‘Why women?’

Tasneem Jamal Conventional Weapons

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2012 Volume 33 Issue 1

Adapted from “Why is women’s participation important in small arms control and disarmament?” Women’s Network of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

It seems obvious that there can be no sustained peace and security without the participation of women. Yet during negotiations for the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65/69 (January 13, 2011) on “Women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control,” one delegate asked, “Why women?”

Women’s participation in small arms control and disarmament is important because women are affected by armed violence, both directly and indirectly. It is true that men and boys are killed and wounded by gun violence much more often than are women and girls. But women and girls are disproportionately subjected to sexual assaults and threats of sexual violence by men with guns. They are also at greater risk of violence that is less visible and committed in the private sphere, such as intimate partner violence and child abuse. Studies worldwide have shown that the presence of a firearm can significantly increase the chances that domestic violence results in a fatality. 

When male family members and loved ones are maimed or killed, women often bear the brunt of indirect effects of armed violence. They become heads of households and assume responsibility for providing for their families. According to Jasmin Galace of the Center for Peace Education at Miriam College in the Philippines, “even if [women] are not primarily gun wielders, their victimization is facilitated with the aid of these weapons. They are the weapons of choice in domestic violence, in political violence and in sexual violence.”

But women are not only victims of guns; some also play a variety of roles in supporting gun cultures and the assertion of masculine identity through gun ownership. Research in countries such as Brazil and Jamaica has shown that women may seek out men with guns as a means of securing personal protection, especially when the state is unable to protect its citizens. Women carry guns themselves—increasingly they own handguns for the purpose of self-protection. And women serve in armed forces, including guerrilla armies, the national forces of many states, and gangs.

Women and girls actively participate in many of the world’s conflicts, either willingly, through coercion, or from economic necessity. Women’s participation in small arms control and disarmament initiatives is important because some women actively participate in and, both directly and indirectly, support gun cultures.

Women are acting at the local, national, and international levels to reduce the availability and misuse of weapons. Women are involved in disarmament campaigns and gun buy-back programs in many countries. Women take leading roles in national policymaking, from advocating for the adoption of legislation and participating in the drafting of firearms and domestic violence laws, to raising awareness of existing regulations and working to improve implementation. Women activists are pushing for the Arms Trade Treaty to include women and gender issues, including gender-based violence.

However, while women’s participation at the local and national levels has had positive effects, their involvement usually happens informally. Women continue to be largely excluded from formal decision-making processes about peace and security issues.

It is critical that women be major players at all levels of arms control and disarmament processes—informal and formal initiatives. Women bring essential perspectives and insights to the problems of armed violence.

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