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Gender Perspectives in Disarmament

By Kirthi Jayakumar



Image Source: Pixabay


In the two decades since the inception of the WPS Agenda in Resolution 1325, several significant developments have been achieved in linking the WPS agenda with the disarmament agenda. Resolution 1325 opened up the conversation in the WPS Agenda, calling for attention to various aspects of the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the need to include women in peace processes, enabling access to justice mechanisms, and the range of humanitarian-development-security responses to the unique needs of women and girls in the context of armed conflict. Although these areas warrant dedicated attention, a conversation examining the impact of armed conflict on women also had to focus on weapons: which, in Resolution 1325, was mentioned only twice. One, calling for gender-sensitive mine action and disarmament, and two, demobilization and reintegration.


Thirteen years after Resolution 1325, the lived experiences of women in armed conflicts in Western and Central Africa motivated the examination of the connection between small arms and women’s rights. Several discussions have prevailed over the years, calling for the linking of the WPS and Arms Control Agendas. The Committee on the Elimination of discrimination against Women adopted General Recommendation 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict, and post-conflict situations, through which it promotes an "integrated approach to women's rights that includes many elements from the WPS and disarmament agendas." Within this, the committee calls for states to sign, ratify, and implement the Arms Trade Treaty and its importance for women's rights. Resolution 2122 adopted by the UN Security Council calls for the dismantling of all barriers to the full participation of women in preventing, resolving, and rebuilding after armed conflict.


The Arms Trade Treaty, among other things, calls on state parties to acknowledge the risk that weapons pose to women and girls, particularly in that they can be used to carry out gender-based violence. Since that point, acknowledging women and girls as vulnerable to additional violence as a result of weapons has endured as an important point to address within both, the WPS and Disarmament agendas. However, women and the role they can play in addressing and prioritizing disarmament remains on the periphery at best.


In the words of Henri Myrttinen, “Conventional wisdom has it that men enjoy a ‘special relationship’ with weapons, a view which seems to be corroborated by empirical evidence. The relationship between ‘masculine’ men and weapons is such a prevailing cliché that one finds it everywhere, from advertising to left-wing revolutionary posters, fascist imagery to the novels of Hemingway, war memorials to homoerotic art, from the porn industry to feminist critiques of male militarism.” It is likely that this “conventional wisdom” also underlies the “traditionally male-dominated nature of arms control.”


The numbers allude to this as well, as Renata Dwan noted, “When UNSCR 1325 was adopted, women comprised only 15% to 20% of diplomats participating in arms control conferences and negotiations. Twenty years later, women now constitute around 30% of participants in disarmament policy forums, well behind other areas of diplomacy… Of the 84 countries that have developed national action plans on resolution 1325, only one-third include arms control and disarmament measures.”


A part of the exclusion of women from engaging in disarmament comes from seeing them as victims, and from seeing them as inherently predisposed to peace – both of which emanate from essentialist thinking. The notions that women can only be at the receiving end of weapons, rather than be engaged in active combat themselves on the one hand, and that calling for disarmament falls outside the scope of engaging women only continue to keep the circle of violence alive, as the motivations for disarmament ignore several narratives and lived experiences.


Fundamentally, the nature of weapons and access to them define the nature of war itself, where everything from the Internet and biological pathogens to small and big ammunitions constitute weapons. The illicit transfer, accumulation, and diversion of small arms and light weapons in the DRC has been one among the several major threats to the safety of women and their ability to participate in peace processes. Disarmament and demobilization has also been considered critical in the context of women’s security in Afghanistan. The impact of armed conflict, then, on women and girls is also defined by the weapons used in such armed conflicts. The movement, sale, transfer, and access to weapons can also use and affect women and girls significantly.


To this end, including women as active actors in addressing disarmament is a priority. Gender perspectives are vital to disarmament. Weapons across the spectrum – from small arms and light weapons to weapons of mass destruction – must be addressed through gender perspectives. A part of understanding that violence against women takes place on a peacetime-wartime continuum also involves acknowledging that women’s vulnerabilities to violence remain heightened by the accessibility of weapons for a perpetrator or potential perpetrator. Illicit arms flows, unlicensed possession of weapons, and trafficking in weapons have played a major role in exacerbating violence against women in peacetime and wartime alike. Unless the confluence of these issues are addressed through a combined and concerted effort on part of both, the WPS and the Disarmament agendas, attempts at peace would be fragmented at best.

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