UN business: women, guns and small arms control

"It is not about feminism, it is about business. Member states give us money to implement projects, and if I implement a project that only affects 50 percent of the population, that is bad business." Agnes Marcaillou, UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.
Sarah Masters
25 October 2010

This month's anniversary of UN Security Council 1325 is significant for  women, peace and security, but also for something less positive - an occasion to highlight how little it has to say about disarmament and small arms. Small arms are simply not mentioned in the text in the way that landmines are, despite their widely known and documented role in armed conflict.

It remains curious that 1325 ignores small arms, given the significance of guns in violence against women in times of conflict and times of peace. Although small arms proliferation is an underlying threat to the successful implementation of the resolution, explicit links are often not made. It is as if the presence of small arms is inevitable, somehow unavoidable and this prevents them from being recognised as facilitators of human rights violations, tools of intimidation, dominance and violence.

In the last ten years, civil society organisations from the field of disarmament have worked tirelessly to highlight the inherent links between the goals of 1325 and small arms control. Both have the ultimate aim to reduce violence and ensure that a state does not return to conflict. So work continues to ensure that small arms control is viewed as an essential element, and linked more closely with the implementation of the resolution.

Women’s organisations including members of the IANSA Women’s Network are often the first to initiate micro-disarmament projects under the banner of creating peace and security. These projects may include awareness-raising and weapons collection components. In this way women have taken leadership roles in peacebuilding work, violence prevention and education about gun violence, and have used 1325 to enable their participation in disarmament efforts around the world.  Local women’s initiatives have included the successful 2008 gun buyback in Argentina. 70,000 weapons and 450,000 rounds of ammunition were collected, and over 50,000 destroyed. Despite the lack of a gender perspective in policies to address the small arms problem, women led the way. Although 95% of gun owners are male in Argentina, 50% of those who handed in weapons were women. This suggests that many guns owned by men were actually handed in by wives or partners.

In 2010, women from the Frontier Indigenous Network in Wajir, Kenya, celebrated a major victory as the local government agreed to share information about its small arms inventory and mark over 9,000 weapons. Women were also invited to join a committee that will lead raising-awareness programmes on small arms control. The decision came after 100 pastoralist women submitted a petition and a regional plan on firearms control to the government on 8 April 2010. The plan also lists local arms markets, smuggling routes and arms traffickers.

The Movement Against Small Arms in West Africa  is running awareness-raising programmes for communities in Casamance, Senegal, to allow women to develop incentives and strategies that are convincing people to hand over their weapons.

There is no doubt that existence of SCR 1325 has helped to mobilise support within the UN and member states’ governments. However, much remains to be done. Agnes Marcaillou, Chief of the Regional Disarmament Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs “It Is not about feminism, it is about business. Member states give us money to implement projects, and if I implement a project that only affects 50 percent of the population, that is bad business.”

The 2004 UN Secretary General’s Report on Resolution 1325 called for all UN Member States to develop National Action Plans to ensure implementation of the resolution - linking humanitarian, conflict, defence and diplomacy work.  As we mark the 10th anniversary of 1325, there has been a concerted effort by some countries to demonstrate their awareness of 1325 and develop plans of action.

So far, at least 22 countries have created National Action Plans which contain strategies for the inclusion of women’s voices and views in work to promote peace and security. Some of these countries have taken a lead in recognising small arms within their plans - a key matter to be addressed if women’s security is to be improved. These include:

The plan of The Philippines contains a specific ‘action point’ on small arms which clearly recognises how significantly guns affect women’s lives and how seriously this theme needs to be researched, and subject to regulation and legislation.

Belgium addresses the danger that the illicit arms trade represents for women and calls for responsibility to be taken at the international level to curb the flow of illegal weapons. It advocates a binding ‘international arms trade treaty’ and cooperation between states to reduce armed violence and promote human rights. 

Denmark gives useful input on the urgency of training women about small arms in the context of DDR programmes.

Liberia appreciates the contribution of local women’s organisations towards monitoring illicit cross-border small arms flows.

Norway raises the need for a gender perspective in policies for managing the military, police and other security sector institutions, and for controlling the availability and use of small arms.

Uganda, the current President of the Security Council, recognises that small arms proliferation is a significant promoter of armed conflict and encourages regional mechanisms to combat it. This is useful in clarifying that the availability of weapons is not a mere accessory to violence, but plays a causal role.

There is a growing acknowledgment that more accurate gender analysis leads to more effective disarmament initiatives and weapons control policy, and that recognising  the different experiences of men, women, boys and girls, as agents and victims of small arms use and proliferation is central to achieving effective and sustainable small arms control.

UN entities such as UNDP have explicitly developed gender policies to support human security and sustainable development for families and broader communities by minimising the extent and impact of small arms misuse. The UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) is developing International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS), just as the UN system has done with landmines. Ultimately gendered aspects of small arms control will be incorporated in all modules of the Standards and should lead to establishing specific principles.

Experience has shown that post-conflict strategies that exclude women help to exacerbate further insecurity and are often unsustainable. The goals of SCR 1325, small arms control and women’s participation are inherently interconnected. Much more needs to be done, but it is within reach. The tenth anniversary marks an opportunity for governments, intergovernmental organisations and civil society to consolidate this limited progress through making clearer links between the 1325 and the next phase of the UN small arms control process, particularly the Review Conference on the Programme of Action on Small Arms in 2012, and work towards an Arms Trade Treaty. The UN Security Council has an additional role to play by raising the matter of small arms control during this week's Open Debate on women, peace and security.  


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