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Gender perspectives

What is gender?

Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate or as a ‘norm’ for women and men and girls and boys, as well as non-binary or gender-fluid persons.

Gender norms are socially constructed differences—as opposed to biological differences (sex)—and they function as social rules of behaviour, setting out what is desirable and possible to do as a male or female in a given context.

In most societies, gender norms have resulted in differences and thus, inequalities between women and men in terms of their socially assigned responsibilities, roles, access to and control over resources, and decision-making opportunities.


How does gender relate to arms control and disarmament?

In arms control and disarmament, a gender analysis (or ‘gender lens’) can be useful to assess how the attributes, opportunities, and relationships associated with a gender identity may affect issues, such as the likelihood of being targeted by weapons systems, prospects of becoming a victim/survivor of armed violence, the ability to access medical attention in the aftermath of armed conflict, and the long-lasting biological and physiological impacts of weapons on individuals.

Gender perspectives have already informed multilateral arms control and disarmament frameworks, including treaties and United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions. The inclusion of gender-responsive provisions has shed light on the differential impacts of weapons on women, men, girls and boys, and enhanced the ability of the international community to redress gender inequality.


Gender in arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), effective from 2010, contains an obligation for States Parties to provide age- and gender-sensitive victim assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, and to ensure the social and economic inclusion of victims (Article 5). This provision is important as it stipulates equal access to services and resources.

To access the full text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, click here.

The Maputo Action Plan adopted in 2014 by States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) has a number of provisions relating to gender. The Action Plan requires countries to establish age- and gender-sensitive goals, and to report on: the participation of women, girls, boys and men in the land release process; the provision of age- and gender-sensitive victim assistance and mine risk education; and the gathering and analysis of age- and gender-sensitive data.

The call to collect sex- and age- disaggregated data can lead to a better understanding of the barriers that prevent survivors, persons with disabilities and indirect victims, among other vulnerable groups, from accessing services.

To access the APMBC text, click here. The Maputo Action Plan can be accessed here.

See also the factsheet Gender in the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (2018).

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which came to an effect in 2014, contains a specific provision on gender-based violence (GBV) in its legal framework (Article 7). Under the ATT it is illegal to transfer weapons if there is a risk that the weapons will be used to commit or facilitate serious acts of GBV. In practice, this means that States Parties conducting risk assessment processes for the export and import of weapons have to take into account the legislative and normative factors around GBV in the recipient countries. This ATT provision has raised awareness about the link between GBV and the availability and the misuse of small arms.

To access the full text of the ATT, click here.

See also the factsheet Gender in the ATT (2019).

The UN Programme of Action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects (UN POA SALW) recognizes the negative impact of the illicit trade in SALW on women. The Outcome Document of the 2018 Third Review Conference of the UN POA acknowledged that eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is critical in combating gender-based violence. The document made strides in encouraging the full participation of women in decision-making and implementation of all processes related to the POA; in taking into account the differing impacts of the illicit trade of SALW on women, men, boys and girls; in encouraging gender mainstreaming in policies and programmes designed to combat the illicit trade in SALW; and in encouraging the collection of data disaggregated by gender.

To access the text of the UN POA SALW click here.

Over the past five years, a discussion on the gendered impact of nuclear weapons has emerged during the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review process. Different studies have underlined that ionizing radiation does not affect men and women equally. While the detonation of one or more nuclear weapons would cause massive death and injury to all, scientific studies show that women are more vulnerable to the harmful health effects of ionizing radiation than men .

Over the longer term, of those who are exposed to a nuclear explosion, women and girls have a far higher risk of developing cancer than men or boys. The research has been highlighted by some States Parties and the gendered effects of nuclear weapons have been a topic of some national statements and working papers. The Chair’s factual summary from the 2018 Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2020 NPT

Review Conference (RevCon) observed that States Parties noted the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on women, and that this issue should be factored into the discussions in the current review cycle.

In addition to gendered impacts, discussions have also highlighted the need to improve women’s participation in this forum. The Chair’s factual summary also observed that “States parties endorsed the fundamental importance of promoting the equal, full and effective participation and leadership of both women and men in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy”.


The 2019 NPT PrepCom saw an increase in the number of working papers addressing the linkages between the nuclear affairs and gender, with three papers dedicated to this topic:

The NPT Review Conference will be held at the UNHQ in New York in 2020.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) includes a clause mandating States Parties to provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance to individuals under its jurisdiction who are affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion (Article 6).

The preamble of the Treaty acknowledges that nuclear weapons have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation. It also recognizes the importance of “equal, full and effective participation of both women and men” for promoting peace and security, as well as the engagement of women in nuclear disarmament. To access the text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, click here.


The discussions on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, which first convened in 2014, conducted under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), have brought an important topic to the attention of the disarmament community; that of the potential for bias in algorithms.

During the second meeting of the GGE on LAWS in August 2018, a number of States and civil society representatives have expressed concern that the delegation of decision-making to machines, facilitated by algorithms designed by humans, has the potential to perpetuate or amplify existing social biases, including gender bias. As States move forward with these debates, it will be important to take into account ethical considerations and to learn from current research on ensuring fairness in algorithms.

To access the full text of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, click here.

To find more information about GGE on LAWS, click here.

UNGA First Committee resolutions have played an instrumental role in acknowledging and addressing the gender equality and international security nexus. In 2018 for instance, the First Committee adopted important resolutions on arms control and disarmament that featured gender-related provisions: out of 69 First Committee resolutions, 17 resolutions included gender perspectives - six of them for the first time.

Notably, language on women’s equal participation is included more frequently in First Committee resolutions than language that considers and responds to the gendered impacts of the various weapons types in question. Of the 17 resolutions mentioned above, 15 included references to women’s equal participation, while 7 addressed the gendered impact of weapons.

Many gender references take the form of preambular language rather than operational commitments in the resolutions. Recent examples of operational commitments are reproduced below.

The Arms Trade Treaty (A/RES/73/36)

OP11: “Encourages States parties and signatory States to ensure the full and equal participation of women and men in pursuing the object and purpose of the Treaty and its implementation;

To access the full text of the A/RES/73/36, click here.


Consolidation of peace through practical disarmament measures (A/RES/73/53)

OP2: “Welcomes the ongoing efforts of United Nations-mandated peacekeeping missions, as appropriate and with the consent of the host State, to include practical disarmament measures aimed at addressing the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons, including through weapons collection, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programmes and enhancing physical security and stockpile management practices, as well as relevant training programmes, with a view to promoting and implementing an integrated comprehensive and effective weapons management strategy that would contribute to a sustainable peacebuilding process, and, in so doing, strive to achieve the goals set out in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) of 31 October 2000 on women and peace and security;”

To access the full text of the A/RES/73/53, click here.


Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (A/RES/73/84)

OP14: “Underlines the vital role of the full and equal participation of women in decision-making and implementation of the Convention;”


Women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control

Every two years the General Assembly adopts a resolution specifically focused on promoting “equal opportunities for the representation of women in all decision-making processes with regard to matters related to disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, in particular as it relates to the prevention and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict”. Known as Women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, the resolution is led by Trinidad and Tobago. It was first introduced in 2010 with the support of 36 co-sponsors, and by 2018 there were 74 co-sponsors.

To access the full text of the A/RES/73/84, click here.