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Women, weapons and war in 2015


Reaching Critical WIll, paper, Women Weapon and War, New paper offers a gendered critique of multilateral instruments.

The negative impacts on our society of patriarchy and male privilege are perhaps nowhere more pervasive and pernicious than in the field of weapons, war, and militarism.

But much of the discussion on disarmament perpetuates the highly problematic gender constructions of men who are violent and powerful and women that are vulnerable and need to be protected.

Gender perspectives in disarmament, peace, and security must be about exposing and challenging this state of affairs, not about including more women in the existing systems of structural inequalities and violent masculinities.

Developing a holistic approach to the small arms, arms trade, and women, peace and security agendas is critical to ensure that these agendas contribute to the reduction and prevention of armed conflict and armed violence.

This should be the objective of any instrument dealing with weapons, war, or violence.

A new briefing paper from Reaching Critical Will considers the synergies – and contradictions – related to gender and women in a number of multilateral resolutions, treaties, and commitments on conventional weapons and women’s rights and participation, including the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the UN Programme of Action on trade in small arms and light weapons (UNPoA), and resolutions from the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, and the UN General Assembly.

The paper provides a gendered critique of these instruments in order to address problems with categorising women as a vulnerable group, undermining women’s participation and gender diversity in disarmament, reinforcing violent masculinities, and perpetuating structures of patriarchal militarism.

It offers several concrete recommendations for states and other actors to change our framing, implement existing tools holistically, and develop stronger norms, standards, and laws to advance gender diversity, disarmament, and peace.

What is needed, it says, is an approach that prevents gender-based violence without categorising women simply as vulnerable victims; that promotes a positive role for women in ending conflict rather than participating in it; and that includes a critique of the gendered dimensions of militarism and armed violence, including by analysing and taking action on militarised violent masculinity norms.

We must also, the paper continues, work to ensure that the instruments and commitments developed have an impact in the real world.

Having good language on paper is only the first step in achieving change.

Thus, implementation of the ATT, UNPoA, UNSC and UNGA resolutions, and other relevant instruments must utilise the synergies created by:

recognising and addressing the unique or differential impacts on women of weapons use, trade, and proliferation without merely treating them as victims;

promoting gender diversity in preventing and ending conflict, including through the promotion of women’s full and effective participation; and

incorporating gender perspectives in challenging the structures and institutions of armed conflict, armed violence, the arms trade, arms production, and militarism.

To do so, and to gain the most from the potential synergies between the instruments considered here, states, international, regional, and national organisations, and civil society groups should consider the following recommendations:

1. Gender-based violence must be interpreted as violence based on socially constructed norms, perceptions, and power relations of gender.

This can indeed include violence against women. But it also includes attacks based on other forms of gender and sexuality norms and discrimination.

2. Women must not be categorised as vulnerable or innocent victims and harm specifically to women must not be framed as a problem in itself.

Instruments and initiatives should recognise the differential impacts of weapons use, trade, and proliferation on women and others without rendering them helpless victims that lack agency and without implying that harm to women makes the mechanism of harm more egregious.

3. States, international organisations, and civil society groups must strengthen the collection and analysis of sex- and age-disaggregated data on the impact of weapons, including through the implementation of systematic casualty recording.

The motivation in documenting and highlighting differential impacts on women should be to ensure that they receive equal and adequate protection, care, rehabilitation, and participation as men in preventing and recovering from armed conflict and armed violence.

4. Gender diversity in disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control must promote the participation of women but also of those not conforming to dominant gender or sexuality norms.

Armed violence also has differential impacts on LGBTQI people, which should be reflected in discussions about weapons, conflict, and violence. It should ensure a range of perspectives can be presented in discussions and negotiations, including critiques of dominant structural inequalities and normative framings.

“Effective” participation of women and others creates space for alternative conceptions of security and focus on preventing armed conflict and armed violence rather than on responding to it with military force.

5. Initiatives promoting gender diversity in any of the above should include an explicit critique of militarism and war, including of the patriarchal structures that sustain them.

As Carol Cohn put it, to truly challenge war, we must address “the pernicious, pervasive complexities of the gender regimes that undergird not only individual wars but the entire war system.”20

And as Cynthia Cockburn argues, we should also recognise gender power relations “as a predisposing, and thus causal, factor in militarization and war.”

Without a critique of hegemonic violent masculinities, we are held hostage by militarist states and military institutions, as has been seen in the implementation of UNSCR 1325. Therefore, relevant initiatives should include constructive criticism of these frameworks with a view to advancing the overall objective of peace.

6. All treaties, resolutions, commitments, and declarations on the production, possession, transfer, proliferation, or use of weapons must have a gender perspective.

They need to take into account differential gendered impacts; gender diversity in the negotiation or elaboration of relevant instruments; and an analysis of the gendered dimensions of the challenges being confronted.

7. Similarly, instruments dealing with women, peace and security or women’s human rights must incorporate issues related to weapons, war, and violence.

They should promote disarmament and arms control as integral to enhancing women’s human rights, preventing gender-based violence, and preventing and ending armed conflict and armed violence.

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