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.
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.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) has been discussed within the United Nations and also outside UN mechanisms. More recently, Austria and Ireland, respectively, have hosted international conferences and consultations with a view towards developing a political declaration to address the humanitarian harm arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Gender considerations have been incorporated in the Draft Political Declaration, which urges for efforts to empower and amplify voices of those affected by EWIPA, including women and girls, and encourages further research into the potential gendered impacts. Gendered aspects also featured in the latest round of consultation held virtually from 3 to 5 March 2021, as several delegations urged further elaboration of the gendered dimension in the text of the political declaration.
As consultations on EWIPA move towards a political declaration, it is important to recognize the gendered impacts of explosive weapons, including the direct and reverberating impacts, and to promote standards that protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
To learn more about the direct and reverberating impacts of EWIPA and how they vary among women, men, girls and boys, see
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.
The Lausanne Action Plan (2020-2026), adopted in 2021, directs States Parties to collect and analyse gender, age and disability disaggregated data in relation to a number of cross-cutting actions, such as surveying and clearance of cluster munition remnants, risk education, victim assistance and the development of laws, policies and programmes. Through these actions, State Parties commit to ensure that the different needs, vulnerabilities and perspectives of women, girls, boys and men from diverse populations and all ages are considered and inform the implementation of the Convention.
During the Second Review Conference of the CCM in 2021, a working paper sponsored by 25 countries highlighted gender and diversity mainstreaming across the CCM. It reiterated the importance of building on commonalities and avoiding duplication of efforts by identifying synergies with other frameworks, such as the APMBC, CEDAW, the SDGs and the WPS Agenda. It also encouraged State Parties acting as the Coordinators on General Status and Operation in the Coordination Committee to consider their role as gender focal points and outlined specific tasks in this regard, including assessment, analysis and exchange of information about gender mainstreaming by State Parties.
To access the full text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, click here.
The Oslo Action Plan was adopted in 2019 by States Parties to ensure implementation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC). The Oslo Action Plan requires countries to mainstream gender considerations in mine action programming, including mine risk education and victim assistance. When reporting on these programmes, States Parties have to present data disaggregated by gender and age.
During the Fourth Review Conference of the APMBC, in 2019, States Parties decided to amend the working methods of the Convention’s Committees. Each of the five Committees will appoint a focal point to provide advice on gender mainstreaming and ensure that the diverse needs and experiences of people in affected communities are taken into account in the implementation of the Oslo Action Plan (2020-2024).
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.
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.
In 2019, the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the ATT focused on the Treaty’s gender provisions, and adopted a decision encouraging States Parties to take actions on gender and GBV in the ATT context. To increase understanding on the gendered impacts of armed violence, it was agreed that States Parties are encouraged to collect gender disaggregated data within their national crime and health statistics, including gender disaggregated data on victims of armed violence and conflict, and make this data publicly available. States Parties also decided that the ATT Secretariat should report on overall progress among delegations in achieving gender balance.
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.
Adopted in 2021, the Outcome Document of the 7th Biennial Meeting of States on the UN POA recognized the need for the equal, full and effective participation of women in all decision-making and implementation processes relating to the Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument and encouraged the harmonization of national policies, including action plans, on small arms and light weapons and the Women, Peace and Security agenda and its four pillars – prevention, protection, participation and relief and recovery. A joint statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of a group of 59 countries underscored the support for gender-related measures to be considered in the scope of the UN PoA.
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:
-Integrating gender perspectives in the implementation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (submitted by Australia, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Sweden and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research)
-Improving gender equality in the Non-Proliferation Treaty review process (submitted by Australia, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Sweden and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research)
-Gender in the Non-Proliferation Treaty: recommendations for the 2020 Review Conference (submitted by Ireland)
Among the recommendations made by the 2019 Chair of the Preparatory Committee was that the 10th Review Conference should “endorse the fundamental importance of promoting the equal, full and effective participation and leadership of both women and men” in the nuclear field, as well as “recognize the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on women and girls”.
Ahead of the Tenth NPT Review Conference, which is expected to take place in 2021, UNIDIR and UNODA hosted a virtual event to discuss the inclusion of gender perspectives in the NPT review process. The webinar “Towards an Equal and Secure Future” took place on 6 April 2021, and the event recording is available here.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which entered into force on 22 January 2021 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 need for the “equal, full and effective participation of both women and men” in promoting peace and security, and the engagement of women in nuclear disarmament.
