by Rebecca Gerome, IANSA Women's Network
You may have noticed women dressed in black handing out pins, postcards, and leaflets at the entrance of the conference room yesterday. IANSA Women, members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), women from Amnesty International, and the Control Arms coalition wore black to remind all those participating in Arms Trade Treaty negotiations that the arms trade is not just any trade. They wore black to remind those present that the arms trade is about militarism, violence, and war. And it has specific gender dimensions.
Women rarely manufacture, sell, buy, or use weapons, yet they are disproportionately affected by the arms trade and in particular, by the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. While men are the majority of those killed by small arms, women suffer in more invisible ways. High death and injury rates of men are the most obvious and visible effects of gun violence, yet what fails to appear in statistics is when guns are not used to kill but to exert power; when guns are used behind closed doors to subjugate family members; when guns are used to threaten adolescent girls with sexual violence, forcing entire families to flee. What we fail to talk about, when we talk about the arms trade, are the rapes of tens of thousands of women at gunpoint.
There is a strong correlation between carrying weapons and notions of masculinity, considered to be traditional “gun-culture”. Armed conflict changes men’s views about what qualifies as masculine behavior: group pressure amplifies men’s aggressiveness and inclination to treat women as inferior. Since almost all men are armed in times of conflict, it is inevitable that their weaponry is implicated in the exercise of power over women.
For example, armed men perpetrate sexual violence at gunpoint against women and girls with impunity, most famously in the Eastern DRC, but also in a number of countries that are not necessarily at conflict.
Marie was gang raped on 10 June 2010 in Port-au-Prince. “When you call [for help], people hear but they don’t come out to help when there are people with guns around,” she says. Her story is one of many others in Amnesty International’s January 2011 report on Haiti, entitled “Aftershocks: Women Speak Out About Sexual Violence”. Most of the rape victims interviewed were threatened by groups of men armed with guns.
By facilitating domination and violence against women, guns prevent women from exercising their basic rights on a daily basis, in the marketplaces where they trade, in the fields where they work, at water-points and along the roads where girls walk to school.
United Nations Member States have progressively recognised that a gender perspective needs to be included in all policies and programmes. The inclusion of gender-based violence in the preamble of the Chair’s Paper is a good start, but it is not enough. Gender-based violence must form an explicit part of the criteria determining whether arms transfers are authorised.
Gender-based violence can constitute a violation of human rights, a violation of international criminal law, and in cases of armed conflict, a violation of international humanitarian law. So why include a separate criterion on gender-based violence if the criteria already covers those areas of international law?
The Mission of Finland, Amnesty International, WILPF and the IANSA Women’s Network co-organised a side event on this very topic. Panellists argued that if it is not explicit, gender-based violence tends to be side-lined and ignored. More importantly, a gendered analysis of the potential impacts of an arms transfer is necessary in order to draw an accurate and complete picture of the situation. Gender-based violence must be explicitly considered in any risk assessment preceding each and every arms transfer decision.
107 civil society organisations and networks from around the world have joined our call to include gender-based violence in the criteria of the Arms Trade Treaty.
Six states have shown support for the inclusion of gender-based violence in the preamble: New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Turkey. Botswana has called for it to be in the goals and objectives of the treaty. 14 states have taken the next logical step and supported the inclusion of gender-based violence in the core part of the treaty, the criteria: Norway, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Lithuania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Gabon, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, Liberia and Samoa. We thank these states and call on all others to seize this opportunity to make women safer and uphold their basic rights.
Violence prevention is complex and difficult to achieve. The Arms Trade Treaty might have the potential to be a step in this direction - if it includes strong provisions and robust criteria on gender-based violence. It is time to seize this opportunity to prevent gender-based violence and prove your commitment to women’s rights.
For more information, read the Joint Policy Paperon Gender and the Arms Trade Treaty by WILPF, IANSA, Amnesty International and Religions for Peace: