Reinforcing Gender and Small Arms Policy Linkages

21 Sep

The issue of the gender dimensions within efforts to stem the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) has gained significant traction earlier this year and is likely to continue developing as the year progresses.

In April 2013, the Secretary-General (SG) noted in his report on Sexual Violence in Conflict instances of rape and sexual violence arising from armed groups.[i] Furthermore, the SG’s report to the Security Council on Small Arms reiterated that armed conflict can negatively impact women and men, making them susceptible to violence.[ii] The SG noted that “[a]ttention should be paid to women, who suffer disproportionately from the effects of violent conflict: an abundance of uncontrolled weapons and a context of lawlessness lead to increases in gender-based violence, which includes rape, abduction into sexual slavery and trafficking.”[iii]

It is generally known that SALW can be one of the most pervasive threats to a strong and reliable security sector and that the illicit flow of small arms, including illegally diverted arms, can contribute to the commission of violence against women as well as a source of intimidation for women’s participation in social and political life.[iv] As Global Action has noted in previous policy briefs, the illicit flow of small arms can contribute to acts of sexual violence in conflict which can pose a threat to international peace and security.[v] Additionally, “women can be weapon-carriers, especially as members of militias or armed groups from the national to the local level. Women can likewise promote a culture of guns, especially for the younger generation for which they are often responsible, and ultimately contribute to the proliferation of small arms.”[vi] Furthermore, and perhaps most important to us, the illicit flow of small arms can create security concerns hindering women’s participation in conflict and post-conflict communities, as weapons can be used to intimidate or instill fear.[vii]

Whether it is in the high level meeting expected this month in the Security Council[viii] or within work of the First Committee, or even within the purview of the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, it is imperative to reinforce the gender dimensions in efforts to control illicit arms.

Women’s participation in decision-making processes is highlighted in Security Council Resolution 1325, as it is in gender-sensitive Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs.[ix] Subsequent relevant resolutions have also reiterated gender-sensitive DDR programs and have called for targeted measures against perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict.[x] SCR 1960 has called on the SG to include names of perpetrators suspected of committing, or responsible for, crimes of sexual violence during armed conflict in his reports to the Security Council.[xi]

Additionally, the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA) binds member states to commitments to prevent and combat the illicit flow of small arms. While only in the context of the preembular paragraphs, member states acknowledge that they are ‘gravely concerned’ about the impact the illicit flow of small arms can have on women, children, and the elderly.[xii] Furthermore, the General Assembly Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, promotes women’s equal representation in disarmament and arms control processes, “in particular as it relates to the prevention and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict.”[xiii] The resolution promotes women’s participation in the ‘design and implementation of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts,” as well as in the context of preventing and eradicating the illicit SALW.[xiv]

Finally, it is also worth noting that “[t]he use of conventional weapons, including small arms, in armed conflict is subject to the limitations of international humanitarian law (IHL),” whose purpose is to protect civilians from suffering by controlling the ways and means that can be used to inflict violence.[xv] IHL is violated not simply by the use of small arms, but rather by their unauthorized use, whether by government or non-armed groups, to target civilians.[xvi] “The unregulated proliferation of SALW contributes to violations of IHL by providing abusive actors with the tools used to commit these crimes.”[xvii] It is therefore imperative that emphasis is placed on the prevention and eradication of the illicit flow of these  weapons.

This year has been significant in that early 2013 saw the adoption of two major instruments that further strengthen international commitments to pursue this policy linkage. The impact of the illicit flow of small arms on violence against women was noted in the Agreed Conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the main policy-making body on the promotion of women’s rights.[xviii] Additionally, the recent adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty made significant progress in ensuring that the gender considerations are non-negotiable aspects of binding criteria when determining the validity of arms transfers.[xix]

Moving forward, the momentum should be maintained around these issues in relevant UN Processes, of course to the extent that procedural mandates do not already overlap.  The gender dimensions within arms control and disarmament should continue to be highlighted, placing special emphasis on women’s participation in disarmament processes, ranging from decision-makers in policy discussions, to active members of security forces, to equal recipients of benefits available through DDR programs. In regards to 1325 National Action Plans, gender and disarmament dimensions should be integrated therein, in situations and circumstances where it is relevant to the security of women. Finally, one must also remember that women have a distinct and unique set of protection and participation needs which have to be addressed in relevant policies.

–          Melina Lito

[i] See A/67/929, S/2013 399.

[ii] See, S/2013/503, para. 20.

[iii] See, S/2013/503, para. 20.

[iv] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief,

[v] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p.2

[vi] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p. 2

[vii] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p.2

[viii] See, Security Council Report, Monthly Forecast, Small Arms, September 2013.

[ix] Security Council Resolution 1325 (2008) OP. 1-4, 13.

[x] Re: DDR, See SCR 1889 (2009), OP. 13, 1820 (2008), OP.10, SCR 2106 (2106), OP. 16(a); Re: targeted measures, see, SCR 1820 OP. 5, SCR 2106, OP. 13.

[xi] SCR 1960 (2010), OP. 3.

[xii] UN Document A/CONF.192/15,

[xiii] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1, OP.1.

[xiv] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1, OP.4-OP.5.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: