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WILPF statement to the Conference on Disarmament on International Women's Day 2008

Also see information about the 2008 WILPF IWD seminar

We, women from many parts the world, take this opportunity to raise our voices, which are often suppressed or ignored, on disarmament, peace and security. The 2008 International Women's Day Disarmament Seminar highlighted the crises of human security and sustainable development caused by military spending, war and weapon profiteering, and the persistence of ideas and expectations of gender that shape how war, women, and peace are considered.

This year's Seminar included over 100 participants from non-governmental organisations from more than 40 countries and marked two significant anniversaries. The first is the 30th anniversary of the First Special Session on Disarmament of the UN General Assembly, possibly the highest point of consensus and vision ever achieved in multilateral disarmament diplomacy, which created the Conference on Disarmament we have today and set out its ten-part agenda.

Our seminar was directly linked to neglected items on the Decalogue, namely the reduction of military spending, the linkage between disarmament and development, nuclear disarmament, conventional weapons, and disarmament as confidence building. We struggle to find language to express our dismay, our anger, at the failure of governments over the last eleven years to advance these agenda items, and their commitments made by consensus thirty years ago.

A 40 year-old treaty was also discussed; a treaty that has inhibited nuclear proliferation somewhat, but that has not yet delivered on nuclear disarmament. If, indeed, "life begins at 40", then the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) must gain a new lease on life if it is to deliver tangible results at the 2010 Review Conference. The CD's contribution to the success of this meeting is to start negotiating a verifiable Fissile Material Treaty. States Parties must get serious about compliance with the disarmament obligation and commence negotiation of a Nuclear Weapon Convention.

Civil society has documented how small arms and light weapons are killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of people every year and how they threaten sustainable development throughout the world, but still this issue has met with a less than adequate international response. The unexploded remnants of cluster munitions, attractive in size, shape, and colour to children and other unwitting civilians, continue to kill for decades after conflicts are over, as do landmines that lay hidden in the earth. Conflict goods that fuel wars, repression and environmental damage are traded on our markets almost completely unhindered. There are stricter international regulations on the trade of old postage stamps than on conventional armaments. And we are now witnessing another escalation of the nuclear arms race and the potential weaponization of outer space.

We are women from countries that experience war and peace, from countries that produce weapons and from countries that pay the high economic, social and human price of receiving them. We, as women, unanimously call on governments to abandon narrow concepts of military security and instead focus our human and economic resources on addressing the real daily threats to the security of their citizens, such as poverty, hunger, insecurity, HIV and AIDS, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Weapons can do nothing to alleviate these security problems. Instead, the acquisition of arms diverts enormous financial, technical and human resources from where they are really needed. This has been true for a long time, but the situation has never been more urgent than it is today. What is preventing progress? Who benefits from business as usual? We reject the idea that the military industry, the weapons trade, brings jobs, prosperity or security. The arms trade has turned people into mercenaries and parts of our planet into cemeteries. The military-industrial-academic complex, that we were warned in 1961 as having the potential for a disastrous rise of misplaced power has truly achieved its potential when military spending exceeds $1204 billion annually in 2006 prices.(1) Reducing military spending is on your agenda, you are mandated to address and curb this disastrous and misplaced political and economic power that military corporations exercise.

Reversing a real security threat, catastrophic climate change, for example, will require a paradigm shift in resource allocation. We can meet this challenge, but only if we are prepared to face the fact that bombs, guns and landmines will not deter or remove the threat of a Tsunami, a hurricane, a flood, a virus, or a water shortage. To do this we have to bring a halt to the organized crime of weapons profiteering and the CD has a role to play. 8 million lives could be saved with an investment of $57 billion. We could achieve by 2015 the MDGS with $135 million in overseas development assistance. These levels of investment are tiny in comparison with the level of military expenditure.

Compare military spending with efforts to finance gender equality for half the human population:

  • The combined budgets of UN bodies working on women's issues is $65 million, (2) is only 0.005% of world military expenditure; (3)
  • The World Bank estimates the cost of interventions to promote gender equality under MDG 3 is $7-13 per capita. The world's military expenditure in 2006 amounted to $184 per capita; (4)
  • Of $20 billion in bilateral aid in 2001-2005, an OECD DAC study reports that only $5 billion was allocated to projects promoting gender empowerment; the cost of approximately 2 weeks of the occupation of Iraq. (5)

Article 26 of the UN Charter emphasizes the need to stop wasting human and economic resources on armaments. It is time for the Security Council to act in compliance with Article 26 by delivering a plan for reducing armaments. If the Security Council had fulfilled this task, the disarmament machinery would not be so overburdened or stuck as it is today.

Conflict prevention involves confidence- and trust-building, and begins with reducing the role of nuclear and other weapons in security policies. Everything flows from this first step that, when taken, will move security thinking beyond the capacity to destroy to the capacity to share this planet's finite resources sustainably, to enjoy life with the full spectrum of human rights. Rather than being utopian, these goals are entirely achievable, but trends in military spending must be reversed before they can be realised.

Participants in the 2008 International Women's Day Seminar focused on the roles and responsibilities of women, outlined in Security Council 1325, to participate in conflict prevention, disarmament and all levels of security decision-making. Since the adoption of this resolution these issues have been newly and more deeply understood, governments and NGOs have undertaken some laudable work to implement it, we have seen some more highly competent and intelligent women appointed to engage in security and disarmament – of course we would like to see more because as the President of Chile said recently, "A woman who enters politics changes; a thousand women who enter politics change politics." Without women's equal participation, sustainable peace, sustainable development and true human security are unattainable. Women must be able to contribute their perspectives, help determine the direction of policy options, and have a greater say over budgetary allocations.

We need to examine the relationship between masculinity and war as much as the relationship between women and peace. Men and women experience war very differently, from war-making to peace-building and everything in between. In any given army, 90 percent of the soldiers are men while in any given refugee camp, 80 percent of the adults of women. Gender roles help to explain why this is so - good human qualities like strength and honour get allocated to men and deformed into tools for violence and domination. Good human qualities like tenderness and care get allocated to women and deformed into the badge of submission. Both parts of humanity end up as less than fully human. If we want security for all, we need both women and men, working as equals, to take responsibility for our common security. Wisdom about gender roles will contribute to the peace that can be achieved.

We women will continue to advocate for the vital changes – in terms of military budgets and doctrines - that must be made to achieve genuine human security. We as citizens hold you responsible, and we recommit to supporting and encouraging the CD in its work, and to educating our constituencies about its vital role. We as women have addressed this body since 1984. We would like to be able to do this ourselves rather than through an intermediary. Indeed, not allowing us to read our own statement undermines the seriousness of CD in the eyes of people around the world. In this year of the 30th anniversary of SSOD1, is it not time to allow civil society organizations they chance to address the CD on a regular basis? W e understand the danger inherent in armament, and we will continue for another 24 years, and as long is necessary, to advocate for disarmament negotiations in the CD, and for security and disarmament decision-makers to be accountable, transparent and democratic. We value all those of you who are helping in this endeavour and salute your efforts.