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WILPF statement to the Conference on Disarmament on International Women's Day 2003

Distinguished Members of the Conference on Disarmament,

Every year since 1984, International Women's Day has been marked by women's organizations in Geneva with a seminar on disarmament issues, and with a statement to the Conference on Disarmament. The statements and reports from these seminars on gender and small arms, missiles, the militarization of space, nuclear deterrence, war and the media and feminist approaches to security have been widely distributed to inform women's organizations about disarmament issues, and peace and disarmament organizations about women,s perspectives on these matters. This year the seminar examines the economic consequences of war and how women's rights are undermined by ineffective disarmament and their systematic exclusion from decision-making.

In October of 2000, the Security Council emphasized the relevance of gender issues to its work. Since then, it has celebrated the passage of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security each October. The Council acknowledged in Resolution 1325 that women deserve a place at the negotiating table, not only because women are affected by war differently than men, but because it is our human right to participate in society. Women have a right to participate in decisions on peace and security, but internationally and in the vast majority of the world,s national capitals women are systematically barred from enjoying this democratic right. It is impossible to lay the groundwork for a culture of peace without giving due consideration to women.

While NGOs try to make the best use possible of the symbolic importance of International Women's Day and October 31st, none of us are satisfied with flowery congratulations for two days of the year. Women would rather the CD and the Security Council demonstrate a genuine understanding of gender issues through routine consideration of women's experiences and perspectives, rather than a superficial annual gesture. Gender issues are relevant every day.

A gender perspective on disarmament challenges existing analysis and solutions for disarmament, and demands that people are put in the centre of the picture: women and men, as victims, survivors and perpetrators of weapons related violence. This is human security in action and we commend those governments that have committed themselves to advancing this concept and practice.

Decisions and experiences in relation to weapons involve human beings operating in their social and political environment, and therefore have clear gender dimensions. Women and men alike have concerns about the impact of weapons from small arms to weapons of mass destruction. We applaud the Department for Disarmament Affairs for recognizing this fact and undertaking a gender action plan to be launched at the Disarmament Commission. This move forward should also provide guidance to member states on how to integrate gender perspectives into your work in the CD.

Disarmament has become a household word, with the largest global demonstration for peace in history occurring on February 15 in over 700 cities illustrating ordinary people's belief that disarmament is an alternative to, and the best way of preventing war. Women played a major part in these demonstrations, and have articulated positions and ideas on disarmament. We recognize that there are risks involved in forging new agreements, and in discussing and negotiating sensitive issues of national security, but world public opinion is supportive right now, and this strengthens the hand of those states that are willing to take the risk of placing their national security interests in the context of international security. A failure to act at this time would not be easily forgiven, and we urge you to seize this moment by placing the stated popular will of the world,s people above process and procedure.

Fifty seven years ago Article 26 of the UN Charter charged the Security Council with responsibility for generating a plan for the regulation of armaments with the least diversion of the world's human and economic resources. This recognizes the timely and crucial need for a long term and broad based vision for peace. We are still waiting for the plan. We hope that the Conference on Disarmament is not going to follow this example. How many more years can the CD justify hovering in this limbo of indecision when the agenda that faces you is getting ever larger?

Some of you may see NGOs as mere "focus groups" with critical voices that are never satisfied, but you would be wrong to dismiss us so lightly. We are at the intersection of international bodies such as the CD and the constituencies we represent. We receive multitudes of phone calls and letters on a daily basis, from ever more desperate and angry people who want to know what member states of the CD are doing and why nothing is happening. As NGOs who defend the UN and its central commitment to disarmament, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to explain the role of the CD because you are not dealing with nuclear disarmament as you have committed to do so, often and in so many forums. You are not advancing international commitment to the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and you are not negotiating a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, and you are clearly not dealing with any of the other pressing disarmament priorities. The most practical way forward would be for all states to immediately agree to the proposal by the five former Conference Presidents, Ambassadors Dembri, Lint, Reyes, Salander and Vega (CD/1693).

