Arms Control, Disarmament and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda 

3 March 2020
Arms Control, Disarmament and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda 

Christine Chinkin

Professor Christine Chinkin, FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law, Professorial Research Fellow and Founding Director of the Centre of Women Peace & Security at LSE and Principal Investigator in a research project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council on a Feminist International Law of Peace and Security.  

In 2020, UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) will enter its third decade. Even though a gender-approach to disarmament falls within the four pillars of the WPS agenda, disarmament is not explicitly included in Resolution 1325 – except in the limited context of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR).

As the UN Security Council prepares for its annual debate on WPS, it is imperative to reflect on substantive ways to ameliorate coherence and co-ordination among different mechanisms with complementary norms in the field of peace and security. The four pillars of Women, Peace and Security – participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery – will never achieve the transformative potential of women’s empowerment without the inclusion of disarmament within them. 

Disarmament and Participation

The participation pillar is central to both WPS and disarmament. In the latter, it is largely limited to women’s participation in disarmament and arms control talks. The WPS context allows to bring broader questions of gender and disarmament into peace negotiations and agreements, other than just DDR. 

Disarmament and Prevention and Protection against Conflict-Affected Sexual Violence

Although prevention under WPS encompasses prevention of conflict, it is usually addressed in conjunction with protection against sexual violence. The WPS primarily emphasise rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war, and accountability through criminal justice. Recognising the relationship between weapons and gender-based violence would open the way for a fuller understanding.

Research shows how attitudes towards weapons and gender contribute to their use for intimidation, threats, and the commission of acts of gender-based and sexual violence. This applies to all stages of conflict, and is defined as the continuum of gender-based violence, fed by the illicit arms flows, proliferation of small arms, as well as the lack of accountability – impunity – for such violence.

It is often said that women and girls are vulnerable. I think they are not inherently vulnerable, but rather it is the availability of weapons that makes women and girls vulnerable to gender-based and sexual violence. And conflict further exacerbates this situation of vulnerability.

Disarmament and Relief and Recovery

The WPS focus on relief and recovery is on immediate humanitarian relief – healthcare and other support services that must be age and gender sensitive. A long-term recovery requires a secure environment for accessing justice, livelihoods, education, healthcare services and combating the continuation of every day violence, even after the conclusion of a ceasefire or peace agreement. When asked about their priorities in post-conflict reconstruction, women consistently emphasise education within a secure environment.Such education should include disarmament education as well as education that challenges and disrupts gender stereotypes, including that which equates weapon ownership with masculinity.

Additional linkages between disarmament and the WPS agenda

Three further points link disarmament directly to the WPS agenda. First, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has argued that WPS must be implemented in accordance with the substantive provisions of the CEDAW Convention. The Convention requires states parties to focus on the prevention of conflict and all forms of gender-based violence. Conflict prevention includes robust and effective regulation of the arms trade, as well as appropriate control over the circulation of existing and often illicit conventional arms, to prevent their use to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence.

The Committee emphasises the due diligence obligation under article 2 of the Convention that requires states parties to prevent, investigate and punish gender-based violence against women as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat such violence. It has also recommended giving extra-territorial application to the CEDAW Convention in this regard. It has referenced the impact of weapons through the state reporting system in its concluding observations to states.

This leads to the second point: out of nine WPS Resolutions, two acknowledge the importance of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), UNSCR 2106(2013) and UNSCR 2467(2019). The resolutions note the provisions in Article 7(4) of the Treaty, according to which exporting states parties shall take into account the risk of covered conventional arms or items being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children. 

Article 7(4) is ground-breaking in that it recognises that gender-based violence is facilitated by the international arms trade and in requiring assessment of the risk of such violence distinct from assessment of risk of violations of International Humanitarian Law. In light of the evidence of the adverse impact of the availability of arms on the commission of gender-based and sexual violence before conflict erupts, during conflict, and in its aftermath, I would argue that the assumption must be that such arms will be used to facilitate such acts of violence, and thus the burden of states with regard to risk assessment is high.

Thirdly, it has been noted, for instance in the UN Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda, that states should incorporate gender perspectives in the development of national legislation and policies on disarmament and arms control. Acceptance of a linkage between WPS and disarmament allows for a further strategy for National Action Plans (NAP) on the implementation of Resolution 1325 to be used to better understand the impact of armed violence and illicit trafficking of weapons on women and girls. 

Inclusion of the language of disarmament in a NAP would highlight the issues, identify indicators for action, provide legitimacy and open space for consideration of the role women can play in addressing the impact of arms proliferation at the local and community level.

Further questions

With WPS entering its third decade next year, it is timely to think about why it has not been more effective in improving women’s situation on the ground in conflict-affected areas and how it might be moved forward. We need to ask the ‘women in conflict’ question, to grapple with the gendered impact both of existing weapons and evolving weapons and technology, and how that feeds into policy and decision-making about conflict. 

We need to ask how could the WPS pillars be broadened to take account of these challenges, and how could understanding of the gendered impact of such weapons be factored into policy making so as to make WPS responsive to the coming decade? I do not have the answers but from the WPS perspective it is vital to consider these questions if the agenda is to have future relevance and from the disarmament perspective WPS could provide a framework for further gender analysis and strategies for implementation.

This piece is based on remarks delivered at the annual Working Lunch of the International Gender Champions Disarmament Impact Group, on 12 September 2019, in Geneva.