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Making Disarmament Gender Neutral

Image Credits:Salko Agovic
United Nations, NPT

Gender debate is vast and multi-faceted; and so is the debate on disarmament. The latest disarmament agendas incorporate gender perspectives. The fact goes that there is a stark disparity in female representation while discussing disarmament which consequently generates an imbalanced and gender (masculine) exclusive view of disarmament. The international disarmament regime is at the primary stages of ensuring gender parity in panels, meetings and teams. At this stage, the challenge is more about turning the gender imbalance into a balance where numerical equality of genders is part of multilateral disarmament forums. Here the question presents itself: How can disarmament practices become more progressive and successful by incorporating a gender inclusive approach?

To understand why it is important to have gender inclusive disarmament negotiations, the case of small arms and light weapons serves as a rationale. In situations of armed conflicts, women become victims of rape, sexual violence and forced displacements. The perpetrators in these tragic scenarios are armed individuals carrying small arms and light weapons. Same holds true for gender-based violence in non-conflict situations where perpetrators use small arms and weapons to commit acts of violence against women. Similarly, female bodies are differently affected by weapons proliferation and suffer altogether unique biological effects. The social impacts, here, are closely associated with biological ones as women in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were stigmatized for not being able to produce normal children.

This framework holds valid and relevant in disarmament discussions as well. So any policy dealing with small arms, light weapons, nuclear weapons and all other kinds of biological and chemical weapons will be incomplete if women are not part of the process.

The above scenarios explain very well how arms and weapons affect women. This is totally different from the way men are affected by these armaments. This brings us down to where the gender question is grounded; the fact that women and men are differently affected and differently perceive situations.

Any policy making which is designed to be implemented on both men and women has to be gender sensitive. It will be gender sensitive only when the policy making process involves both men and women. This framework holds valid and relevant in disarmament discussions as well. So any policy dealing with small arms, light weapons, nuclear weapons and all other kinds of biological and chemical weapons will be incomplete if women are not part of the process.

The inclusivity of women in disarmament process comprises of two things: presence of women in the policy process and the policy to be mindful and sensitive of how weapons and armaments affect women. This gender inclusiveness came to the forefront of International Peace and Security with the adoption of resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security by the United Nations Security Council in 2000. This resolution talks about women’s role in peacekeeping, post conflict reconstruction, DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) and conflict resolution. The ground work for such a resolution to be adopted can be traced back into the second half of the 20th century. During this time, feminist scholars made contributions to notions of international security within the bigger ambit of International Relations. With the adoption of resolution 1325, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) established in 1998, included gender mainstreaming into its policy in 2001 and published a Gender Action Plan (GAP) in 2003; becoming the first UN body to have such a framework for action. The inspiration for publishing such a plan was the belief that women inclusion would strengthen the work of UNODA on disarmament and world security. The bigger purpose of GAP is to facilitate disarmament by including gender perspectives with four sub-goals. These goals include explore the linkages between the promotion of greater gender equality and disarmament, Strengthen Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA’s) internal capacity to ensure the ongoing incorporation of gender perspectives into its work, undertake outreach and advocacy on the importance of including gender perspectives in disarmament discussions and support equitable participation in disarmament discussions respectively. Moreover, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu while emphasising on the need to include women in policy making stressed on the need and significance of gender inclusiveness in disarmament negotiations hence complementing the goal of GAP through her words and actions.

With the adoption of resolution 1325, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) established in 1998, included gender mainstreaming into its policy in 2001 and published a Gender Action Plan (GAP) in 2003; becoming the first UN body to have such a framework for action.

The need for the presence of women at multilateral disarmament forums is, hence, well recognized and understood as is evident from UNODA’s GAP. The two disarmament related treaties; the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) gauge very well how women presence in policy making makes an impact on disarmament. Since coming into force in 1970 as a binding arrangement, NPT was considered the only comprehensive landmark initiative towards disarmament. The treaty came into force before the origin of UNODA and also before UN’s resolution 1325.

At a time when NPT was signed, gender mainstreaming was not part of the larger disarmament agenda. Only a handful of women were part of NPT negotiations from 1965-1968 and resultantly, we see that NPT does not speak about any gendered impacts of nuclear weapons and their proliferation. Even today women representation in the review meetings of NPT is very low. In 2017, at the first session of NPT Prep Com, only 33% of the participants were women. Taking into account TPNW, it was signed as a legally binding instrument on disarmament in September 2017. This treaty, along with other obligations, obliges the state parties to provide gender sensitive assistance to the victims of nuclear weapons use or testing. 31% of registered country delegates in the negotiations for this treaty were women. It is important to notice that the initiative behind this treaty was driven by the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. UNODA’s website defines the background of this treaty as: ‘The initiative to seek a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons is an outcome of the discourse centred on promoting greater awareness and understanding of the humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons’. Moreover, three international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons which were held in 2013 and 2014 also serve as a background supplement for TPNW.

These two cases of NPT and TPNW illustrate women exclusion and inclusion respectively. We find TPNW to be more focused on humanitarian aspects and given a good women representation, it is also gender sensitive. All this is missing in the NPT which is more of an inter-governmental arrangement with almost no regard for humanitarian concerns. The scope of NPT is limited to general and complete disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) and prohibition of developing or acquiring nuclear weapons on the non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), along with international control and monitoring and a commitment by the state parties to bring nuclear arms race to a halt as early as possible through negotiations (article VI).

This pretty much sums up the difference between gender inclusive and exclusive disarmament. When disarmament regime is gender inclusive, we can expect policies to be more humane. Since the very goal of disarmament is a secure and peaceful world, the goal is better realized when women are part of the disarmament policy making. There is, hence, no denying of the fact that the international disarmament regime can fully deliver only when women are equally part of the process.

Moreover, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu while emphasising on the need to include women in policy making stressed on the need and significance of gender inclusiveness in disarmament negotiations hence complementing the goal of GAP through her words and actions.

Women have to be part of national security policy making first and only then their presence at the international forums can be ensured (as representatives and ambassadors of their respective countries). At the level of societies, women education in fields of International Relations, Defence, Strategy, Diplomacy, Security, Public Policy and the like should be encouraged and facilitated. This will be the first step towards having more women in research and practice of these disciplines. These women will then be able to take up the roles of well informed delegates and ambassadors. To increase the pace of this process, focused training workshops are of key importance. The focus of such workshops should be to build capacity of both beginner (those who have completed formal education and are entering the career phase) and professional women so that they are equipped to be part of international multilateral forums where they can have an effective say.

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