Friday, July 6, 2012

What are the links between gender and the arms trade?

by the IANSA Women’s Network, WILPF, Amnesty International and Religions for Peace

“What does gender have to do with the Arms Trade Treaty?” is a question we often hear. The following extracts of the Joint Policy Paper on Gender and the Arms Trade Treaty by Amnesty International, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), IANSA Women’s Network, and Religions for Peace can provide answers to this question.

The arms trade affects everyone—men, women, boys and girls—in different ways. There is a gender dimension to the trade whereby women are disproportionately affected by armed gender-based violence, both in times of conflict and peace. Emboldened by weapons, power and status, both State and non-State parties often perpetrate gender-based violence with impunity. This has far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace, security, gender equality, and secure development.

For example, sexual violence is often widely and systematically employed against civilians during armed conflict, though the scale on which it occurs is largely underestimated[1] and its links to the proliferation of arms is rarely examined. Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, made this point in her official Statement to the UN Security Council, “conflict-related sexual violence is not specific to one country or continent: it is a global risk” (February 2012). In Côte d’Ivoire for example, gender-based violence against women, perpetrated by diverse actors including state security forces and armed opposition groups, has been greatly intensified by the proliferation of small arms imports into the country. Prior to the belated UN arms embargo, several Eastern European countries supplied large consignments of arms to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, notwithstanding its forces’ involvement in serious human rights violations. Moreover, small arms continue to circulate in the country and international arms brokers and traffickers threaten further deliveries of small arms and larger conventional weapons.[2]

In some states, women are disproportionately affected by high levels of firearms-related homicides and domestic violence. Research carried out in Guatemala by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office shows that for all murder cases, 69 per cent of women are killed with firearms. The lack of investigation into murders and the low rate of convictions have contributed to a culture of impunity for such crimes. Violence against women is especially widespread in Guatemala: in 2010, according to police, at least 695 women were murdered, bringing the total number of women killed since 2004 to at least 4,400. Many of the bodies of those killed showed signs of sexual violence and other forms of torture.[3] The lack of police response to cases of missing women raises questions about state acceptance given the high murder rate of women and the dismal conviction rate.

In spite of the high levels of small arms circulating nationally, Guatemala continues to import large numbers of small arms and ammunition, typically pistols and revolvers.[4] The Czech Republic, the Republic of Korea, Argentina, Slovakia and Germany exported a total of US$3,716,666 worth of pistols and revolvers to Guatemala between 2004 and 2006.[5] These small arms transfers from several foreign countries exacerbate a pervasive pattern of violent crime and gender-based violence in a country with existing high levels of small arms availability. The failure of the Government of Guatemala to exercise due diligence when small arms are being so widely misused by private persons and illegal armed criminal groups, presents a substantial risk that future small arms transfers are likely to exacerbate violent crime and gender-based violence in Guatemala.[6]

To be consistent with the broader UN practice of mainstreaming gender by paying attention to differing impacts on women and men in all frameworks, policies and programmes, the ATT should recognise the specific impact of irresponsible international arms transfers on women and their rights. Member States and the UN have progressively recognised and addressed the distinct rights of women in their work. Specifically relating to peace and security initiatives, Member States have called for the inclusion of women’s rights and the participation of women in these processes. The Women, Peace and Security agenda in the UN Security Council includes commitments calling for women’s rights and engagement to be systematically addressed and enhanced in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building. The General Assembly, has on numerous occasions expressed its concerns about the pervasiveness of violence against women in all its different forms and manifestations worldwide, noting that such violence seriously impairs or denies women’s ability to exercise their fundamental human rights and freedoms. In the ATT, Member States must build on their Human Rights and protection commitments and include specific criteria on gender-based violence.

For more information and the full Joint Policy Paper, go to:

[1]See for example, Côte D’Ivoire Briefing to the UN Committee On The Elimination Of Discrimination Against Women 50th Session October 2011, Index: AFR 31/009/2011.
[2]See for example a case study on Cote d’Ivoire in Amnesty International, Blood at the Crossroads: Making the Case for an Arms Trade Treaty, 17 September 2008 (ACT: 30/011/2008).
[3]See Amnesty International, Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update), 18 July 2006, AI Index: AMR 34/019/2006, and Amnesty International, Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women, 9 June 2005, AI Index: AMR 34/017/2005 and also other organisations: Concluding comments of CEDAW: Guatemala, 2 June 2006, CEDAW/C/GUA/CO/6; Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, Mission to Guatemala, 10 February 2005, E/CN.4/2005/72/Add.3.
[4]Compared with other countries in Central America, Guatemala imports the largest value of arms under the UN category of  ‘pistols and revolvers’ 89114. Guatemala imports $4,295,161 under this category; Nicaragua $1, 919,774; and El Salvador $1,537,718 for example. The table only shows the top five exporters to Guatemala.
[5] Based on the total value of exports to Guatemala using SITEC Rev 3 Code of UN Comtrade Database where entries have been reported by the exporter under code 89114 ‘Pistols and Revolvers  (other than those of heading 891.31). It is worth noting that $104,272 worth of pistols and revolvers in 2006 were supplied to Guatemala through Honduras without them being imported into Honduras. Honduras has no small arms manufacturing base (Omega Research Foundation database).
[6]See Amnesty International, Blood at the Crossroads: Making the case for a global Arms Trade Treaty, 17 September 2008, AI Index: ACT 30/011/2008