From 30 November to 3 December 2021, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) partnered with the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SLeNCSA) and the Mines Advisory Group International (MAG) to conduct a series of capacity-building activities aimed at ensuring that gender considerations are systematically integrated in small arms control policies and programmes in Sierra Leone.
The West African country has long been committed to enhancing and advancing global small arms control efforts. For example, it prioritized effective small arms control during its Presidency of the Seventh Conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), held last year. Additionally, Sierra Leone has been actively committed to implementing the United Nations Programme of Action (UNPoA).
Those efforts on the international stage must be fully translated into the country’s new National Action Plan on Small Arms and Light Weapons Control (SALW NAP), said Colonel (Rtd) Conteh Binneh K., Deputy Commissioner of the SLeNCSA, at the opening of UNREC’s training on gender mainstreaming small arms control, which was widely covered by local and national radio, TV and newspapers.
The first edition of Sierra Leone’s SALW NAP, which expired in 2015, had provided a defined strategy and blueprint for concerted action. However, the speaker continued, that previous version did not contain indicators for the integration of gender dimensions, nor did it define the key role that women and youth play in reducing armed violence. The National Commission should seize the opportunity to include both elements in the next edition of the national action plan which it is currently developing in collaboration with MAG and the Small Arms Survey, he concluded.
Ms. Simonetta Rossi, Peace and Development Advisor at the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office went on to suggest other policy areas where instruments such as the SALW NAP and the Sierra Leone National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 could have a meaningful impact. For example, while Sierra Leone is now considered “one of the most peaceful countries in Africa”, the Office of National Security has reported an increase in young boys and girls being recruited into criminal cliques and gangs. Gender-responsive small arms policies and actions could contribute to addressing this trend, she said.
In various thematic sessions, participants and experts discussed relevant policy issues and solutions to further advance Sierra Leone’s gender-responsive small arms control actions. First, representatives from UN Women explained the basic concepts of gender and sex, and the ways in which small arms control is linked to both. The Men’s Association for Gender Equality-Sierra Leone gave a presentation on how social roles, behaviors, and meanings prescribed for men, or “masculinities”, are often linked to the possession, use and misuse of small arms. Next, UNODA, together with the SLeNCSA, MAG International and the Ministry of Gender outlined how the international agendas on gender and small arms are integrally linked and provided an update on national initiatives that States are undertaking to implement the women, peace and security agenda and small arms control normative frameworks.
Mr. Mamoud Kargbo from Humanity & Inclusion Sierra Leone spoke about the need for an inclusive approach to reducing armed violence, pointing to statistics and trends which show that people living with disabilities often is linked to small arms proliferation, misuse and craft manufacturing in Sierra Leone.
Ms. Olivia Davies, who is responsible for implementing the West African Response to trafficking (OCWAR-T) initiative at the United Nations Development Programme, emphasized the importance of youth programmes to prevent conflict. She explained that preventing armed violence requires tailored solutions that account for young people’s specific needs and perspectives. This also applies to small arms policies, which should address the prevailing distrust between youth, government and the community in order to prevent young people from joining gangs and participating in organized crime, Ms. Davies said.
Experts went on to discuss how small arms control policies can be strengthened and tailored with data that demonstrates how men, women, boys and girls are affected differently by these weapons. UNREC’s Regional Project Coordinator on Gender and SALW Ms. Erly Munoz presented research methods and examples of surveys and indicators that are available to collect such sex- and age-disaggregated data. Mr. Francis Wairagu, Project Officer at Small Arms Survey added that “[…] the methods presented during this training as well as analysis on why it is important, will allow arms control practitioners to effectively integrate gender dimensions in the design of data collection mechanisms, and could contribute to Sierra Leone building its capacity in this area”.
One day of the training was dedicated to civil society, including the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA) and the Women’s Forum Sierra Leone, presenting their initiatives aimed at engaging women and youth in reducing armed violence. They also conducted an awareness raising activity to celebrate the 16 days campaign against Gender-based Violence – a global campaign to increase awareness, promote advocacy efforts and share knowledge and innovations to eliminate GBV. During this session, civil society representatives encouraged participants to consider “16 practical ways to get engaged in advocacy against gender-based violence” and encourage small arms control experts “to become allies for gender-responsive firearms laws” and to advocate to “disarm domestic violence”. Commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which coincided with the campaign period, the training participants shared messages on social media to raise awareness about disability issues and to mobilize support for gender equality in arms control in Sierra Leone.
The training concluded with participants developing a list of 15 gender-responsive small arms control recommendations, based on the presentations and information that they had gathered over the course of the training, with the aim of enabling the National Commission on Small Arms Control and Light Weapons to expand and strengthen its gender approach in small arms control programming.
The next day, UNREC, MAG International, Small Arms Survey, UNDP and IANSA carried out a follow-up activity with key national stakeholders, aimed at identifying priorities that should be included and developed in Sierra Leone’s next small arms control National Action Plan. As a result, participants developed a gender-mainstreamed action strategy, covering, inter alia, weapons and ammunition management, border controls and law enforcement cooperation, and safer community planning.
The activities were part of UNODA’s flagship global project on gender and small arms control, funded by the European Union.