Towards Sustainable Peace: Integrating Gender Dimension in Disarmament

During conflict and in post-conflict situations, women and girls remain one of the most vulnerable groups.

“Involving more women will help revitalise disarmament discussions and advance our collective effort to create a safer and more secure future” – Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Disarmament has been believed to be a core strategy to prevent conflict. Arms control and disarmament are important because the constant distribution of arms is one of the key causes behind lawlessness, poverty, and trauma, resulting in escalating fatality of not only crime and political violence but domestic violence as well.  Hence, conflict prevention and achieving long-term peace is reliant upon international and national security and disarmament efforts. However, for long, the element of gender has been absent from the debate surrounding disarmament, militarism, conflicts, and security, thus, gender imbalance has been a persistent feature in the field of arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament. Females generally experience major impediments concerning participating in decision-making processes and negotiations surrounding weapons and peace as they are highly masculinised. Females being the vulnerable victims of conflict, therefore, need to have a voice in disarmament discussions in order to contribute to the collective effort of achieving sustainable peace.

During conflict and in post-conflict situations, women and girls remain one of the most vulnerable groups. According to the UN Platform for Action 1995, the unequal status of females and their biological sex make them particularly vulnerable in armed conflicts. Females bear the brunt of war, experiencing multiple threats in conflict-affected areas, most importantly gender-based violence. Loss of home and family, poverty, displacement, and exploitation through torture, slavery, and sexual abuse are common experiences of females affected by armed conflicts. Women being highly vulnerable to the effects of conflicts also hold major responsibilities during and after wars, making it crucial to include them in negotiations, decisions and policymaking surrounding disarmament and peace.

The establishment of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda by the United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted in October 2000, was a watershed moment, recognising the significant role of females in conflict prevention and resolution and peace processes. This was followed by the UN General Assembly Resolution 65/69 in 2010, giving recognition to the important contribution of females in active disarmament efforts and demanding active involvement and equal representation of women in decision-making on issues of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. Such efforts by an influential international body encourage more females to take an active part in peacebuilding, formal peace negotiations, and multilateral forums on security. However, despite such efforts, females continue to experience impediments in being part of conflict and peace-related decision-making and negotiations.

Multiple efforts have been made to achieve gender parity within international relations, however, gender stereotypes persist within the field as complex and sensitive issues mainly pertaining to security are perceived to belong to the male domain. Interestingly, according to UNIDIR, around one-third of delegates were represented by females in multilateral forums on disarmament and non-proliferation and representation of women decreased even further among heads of delegation. Similarly, in UN-led peace processes, women’s participation experienced a decrease in three consecutive years from 23 per cent in 2020 and 19 per cent in 2021 to 16 per cent in 2022. In addition, the year 2022 experienced a decrease in the percentage of Security Council’s decisions referring to females to 62.3 per cent from 69 per cent in the year 2021. Thus, complete gender parity and effective inclusion of women in the field have still not been achieved.

Furthermore, Triana et al. in their policy brief on the gender perspective in disarmament negotiations bring attention to three types of impediments, conceptual, technical, and political, which remain the underlying causes for women’s exclusion from the field. Conceptual impediments refer to the general norms, beliefs, and stigma surrounding the involvement of females in negotiations. Technical barriers indicate the presentation of women as inexperienced and not possessing the skills to address weapons-related issues. Similarly, females experience impediments which are political in nature as the majority of women do not hold political or leadership positions in certain countries and at times despite partaking in politics, remain excluded from negotiations. Interestingly, women are also regarded as distractions or irrelevant in the field of traditional security, limiting their involvement.

A gender dimension, adds different experiences, perspectives and practical solutions to consider when addressing issues of armed conflict and disarmament. It is important to note that with a lack of gender analysis, the understanding of the discourse surrounding weapons and disarmament and the development of the security sector remains incomplete. Developing a solid security sector requires gender equality, specifically, the inclusivity of females. It is essential to recognise females as members of marginalised communities along with supporting the active participation of females as change makers and decision-makers, as a result, making use of women’s skills and unique perspectives to develop successful security and disarmament policies aiming to protect individuals and hold offenders accountable. Therefore, to improve the collective effort to achieve sustainable peace, it is crucial to break the gender stereotypes surrounding women by integrating a gender dimension and recognise females as relevant agents in disarmament efforts, conflict resolution, and peace processes.

Malaika Afridi
Malaika Afridi
The writer has majored in Politics and International Relations from the University of London International Programmes. Her interest areas are disarmament and arms control, nuclear non-proliferation, great powers, humanitarian action, sustainable development goals, and climate change.