To access the text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, click here.
Over the past years, a number of States and civil society representatives participating in the meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), convened under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), have expressed concern that algorithm-based weapons like LAWS have the potential to perpetuate or amplify existing social biases, including gender bias.
The topic of gender and AI was debated in a side event during the 2021 sessions of the GGE, where panelists reflected on the significance of gender issues associated with military AI systems’ development and deployment, and considered possible avenues for countering AI bias and mitigating harm. A UNIDIR report launched in December 2021 argued that the lack of gender representation and the insufficient response to this problem in military applications of AI could cause violations of international law and undo progress made by the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It proposed a gender-based review of military applications of AI to make explicit how these systems represent and respond to gender and how harmful effects related to bias have been mitigated.
A draft report was circulated by the Chair at the end of the 2021 sessions of the GGE, according to which “States should ensure that weapons systems based on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems do not rely on data sets that can perpetuate or amplify unintentional social biases, including gender and racial bias, and that can thus have implications for compliance with international law”. However, the GGE failed to achieve consensus on a final framework on LAWS and the report was not adopted. The High Contracting Parties to the CCW have agreed to meet under a new mandate in 2022 to continue their discussions in another session of the GGE.
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 its 76th Session in 2021, the General Assembly adopted 60 resolutions and decisions proposed by First Committee, of which 19 featured gender-related provisions that call for women’s equal participation, stress the gendered impacts of weapons and armed violence, and/or highlight gender considerations in disarmament efforts. This corresponds to a record proportion of 31% of gender-sensitive resolutions, up from 25% in the 75th Session in 2020.
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 and was first introduced in 2010.
Many references to gender or women and girls take the form of preambular language rather than operational commitments in the resolutions. Reproduced below are selected mentions of gender-related topics in the operative paragraphs of resolutions:
Ethical Imperatives for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (A/RES/76/25)
OP3 (c): “Declares that greater attention must be given to the impact of a nuclear weapon detonation on women and the importance of their participation in discussions, decisions and actions on nuclear weapons;”
Compliance with Non-Proliferation, Arms Limitation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (A/RES/76/33)
OP 4: “Calls upon all States to include and empower women, including through capacity-building efforts, as appropriate, as full, equal and meaningful participants in the design and implementation of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts;”
The Arms Trade Treaty (A/RES/76/50)
OP 12: “Recalls the adoption of action-oriented decisions on gender and gender-based violence by the Fifth Conference of States Parties and the fact that States parties agreed to review progress on these two aspects on an ongoing basis, and in that respect 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;”
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/76/64)
OP 13: “Underlines the vital role of the full and equal participation of women in decision-making and implementation of the Convention;”
The Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (A/RES/76/232)
OP 12: "Emphasized the need for the equal full and effective participation of women in all decision-making and implementation processes relating to the Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument;"
During the 2019 and 2020 meetings of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, a large number of delegations called attention to potential gendered impacts of ICT-incidents, as well as the global gender gap in access to and use of the internet. Papers submitted to the OEWG proposed that gender equality and the meaningful participation of women should be at the centre of international peace and security in cyberspace. New research exploring how gender norms shape specific activities related to cybersecurity was presented in side events and multiple civil society organizations highlighted the importance of gender mainstreaming in cyber policies.
Adopted in March 2021, the OEWG’s final report acknowledged the high level of women’s participation in OEWG sessions as well as the prominence of gender perspectives in its discussions, and underscored the importance of narrowing the “gender digital divide” and of promoting the effective and meaningful participation and leadership of women in decision-making processes. Additionally, the final report proposed that capacity building efforts should “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, be gender sensitive and inclusive, universal and non-discriminatory”.
In 2019 and 2020, discussions on biological and chemical weapons featured gender considerations, as new research was published on potential sex-specific effects and gendered impacts of those weapons. Since then, there have been side events exploring the relevance of gender perspectives in the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), as well as in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). These are welcome developments, given that sex-and gender-disaggregated data, as well as knowledge of gender perspectives, could improve preparedness in the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack and enhance the effectiveness of international assistance.
To learn more about sex- and gender-related effects of these weapons, see UNIDIR publication Missing Links (2019), as well as the factsheets Gender and Chemical Weapons (2020) and Gender and Biological Weapons (2021).