In 2007 three women from civil society organisations in the Philippines launched a campaign to make the control of small arms central to reducing violence and promoting peacebuilding in their country. We conducted workshops, held regional consultations throughout the country, joined with other peace activists and lobbied the government. Three years on, we won a commitment in the National Action Plan on 1325 to "enact and enforce of laws regulating the possession of small arms".
I was in a meeting of peace advocates recently in the Philippines when one renowned peacewoman told me. “I have seen the National Action Plan on SCR 1325. Why is the issue of small arms there? What has that issue got to do with the resolution?” I was stunned. I thought that the connection was crystal-clear.
What is UNSCR 1325 after all? It is a resolution that calls on women’s greater participation in the building of peace and human security. And the last time I checked, the feminist conceptualisations of peace and security had not changed. Peace is the presence of just structures and relationships in society, as well as the absence of direct violence. Security is freedom from want and humiliation, as well as freedom from fear. Hence, in the work for peace and security in this violent world, the issue of small arms cannot be overlooked.
In the world today, approximately 1,000 people are killed by gun shots on a daily basis in both armed conflict and non-armed conflict situations. There are 875 million guns in circulation worldwide with 8 million guns being added in the arsenals each year.
So why should we include small arms in the Philippine National Action Plan? The Philippines is awash with small arms. The Small Arms Survey put civilian firearms holdings in the country at 4.2 million. Our Philippine National Police (PNP) puts loose firearms holdings at 1.1 million. And there are roughly 500 applications for gun licensing processed every day.
Where do these guns come from? Imported from countries like the United States of America; from local manufactures where guns can be had for as little as US $15; from smuggling because we have numerous and long coastlines; and from the loss, theft or illegal sale from government sources to criminal and other armed elements.
There is a wide range of weapons in circulation in my country and despite that, there is an existing policy that authorizes the possession and licensing of firearms of any type and/or caliber and in unlimited quantity by any citizen who meets the requirements set by law.
It was essential that small arms were included in our National Action Plan to implement 1325. Twenty six people are killed every day through murder and homicide. Nearly 80% of them are killed by the use of small arms - that means that guns are used to kill twenty one Filipinos on a daily basis. According to the Zenarosa Commission’s report A Journey towards Hope the Philippines ranks 10th in the number of gun homicide rates worldwide. In the 2010 Global Peace Index the Philippines was among the least peaceful countries in the world, placed 130 out of 149 the countries ranked.
So why small arms? Because proliferation enables, intensifies and sustains the two major armed conflicts in the country. One with Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’Army (CPP-NPA) and the other with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). These armed conflicts are two of the longest-running in the world with thousands left dead.
Why small arms? Because small arms play a key role in the ability of armed groups to commit gross human rights abuses such as extra judicial killings, torture. enforced disappearances and sexual violence.
Small arms allow political dynasties in the country like the Ampatuan family from Maguindanao to perpetuate themselves in power. They keep private armies and stockpile weapons used to intimidate, coerce, wield “power”, buy votes or kill opponents.
It is politics of guns, goons and gold for numerous families, who, if unable to keep themselves in power through ballots, will do so through bullets. A recent example was the election-related massacre in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009 that killed 57 people, 21 of them women. Results of police laboratory tests found traces of semen in five of the 21 slain women, evidence that they were raped. The gruesome crime was aided by guns. The Ampatuan family, whose members are charged before the courts for this massacre, stock up on weapons. More than 1,200 weapons were seized from in and around their properties. The family employed 2,000 militias while they were incumbent officials of Maguindanao province.
Small arms claim lives in clan wars (rido) that erupt from time to time over grievances such as land disputes and tarnishing family honour, and create patterns of revenge that claims almost 200 deaths per year.
Small arms are used to protect economic strongholds through the hiring of private militias or bodyguards . Companies use these groups to intimidate and kill opposing forces. They are also used as tools of intimidation by those pursuing “development” projects.
Why small arms in the National Action Plan on SCR 1325? Because even if the primary weapon holders, users and traders are men, women suffer from the lack of controls over today's billion-dollar trade. Women are particularly at risk of certain crimes because of their sex: subjected to violence in the home, in the streets and on the battlefield. Sex and gender-based violence cases are aided by guns. An incident of rape is reported every two and half hours 2 1/2 hours. This does not include the number of women who do not file a complaint out of fear for their lives or fear of bringing dishonour to their families.
Why small arms in a NAP on 1325? Because “women and girls hardly ever fight the world's wars, but they often suffer the most…when sexual violence is deliberately used as a tactic of warfare”. They bear the pain and brunt of keeping a family. Trish, Joan and Mina were my students in Miriam College the past two semesters. Trish lost her father from a group of robbers who shot him dead while he was driving back home. Joan lost his cousin from a gunman last July because of mistaken identity. And Mina lost his father last July from political rivals. His father was a former mayor of their town in Central Philippines.
Why small arms in a NAP on 1325? Because we have to make sure that arms control issues are raised and considered during peace negotiations. Arms control laws and policies reduce the violence committed against women in situations of armed conflict and in “peace” time. SCR 1325 calls for work with women to ensure inclusion in leadership “The needs and priorities of women and girls should be fully incorporated in the design and implementation of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programmes”.
Why small arms? Because arms spending takes away huge resources that should be allocated for basic social and economic services and poverty alleviation. In a country where one in every three people is poor, the proposed military budget in the Philippines is $2.3 billion for this fiscal year.
Because UNSCR 1325 calls on women to engage actively in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. And peace will not prosper if there is direct violence. To create a climate of peace and security, the tools of direct violence - like guns, must be controlled.
These are some of the reasons why the issue of small arms is addressed in our National Action Plan on 1325.
Recognizing that controlling the tools of violence is imperative in the work of conflict prevention and in the building of peace and security, our women perform various roles to keep and build the peace and prevent armed conflict. They act as peacekeepers, advocates, negotiators, mediators, educators, healers and reconcilers, evacuation centre managers, relief operations coordinators and facilitators of dialogue.
How else can women effectively contribute to conflict prevention and peacebuilding ? There are so many ways. We can: campaign for safe storage of weapons to avoid theft; campaign for weapons destruction; educate the public on the risks of having guns at home; work towards breaking the perceived link between guns and manliness, security, power and prestige; lobby for and participate in the crafting of more restrictive polices on the possession and carrying of firearms and other small arms policy and programmes; work towards the abolition of political dynasties and private armed groups; lead in the use of indigenous peaceful conflict resolution methods to settle conflicts.
What are our recommendations for the security sector ? We ask state actors to: Train military and police on peace, human and women’s rights; manage stockpiles to eliminate diversion to illicit elements or rogue uniformed personnel; destroy surplus weapons; and penalize personnel who violate women’s rights; impose severe penalties for weapons lost/stolen; prevent weapons being taken home outside duty.
UNSCR 1325 asks us women to increase our role in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding. This role includes the creation of effective policies and programmes that will control the very tools of violence and conflict - small arms and light weapons. Integrating small arms issues in your national action plans on Women, Peace and Security may be a crucial first step. We must all take that step now.