seven follow-on Security Council Resolutions that, together with 1325, comprise the Women, Peace and Security international policy framework. Those resolutions are 1820 (2009); 1888 (2009); 1889 (2010); 1960 (2011); 2106 (2013)2122 (2013); and 2242 (2015). In 2015, UN Women published a Global Study on 1325 that highlights some of the obstacles and challenges to full implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda.

WILPF and other civil society organisations have routinely called for clearer monitoring and evaluation of the resolution by the UN and its Member States. WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security programme (PeaceWomen) actively monitors UNSCR 1325’s implementation

While 1325 brought the concept of “gender mainstreaming” to bear on UN offices and programmes dealing with disarmament and arms control issues, it was not until 2010 that the General Assembly began to consider its specific implications for disarmament with the adoption of resolution 65/69 on “Women, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation”.

There have been three further General Assembly resolutions on this topic. 67/48, adopted in 2012, urges member states and other relevant actors to promote equal opportunities for women in disarmament decision-making processes and to support and strengthen the effective participation of women, including through capacity-building efforts, in the field of disarmament. 68/33, adopted in 2013, made very little progress on 67/48. 69/61, adopted in December 2014, notes the imminent entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and encourages States parties to “fully implement all the provisions of the Treaty, including the provision on serious acts of gender-based violence.” It also encourages UN Member States “to better understand the impact of armed violence, in particular the impact of the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons on women and girls…”

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