OSAGI Home Gender Mainstreaming Focal Point

Statement on gender mainstreaming in disarmament
to the Group of Experts for the
"United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education"

Prepared by Carolyn Hannan, 
Principal Officer for Gender Mainstreaming
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
18 April, 2001

Thank you for the opportunity to present some information on gender perspectives on disarmament, including in relation to advocacy and education.

Discussions of disarmament have tended to ignore gender perspectives - i.e. the differential impact of conflict and post-conflict situations on women and men and girls and boys, and the implications of this for disarmament policies and programmes. Bringing gender perspectives to the centre of attention in disarmament discussions is important, not only for securing human rights and social justice for both women and men, but also for ensuring the achievement of disarmament goals. Success in disarmament requires that attention is given to all stakeholders, and that their knowledge, experiences, perceptions of security or threats to security, priorities and needs will influence disarmament activities on the ground.

In the past men have been seen as combatants and as the automatic targets of disarmament activities, including disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation programmes. Women, on the other hand, tend to be seen primarily as victims of conflict or solely in terms of their caring roles. This oversimplifies the reality of both women and men in conflict and post-conflict situations. Women ex-combatants are often ignored and their particular needs and priorities are neglected, as are those of the families of ex-combatants. Men are the predominant victims of landmines and UXOs in many parts of the world, although the reasons behind the sometimes huge disparities between women and men in rates of injury are not known. The impacts of landmine injuries on the families of the victims need to be given greater attention. In many cases the survival of families is dependent on the provision of adequate support to women whose husbands have been injured by landmines, or women who are mine victims themselves and have been deserted by their husbands.

The gender perspectives on all areas of disarmament in small arms, landmines, weapons of mass destruction - need to be identified - and the implications for disarmament activities, such as disarmament for development initiatives and DDR (disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation) programmes, acknowledged and addressed. The briefing notes prepared by the Department for Disarmament Affairs (March 2001) outline the gender perspectives in relation to each area of disarmament and highlight some required actions for taking these perspectives into account in disarmament activities. The notes make an important contribution in putting gender perspectives more clearly on the disarmament agenda.

The important role of women in disarmament advocacy

It is well known that historically women have been concerned about peace and security and have mobilized for disarmament at local, national, regional and international levels - both with men and in separate women's groups and networks where this was felt to be a more effective strategy. Their activities have included peace petitions to end war or the threat of war; different forms of participation in peace processes and disarmament initiatives, particularly around weapons of mass destruction; and advocacy for transferring military expenditures to development goals. Women have been inspired by a perception of peace as more than the absence of conflict and have been particularly clear about the important linkages between equality, development and peace.

Ten women have received the Nobel Peace Prize, including the co-founders of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom established in 1915 - Jane Adams and Emily Greene Balch. Women played an important role in the anti-nuclear movements of the 1980s. A global women's peace movement spread across Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. There have also been strong women's movements in other parts of the world. In the Pacific women organized against nuclear testing and Japanese women set up a peace camp at the base of Mount Fuji. As recently as in August 2000, more than 1800 women met in Hiroshima to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The Million Mom March against small arms in USA is also an indication of the engagement and growing influence of women in this area.

In many conflict situations around the world women have worked courageously to find commonalties across economic, political, cultural divides in order to end conflict and remove weapons from communities. In Papua New Guinea women from all sides of the conflict organized an island-wide programme where trained women walked alone into the jungle to seek out and persuade guerrillas to lay down their weapons. In Albania women were particularly active in bringing in the approximately 6,000 weapons and 137 tons of ammunition collected. In a survey carried out by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, individual women in Albania linked their commitment to this initiative to ensuring their own personal security. In a recent burning of weapons ceremony in a disarmament for development programme in Bakan District in Cambodia, around 90 percent of the participants were women and children. Women also played a key role in the weapons collection programme in Mali, including through the work of the National Women's Movement for the Maintenance of Peace and National Unity.

It is difficult to provide a single rationale for active involvement of women in disarmament issues over the past decades. What is clear is that disarmament issues continue to engage women at many levels. Public opinion polls in many countries show a significant gender divide in attitudes towards firearms. A recent poll in USA, for example, indicated that 66% of women, compared with 45% of men, wanted stricter controls. A 1993 study in Sweden showed that women tended to support cuts to defense budgets to a greater extent than men. For whatever reasons, women have been, and continue to be, a powerful force for change in relation to disarmament affairs and their advocacy roles should be supported and utilized more effectively.

In spite of their documented keen interest in peace, security and disarmament, women remain, however, seriously underrepresented in bodies and processes related to key disarmament issues. This can, in part, be related to the persistence of serious gender disparities in political representation generally. Achieving a better gender balance in intergovernmental bodies and expert bodies on disarmament should be given increased priority. Efforts need to be made to involve more women both as experts and as representatives of civil society.

Cultures of violence and perceptions of security

Working effectively with gender perspectives in disarmament requires developing a better understanding of the dynamics of supply and demand in relation to weapons - in particular what drives individuals and groups to own and use weapons. Statistics show very clearly that men predominate amongst the owners and users of weapons, while at the same time men make up the majority of victims of gun violence. Women are, however, also particularly vulnerable to gun violence in specific situations in both conflict and non-conflict areas. Small arms have, for example made security issues in refugee camps a particular problem for women, leading to increased sexual exploitation of women and girls, and in non-conflict zones small arms have increased the fatality rate of domestic violence.

A focus on weapon ownership and use uncovers issues of power and greed as well as fear and different forms of insecurity. There are important gender differences in perceptions of security. The different situations in which women or men or girls or boys feel secure or threatened, in both conflict and non-conflict areas, need to be clearly identified. For many women in contexts where guns are freely available, the greatest threat to their security and safety may well be within the home itself, because of the increased risk of domestic violence with fatal outcomes.

A related important issue is that of understanding the development of cultures of conflicts and violence and possible links to issues of masculinity. It is very clear that the presence of weapons contributes to the establishment of cultures of violence, which can have important gender implications. The issue of small arms, for example, raises some very interesting issues around masculinity - perceptions of manliness and links to weapons and cultures of conflict and violence - which need to be investigated further and addressed. Researchers are also increasingly raising the issue of masculinity in relation to weapons of mass destruction.

Education and training on disarmament and non-proliferation

In education and training on disarmament and non-proliferation both women and men should be seen as important target groups and as potential communicators. It is important that, in all contexts, women as well as men are reached directly with information. It cannot be assumed that men will pass on information received to their wives, or that women will be in a position to pass on information they receive to men in their households. Women are a critical resource in advocacy and awareness raising campaigns because of their strong commitment to disarmament issues. Advocacy and education campaigns should identify the best means of reaching and engaging women as a key target group which can effectively utilized to mobilize public opinion for disarmament. In southern Yemen, local women's organizations have been successfully involved in mobilizing local and international support for mine awareness and victim assistance. Women are particularly important communicators in contexts where men cannot reach women with information, or where children are an important target group. In Afghanistan, for example, teams of husbands and wives visit mine-affected communities and talk to women and men separately about the dangers of landmines.

Education and training programmes on disarmament and non-proliferation should identify and utilize the resources existing in women's NGOs and networks as well as in research institutions working on gender perspectives on disarmament. Increased support should be given to the work carried out by these organizations and networks. This can ensure that all target groups are reached, all relevant perspectives are incorporated in the education and training programmes and that the best communicators for different groups are identified and utilized effectively. Efforts should also be made to support the development of expertise among women in all areas of disarmament, including the development of necessary political negotiation skills, in order to facilitate increased gender balance among facilitators of education and training programmes.

Education and training curriculum should include all relevant gender perspectives. Current research findings should be identified and translated into meaningful information for education and training programmes. The briefing notes developed by the Department of Disarmament Affairs will be a valuable resource in this context, in particular because they are short and accessible and can be used in many different contexts. Each briefing note also provides a resource list which indicates where further information can be sought, through publications, websites and key organizations.

Support should be increased for research programmes which can provide much-needed information for education and training programmes. This should include research on human security issues and on the linkages between cultures of violence and masculinity. To date, most of the attention to issues of masculinity has been at a rather theoretical level. Clearer elaboration of the policy and practical implications is needed. Support is needed for the routine disaggregation of all statistics by sex and age.

Successful achievement of disarmament goals requires that those working with disarmament issues are well trained in all aspects of disarmament. This should include knowledge on relevant gender perspectives in all areas of disarmament activities. Capacity to integrate gender perspectives into disarmament activities should be a required professional capacity for personnel working with disarmament. Effective collaboration could be established between the United Nations, Member States and NGOs to develop training programmes for personnel working at both advocacy/policy levels and in programmes in the field.


Focal Point for Women.

Gender Mainstreaming IANWGE Contact
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
United Nations, Two United Nations Plaza,
44th St. 12th Floor, NY ,NY 10017
URL: http://www.un.org/osagi