One of the salient issues of today is terrorism, which is manifesting itself in more sinister and varied ways than ever before. Terrorism, facilitated by weapons of every kind, is a pressing disarmament issue whose complexity stems from the fact that the physical weapons of terrorists are secondary to their methods of operation. Because they will stop at nothing to achieve their means, greater investment in disarmament and the safeguarding of toxic materials, rather than unilateral policies and doctrines of war must be considered in long-term solutions to the dangers posed by terrorism. The CD has a profoundly important role to play in this monumental task.

For centuries there has been the reaction to take up the banner of militarism in the face of threat. Evaluation of this paradigm, so contagious and so destructive to the frustrated victims of the injustices of our society should begin here - because it is what happens here that breeds justification for the resort to violence. Eleanor Roosevelt, well remembered for her work in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights once said, "nobody won the last war and nobody will win the next."

Every time there is a public reinforcement of the notion that military strength and the willingness to use it are key elements of security, every time disarmament or choosing not to rely on threat or use of force for security are dismissed as weak or womanly options, the power of the terrorist is reinforced.

Transparency in Armaments was added to your agenda in 1992, and reduction in military spending is part of the Decalogue. Increased accumulation of armaments and military spending has not increased world security. For nearly a hundred years, women,s organizations have been at the forefront of researching, exposing, and protesting the enormous resources devoted to weapons and war. Our research allows us to assert that the ability of military violence to achieve its stated aims is routinely over-estimated, while the extent of its costs are overlooked. Our studies show that just one quarter of the world,s approximately $839 billion in military spending would allow nations to provide decent housing, health and education to their citizens. It would also allow governments to provide energy, to clean up the environment, ameliorate the AIDS pandemic, stop global warming, ease the debt burden, disarm nuclear weapons, collect and destroy hundreds of millions of small arms and de-mine the world. Perhaps most importantly at this fragile moment, the careful redistribution of resources that are currently absorbed by the global killing machine might convince the most desperate and angry of the world,s people that they do not need to resort to terrorism to achieve their goals.

Even in times of grave uncertainty a comprehensive strategy can and must be guided by the rule of law and true respect for human rights. We endorse the High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello's statement: "The security of states.. flows from the security of the human being."

Women urge the CD to:

1. Agree to a program of work in this first part of the 2003 session. While the proposal outlined by the former Presidents does not meet our expectations of the CD, the deadlock of the last six years has considerably altered our expectations of this body. The program outlined would at least see the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. This is more urgent than ever due to the increased dangers posed by toxic materials of the nuclear age, which should stop being produced immediately. The Proposal should also include discussion on arrangements towards a binding agreement on negative security assurances, and an exchange of information on nuclear disarmament toward potential future work of a multilateral character.

It would be our hope that the elaboration of a regime capable of preventing an arms race in outer space could be elaborated rather quickly due to the investment, research and development by one member state in this field, which are significant enough to trigger an arms race should other member states join that race.

2. Because it is unacceptable for a handful of CD member states to hold the time and concerns of the majority in contempt, a coalition of willing states should begin informal deliberations on the above five areas, thereby utilizing the time and expertise available in Geneva constructively, and generating draft documents and draft treaties as food for thought for when political will finally reaches a critical mass.

3. Conduct a serious review with the aim of developing new mechanisms for a more inclusive role of NGOs in the life and work of the Conference on Disarmament. This review should consider the modality for participation, and assistance with the important "partnership" role that NGOs can play and the essential opinion-formulating role of civil society, vital for the success of your work. NGOs stand ready to work with you in the conduct of this review and the development of appropriate mechanisms.

Thank you for taking the time to hear our perspectives on disarmament. Your commitment to doing so each year on this day should not, however, be marked with statements thanking women for their interest, which implies that our work on disarmament issues is invisible for the other 364 days of the year. For us, International Women's Day is more than symbolic. It is an opportunity to remind you that your ongoing and serious engagement with issues of global security requires the systematic integration of gender in your work, when that work actually begins anew. As the world's sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, you can only be said to represent us and remember, women constitute at least 50% of those you represent if you engage with and reflect our perspectives in your work.