1 June 2015, Vol. 7, No. 1

Priorities on small arms, international arms trade, and gender
Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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The UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) has for years been critiqued about whether or it is valuable tool to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW). The discussion at last year’s Fifth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS5) highlighted some specific issues that need to be prioritised within the UNPoA framework in order for it to have a meaningful effect on preventing human suffering. Some of these priorities include international assistance and capacity-building to deal with marking, record-keeping, and tracing; excessive production and arms sales; and new initiatives and measures to address the challenges of ammunition and emerging technologies. We will be focusing on these issues in our coverage of the discussion during this meeting of government experts (MGE2).

In addition, there was increased discussion at BMS5 around gender perspectives and gender diversity in small arms issues. The BMS5 outcome document, in articles 10 and 51, includes a reference to UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and highlights the need to ensure the participation of women in the implementation of the UNPoA.

Since its inception, Reaching Critical Will, as the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has worked to ensure gender perspectives are incorporated into disarmament and arms control issues and to promote greater gender diversity, including women’s participation, in local, national, regional, and global disarmament processes.

It is against this background that Reaching Critical Will has launched a project to make Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and UNPoA implementation more relevant and effective for women and others affected by gender-based violence (GBV). Together with four of WILPF’s national sections, our goal is to increase understanding of the relationship between proliferation of SALW, the international arms trade, and GBV. We will also explore and promote synergies between relevant instruments dealing with small arms and the international arms trade to prevent GBV.

WILPF has consistently emphasised the correlation between GBV and flows of arms, in times of peace and during conflict. The poorly- or un-controlled proliferation and trade in arms has a grave effect on the already unequal and unbalanced equality between men and women. During the course of ATT negotiations, WILPF and other civil society groups highlighted information demonstrating the impact that arms flows and the widespread use of arms has on women and others. This work resulted in states adopting in the ATT a provision recognising that civilian women and children are disproportionally affected by both armed conflict and armed violence and compelling arms exporting states to assess the risk of their arms being used to commit acts of GBV when authorizing an arms export (article 7(4)). This was also the underlying reason for including the reference to UNSC 1325 in last year’s BMS5 outcome document.

However, it is also important to recognise that the proliferation of arms does not only impact women through so-called direct violence, but also by undermining civil and political rights, and economic and social rights. In the article about Cameroon and the arms trade and related human right problems (page 3), WILPF Cameroon highlights, “In particular, the proliferation of light weapons and small arms affects women's safety, and prevents them from fully enjoying their rights.”

In order for the UNPoA to become more effective in its main objective, work on its implementation should:

  • Acknowledge the varied gendered impacts of the use and spread of SALW in all its aspects and include the gendered impacts of weapons as an overarching approach in policymaking;
  • Recognise the impact that the international arms trade has on national proliferation and arms use;
  • Promote the ratification of the ATT and its full and effective implementation into domestic law and policy;
  • Coordinate between the granting of arms permits and the maintenance of records of GBV, domestic violence, and other crimes;
  • Incorporate gender perspectives into implementing programmes and policies dealing with small arms and the international arms trade within the UNPoA and ATT frameworks, as well as national and regional arms control legislation, the Firearms Protocol, and the Transnational Crime Convention;
  • Utilise synergies between these instruments in order to strengthen already exiting tools and to reduce gaps between these tools, including by conforming with the requirements of UNSC resolution 1325 and the wider Women Peace and Security agenda, with UNGA resolution 67/48 on women and disarmament, and with ongoing work in human rights and development;
  • Promote education and awareness-raising among government employees, police, license and export authorities, schools, and communities about the use of SALW in domestic violence and to commit acts of GBV, including sexual violence.
  • Invest and develop international assistance to provide assistance to states to help fight illicit flows of SALW in relation to legislation, training, coordination, and border control; and
  • Increase the participation of women and other non-males at all decision-making levels on issues related to international peace and security.

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