Gender and the UN Programme of Action: Including All Voices

Maribel Gonzales Conventional Weapons

Maribel Gonzales

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2010 Volume 31 Issue 3

The 2001 UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA) provides a framework for controlling the illicit use and proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) at the national, regional, and global levels. It covers such wide-ranging issues as collection and destruction of illicit weapons, national legislation to help criminalize the illicit trade in small arms, regulation of arms brokers, import and export controls, and coordinating international efforts.

Despite its breadth, the PoA refers to gender only once. In paragraph 6 of the Preamble grave concern is expressed for the devastating consequences of the illicit trade in small arms for children, “as well as the negative impact on women and the elderly” (UN 2001). The Programme of Action does not acknowledge that gun violence is fundamentally gendered, that “men, women, boys and girls are differently impacted, differently involved and have different responses [to gun violence]” (Page 2009, p. 1).

A new resource

The fourth UN Biennial Meeting of States (BMS) on small arms was held in New York this past June. At a side event on June 15 a new resource, Mainstreaming gender for the effective implementation of the UN PoA: Update of the 2006 CASA Guidelines (UNODA & IANSA 2010), was launched. The event was sponsored by the Regional Disarmament Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA-RDB), the Mission of Norway to the UN, and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) Women’s Network.

As the title indicates, this resource is an update of a guide issued in 2006 by the UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) at the first Review Conference of the UN PoA. According to the new guide,

The updated guidelines take into account new developments, progress made and lessons learnt in the implementation of the PoA, as well as in the area of gender
mainstreaming in peace and security. The current document also benefits from a wide array of field-based experience and knowledge. (p. 3)

Gender and violence
The chair of the event, Agnès Marcaillou, stated that gender mainstreaming the PoA “is not a matter of feminism, it is a matter of business and efficiency.”

Research has shown that gender and age are more powerful predictors of violence than geographic location (CHD 2006, pp. 68-75). What a given society considers ‘appropriate’ roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes for men and women are linked to the demand for guns and to motives or triggers for gun violence.

For example, the association of gun use or gun possession with successful masculinity is common in many cultures. Women may also feel more secure by associating with men with guns, especially if the state is unable to protect them from criminal or paramilitary violence.

Worldwide, both in countries at war and in countries at peace, young men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators and victims of gun violence. Women account for a minority of the victims of gun violence, but they bear the brunt of its indirect and longer-term consequences. When men are killed, injured, or disabled women are burdened with increased care-giving and income-earning responsibilities. Young girls and boys and women may experience increased threats, intimidation, and abuse both inside and outside the home when weapons are more readily available.

Although women are typically portrayed as victims of gun violence, some are users and traffickers of guns. They can also be active participants in reducing armed violence and building peace.

A gender-sensitive approach is not exclusively about women, but about analyzing the function gender plays. Practitioners need to understand and analyze the different roles played by men, women, boys, and girls as well as their needs and capacities, in order to both fully comprehend the problem of the proliferation of illicit small arms and to propose appropriate, effective, and sustainable solutions to proliferation and gun violence.

Gender mainstreaming at the UN

The lack of reference to gender in the 2001 PoA should also be considered in the context of UN prescriptions for mainstreaming. In 1995, at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a Platform for Action was developed. According to its mission statement (UN DAW 1995), it aims “at removing all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.”

Two years later, in 1997, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) incorporated gender mainstreaming into its programs. In its report for that year, it defined gender mainstreaming as:

the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislations, policies or programmes in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. (UNGA 1997)

Since then gender considerations in peace and security programming have been addressed by various policy and practice initiatives, including the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), and 1889 (2009) that collectively address women, peace, and security.

Gender mainstreaming in small arms control

Gender mainstreaming guidelines for the UN PoA were first released by CASA at the 2006 Review Conference on the UN PoA. They emphasized four key gender entry points:

  1. Illicit trade in SALW, and the linkage between different forms of trafficking;
  2. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs;
  3. National and Regional focal points (which act as a liaison between states in matters relating to the implementation of the PoA), defining specific regional and national approaches; and
  4. Civil society integration and public awareness initiatives.

For each key area, the guidelines encourage consideration of the relevance and objectives of gender mainstreaming, as well as recommendations on integrating gender perspectives (CASA 2006).

Both the 2006 and the 2010 guidelines “advocate a systemic gender-inclusive approach in the implementation of the PoA” (UN CASA 2006, p. 22; UNODA & IANSA 2010, p. 28). The new version—by a UN agency, in cooperation with the Women’s Network of IANSA—provides more detailed examples and advocates more strongly for the integration of women in all levels of the process of implementing the PoA.

An important role for civil society and women

The IANSA Women’s Network is “the only international network focused on the connections between gender, women’s rights, small arms and armed violence” (IANSA 2010). Its member organizations, from diverse regions of the world and representing a wide range of field-based experience and knowledge on small arms control, include researchers, mediators, conflict resolution experts, victims’ services providers, survivors of violence, and women’s rights advocates.

The joint undertaking by the UNODA-RDB and the Women’s Network of IANSA to revise the guidelines for gender mainstreaming in the UN PoA in itself provides an excellent illustration of how civil society can complement UN and state-sponsored initiatives. Women and men have an equal right to participate and to be considered in these processes.



Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. 2006. Missing Pieces: Directions for reducing gun violence through the UN process on small arms control.

International Action Network on Small Arms. 2010. About the IANSA Women’s Network.

Page, Ellen. 2009. Men, Masculinities and Guns: Can we break the link? IANSA Women’s Network.

United Nations. 2001. Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. A/CONF.192/15.

United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms. 2006. Guidelines for gender mainstreaming for the effective implementation of the UN programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. A/CONF.192/2006/RC/CRP.3.

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. 1995. The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women: Platform for Action.

United Nations General Assembly. 1997. Report of the Economic and Social Council for 1997. A/52/3, Agreed conclusions 1997/2, I.A.

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs & International Action Network on Small Arms. 2010. Mainstreaming gender for the effective implementation of the UN PoA: Update of the 2006 CASA Guidelines.

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