The Need for Gender Balance in Disarmament Efforts

With the introduction of Agenda 2030, the world recognised the need of attaining gender equality and empowering all women and girls in order to achieve long-term development. Furthermore, it is commonly accepted that “gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical across all SDGs and targets.” Gender equality in general focuses on women’s equal involvement in decision-making processes. Over the last two decades, the international community has been increasingly aware of the significance of women’s engagement in peace and security concerns. The diplomatic area of weapons control, nonproliferation, and disarmament covers a wide range of issues and forums.

Gender in Nuclear Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations

Women and disarmament is an important relationship that has been recognized through a series of resolutions at the United Nations. The Women, Peace and Security Agenda was established through the UNSCR 1325. Women, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation was adopted through UNGAR 65/69 in 2010. In 2012, the UNGAR 67/48 was adopted that encouraged member states and other actors to advocate equal opportunities for women in disarmament and decision-making processes. 

There are many hindrances that women face when they are involved in decision making processes. This can be seen in every level of the society from local to global context. This can also be seen in arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament discussions. There has been increase in the efforts of removing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and administer arms in the last 40 years. However, the number of women involved in these negotiations is small.  

Women will be able to bring their own unique experience and point of view that might be helpful in negotiations. People with different background or gender in gender bring their own opinion and challenge the idea that are put forth by letting them to think outside the box. This would in turn make the actors confront various perspectives and come out of their comfort zone. Both genders aim to eradicate these harmful weapons. However, when men go to war they inevitably use these weapons. The use of such weapons affects both men and women but they don’t affect them the same way. Women get impacted due to biological and social circumstances. The diversity in negotiations also changes the belief that everyone has similar background, ideas and most importantly needs. When there is an opportunity given to women in negotiation processes, their standpoint and give birth new ways of thinking. This resolves deadlocks and achieves various objectives.

With this information it is important to have women in negotiation processes as women are also impacted by negotiating outcomes. Therefore the importance of women participation in negotiating platforms on arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament is even greater.

Participation of Women in Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Women’s participation in global arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament procedures vary widely throughout the world. Latin American and Caribbean countries, for example, have the greatest proportion of female diplomats in international forums, at approximately 40%. Africa has the smallest number of female representatives. They are, however, particularly active in campaigning for gender views on platforms dealing with small guns and light weapons.

In the year 2018,  women were involved only in 14 of the 19 delegations of the six peace processes that were led by the UN. The number in these delegations was extremely low. When taking talking about the Blue Helmets, only about 3% of the military in UN missions are women. Even if women are employed, they are delegated with support work.

Gender imbalance in disarmament diplomacy persists, according to a UN Institute for Disarmament Research study. Women made up just 32% of attendees in disarmament-related meetings during the previous four decades. When it comes to specialists from the government, the ratio drops to 20%. The UN General Assembly’s First Committee, which deals with disarmament and international security, had the lowest percentage of women present, at 34%. Furthermore, just one of the 72 meetings was headed by a woman. The Third Committee that deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues have the highest number of women. Thus we can deduce that gender has been stereotyped.  It was more difficult to discern typecasting within the various realms of disarmament. It has been identified by other researchers that fields such as nuclear posture and deterrence policy to be more male-dominated and not welcoming when compared to the arms control and non-proliferation area that are more welcoming to including women.

The lack of gender equality may be shown in weapons control by looking at the number of women in senior roles. In terms of the number of representations, it is clear that men lead delegations. Even though the gap between women and men is decreasing, it can’t be seen reflected in the number of delegations that are led by women.

The Effectiveness and Implications of Gender Balance in Disarmament Negotiations

Even though there is a great deal of effort being put into achieving a gender balance that is numerical at negotiation tables, it is important not to note that only the presence of women does not innately mean it brings a positive result or greater results. When women are not allowed to make decisions, for example if women do not hold any leading/decision-making positions or a position that can influence it. Numerical representations barely make any difference. This also does not mean that just having one woman in an influential position is better than a gender-balanced table.

Including women in specific issues and agendas can also lead to the inclusion of provisions that can shape socio-political reform. The gender that is usually excluded from negotiations mostly remains marginalized during post-conflict politics and also is largely absent from peace agreement texts. Women are generally more aware of the gender impacts due to arms and other weapons.

When women are given positions that can influence negotiations, they can overall improve the women’s socio-economic position. If women aren’t active participants in negotiations with a voice that can influence, there will be low chances of provision that aims at gender equality and socio-economic development that are usually part of peace agreements. Therefore, exclusion of women from negotiations will continue to maintain their political marginalization and therefore reduce the chances for political reform.

Because women make up half of the world’s population, they should be as involved in nuclear policy deliberations as they are in any other topic that impacts their lives. On the international level, nuclear disarmament discussions are now dominated by men. Women have distinct life experiences than men, and their capacity for ‘adaptive creativity’ is most likely underappreciated. Involving more women in nuclear policy may result in unique, unanticipated insights and alternatives. Women’s increased participation in nuclear policy may pave the way for new perspectives and avenues for progress. Merely having more women at the negotiating table is not enough; a structural reworking of the entire international system is required to truly account for women’s experiences and make the international system more inclusive for them. The role of women diplomats in nuclear negotiations is significantly increasing but there is still a long way to go. More women need to be given important roles at the leadership level so that they can bring in some influential difference at the negotiation table. Countries also need to make change within them as national interests are projected at the negotiation table.

Innocentia Atchaya
Innocentia Atchaya
Feminist scholar advocating for the recognition of gender in geopolitics and international relations.