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WILPF statement to the first informal preparatory committee for the Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) welcomes the decision to focus CSP5 on gender and arms-related gender-based violence. As an organization that has long been at the forefront of feminist advocacy for disarmament, WILPF spearheaded the “Make it Binding” campaign that led to the inclusion of gender-based violence (GBV) in the Arms Trade Treaty. We believe this is an important opportunity to ensure that gendered considerations are at the heart of arms control and disarmament efforts. 

We encourage states parties to approach this opportunity with ambition, but also with a view to action-oriented outcomes that will have a real impact on practice. An important first step in that direction is diversifying the inputs to our discussions. This means consulting with gender specialists, civil society experts, non-binary people, and crucially, those who have experienced arms-related GBV particularly in local contexts. Such people should be included on delegations and their perspectives should be heard. 

Throughout the week, there have been different views expressed on the relationship between gender-based violence and the international arms trade. Some delegations have asked how direct of a connection a weapon needs to have to an act of GBV in order for it to be prevented by the Arms Trade Treaty. Others have questioned if all forms of GBV are relevant to arms transfer decision-making, or just those that are more visible, such as sexual violence. 

It needs to be underscored that all conventional weapons can—and have been—used to inflict violence on people based on discriminating norms and practices relating to their specific sex or gender role in society. 

This is why export officials must conduct a risk assessment on GBV for every single arms export license application. They must assess the risk of sexual violence, domestic violence, impact on girls’ education, impact on women’s reproductive health, impacts on LGBT rights, or the use of sex as a signifier in targeting attacks or conducting post-strike analyses. They must also look to how weapons are used to exacerbate or prop-up discriminatory gender-based social norms and power inequalities in social, economic, and political spheres of life. For example, it has been shown that the proliferation of arms in any given context has a negative impact on women’s equality within the household, their mobility, and their political participation. Widespread possession and use of weapons tends to prevent women from fully participating in public and political life, and to hinder their economic empowerment—which also qualifies as GBV.

The ATT is clear in its wording that states parties must consider the risk of the arms in question being used to “commit or facilitateserious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children. These two words (commit and facilitate) must be given equal weighting, and it would be valuable to focus further discussion on reaching common understanding about what they mean in practice.

Some states have also spoken of the time pressures that exist when making transfer decisions, and difficulties in sourcing evidence of certain types of GBV. That evidence exists but requires looking beyond the usual places, such as to human rights reports by states and shadow reports by NGOs under the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other human rights treaties and recommendations from treaty monitoring bodies. National implementation and action plans of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and related resolutions, including NGO shadow reports, are another good source of information. 

Improved information sharing between and within governments on GBV will improve knowledge about such information sources and the rapidity with which they are accessed.    

Finally, we wish to draw attention to the gap that exists between the diplomatic community and the individuals assessing potential arms transfers. Many states have indicated that the decisions made in ATT conference rooms are not necessarily reaching licensing officials in capitals and that more capacity and knowledge-building is needed. In our view this gap continues to be a challenge that hampers gender-sensitive risk assessments and one for which a solution must be prioritized. 

For several years WILPF has published reports and briefing papers that examine the relationship between gender-based violence and the international arms trade and explosive weapons use, as well guidance specific to ATT implementation and case studies of existing practice. These include the knowledge of our staff as well as the experiences and perspectives of the local women around the world who make up the broader WILPF movement.  We look forward to sharing this combined expertise with states parties and organizations toward a productive CSP outcome but more importantly, toward ending gender-based violence.