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WILPF International Women’s Day Seminar: a gender perspective in disarmament

March 12, 2015

On 9 March 2015, WILPF held its annual International Women’s Day seminar at the United Nation (UN) in Geneva. The seminar focused on the importance of having a gender perspective as an overarching approach to all work related to peace and conflict resolution, in particular disarmament.

The seminar presented WILPF’s work to advance gender analysis in disarmament and conflict prevention. It also highlighted how gender politics matter and how they shape policy makers’ assumptions and goals, therefore determining whose security is taken into consideration.

The need for gender analysis in disarmament

Gabriella Irsten of WILPF’s Disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will, started the seminar by highlighting in what androcentric way the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law (women being referred to as objects needing “projection”, rather than as actors and individuals) has been developed. A key example being that nearly half of the 42 specific provisions relating to women in the Geneva Convention and Additional Protocols deal with women only as expectant or nursing mothers.

With that context provided, gender analysis is a tool to better understand the social, economic, cultural and political realties of women and men, boys and girls. A gender analysis is also a tool to understand culture, expressed in the construction of gender identities and inequalities.

In disarmament, a gender analysis is crucial as gender perceptions and constructed norms affect the way people and societies view weapons, war and militarism. For example, men are predominately seen as the normative actor in security policies. Therefore, the absence of a gender analysis presupposes men’s experience as the only relevant experience, with women solely seen as victims. A gender analysis is also important as weapons and conflict affect women and men differently, due to constructed social status, roles and tasks.

Gender and the linkages between human rights, security and disarmament

Maria Muñoz Maraver, Director of WILPF’s Human Rights programme, stressed the current change in moving from using a women’s perspective, to a gender approach. She then detailed the shift from talking about human rights, security and disarmament separately, to recognising the linkages between them. These new approaches ensure that the root causes of gender based violence (GBV) and human rights violations are addressed.

The relationship between gender, security and human rights was discussed, emphasising that the empowerment of women in security can only be achieved through a human right approach to security. Without such an approach, the tools and weapons used to achieve security only serve to further threaten women and destabilise their environment.

Human rights violations are heavily linked to weapons. Women often see the presence of a gun in the house as a threat to their persons. Weapons not only affect women’s right to life, they also affect many other civil, political and socioeconomic human rights of women. This creates linkages, not just between disarmament and human rights, but gender equality as well.

High military spending also creates these linkages. Governments that spend excessive financial, technological, and human resources on their militaries divert resources from education, health and other crucial sectors.

Due to these linkages, it is clear that weapons and militarism must be included as part of the analysis of the root causes of GBV and human rights violations, both during and outside conflict.

Gender in disarmament processes

Picture1Mia Gandenberger of WILPF’s Disarmament programme highlighted that while progress has been made in the last few years, the disarmament world is lagging behind in using a gender perspectives and analysis.

As men and women are exposed to different patterns and forms of violence, a gender perspective in disarmament processes ensures that these processes more closely relate to the reality of the situation.

Fortunately, the recent shift from a focus on security from a national perspective, to one focusing on human security and humanitarian concerns makes including a gender perspective and analysis significantly easier. This has already been seen in approaches to landmines, cluster munitions, and recently the Arms Trade Treaty.

While this represents progress, there is still a long way to go. For example, only four percent of UN General Assembly First Committee, dedicated to disarmament issues, resolutions mention gender.

Conclusion

The isolation of issues, as we have seen in international fora, is no longer acceptable in our complex, globalised world. A greater linkage between arms control and human rights is needed and we need to start establishing international instruments with a holistic approach to effectively deal with problems facing today’s world.

More research is required with a specific focus on the demographics of the civil harm caused by weapons. Of vital importance is the increased participation of women on all decision-making levels concerning international peace and security. Finally, programming should be gender specific. The gendered impacts of weapons need to be addressed as an overarching approach in policy making to ensure the development of appropriate tools that result in human security for all.

Read also the WILPF Statement to the Conference on Disarmament on International Women’s Day 2015.

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