On 25 October, a panel discussion entitled Beyond the Buzz: Gender in Arms Control was held as a side event of the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. It was jointly organized by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations and Small Arms Survey.
The panel was moderated by Rosemary McCarney, the Permanent Representative of Canada to the Conference on Disarmament and the UN in Geneva. In her opening remarks, Ambassador McCarney advocated for a shift beyond the numbers towards substantive analysis of gender in arms control.
“These are the complex issues of our time,” she said.
Three questions were posed to the panelists concerning how to cross the boundaries between the women, peace and security and disarmament agendas; the challenges in creating convergence; and possible solutions.
Sylvie Ndongmo, the President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Cameroon, described disarmament and women, peace and security as very strongly interlinked. She thought the main difficulty in Africa was that disarmament is often seen as a men’s issue.
“When women’s voices are missing, we are missing part of the solution,” explained Ms. Ndongmo.
She called for better data collection and capacity-building at the grassroots level.
Katja Boettcher, a Program Management Officer at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, agreed that disarmament and women, peace and security have connected agendas. She noted how small arms were previously conceptualized purely from a security perspective, which meant gender was rarely accounted for.
“Everyone has to re-programme the way we think about this issue,” Ms. Boettcher said.
She echoed the need for sex-disaggregated data as well as research into why people use guns. Ms. Boettcher thought it was especially important that States share knowledge because cross-cutting issues require everybody’s cooperation.
Speaking along similar lines, Associate Researcher at Small Arms Survey Mihaela Racovita said data, mentoring and training can all play a role in crossing boundaries. She thought more work was needed in building a strong evidence base and unlearning old ways of thinking.
Tatyana Jiteneva, a Policy Specialist for Sustaining Peace at UN Women, believed the common thread between disarmament and women, peace and security was participation. She described how women could bring a wealth of knowledge and intelligence to the table.
“The key missing piece, in my point of view, is political will,” Ms. Jiteneva stated. She recommended a diverse range of women be represented in both policy design and implementation.
Manal Taha, a Senior Advisor at Development Transformations, suggested further strategies for making women visible. These included improving sex-disaggregated data, using language related to gender in resolutions and empowering women through leadership positions.
“If you get women in charge, a lot of change will happen,” Ms. Taha articulated.
In her concluding remarks, Ambassador McCarney emphasized the importance of simply getting started.
“Perfect is truly the enemy of the good,” she said.
Text and Pictures by Victoria Brownlee