The global pandemic is forcing us all to experience degrees of hardship and uncertainty. For those who are also contending with violence—sometimes because of armed conflict raging just outside the home, or sometimes because the violence is in the home—insecurity and suffering can enshroud every hour of every day.
As stay-at-home orders took hold earlier this year, many women and girls around the world found themselves suddenly confined away from view with their abusers, even at gunpoint. Soon thereafter, the UN Secretary-General was reporting signs of a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence”.
Ending the pandemic may bring little relief for these women, particularly in societies ravaged by armed conflict and violence. Left unaddressed, the waves of violence will continue to break against these women steadily.
Women everywhere share an equally immense stake in ending armed violence, and the world should give them every possible tool to counter it in homes, in communities, and around the globe. The horrible virus reigning over our lives only makes this task more urgent.
Twenty years ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, the first of several resolutions recognizing and reaffirming women’s significant role in promoting peace and security. Today, we understand better than ever how gender shape individual experiences of conflict and violence, including when weapons are involved. We also now better understand the subtle forces that stifle and drive the systematic exclusion of women’s voices from peacemaking, peacebuilding, conflict and violence prevention efforts.
Yet even 20 years after the Security Council adopted its first resolution on this issue, fundamental gender inequalities remain a fact in all our lives.
Lack of effective arms control and disarmament is one obstacle to achieving peace and gender justice. The proliferation of small arms enables sexual and gender-based violence in and outside of conflict. Arms races between countries and military spending claim growing shares of public funds that otherwise could improve social and economic opportunities for both women and men. Weapons—from handguns to nuclear bombs—feed into the norms, root causes and power relationships that enable and foster gender inequality.
Addressing these issues is a top priority for the United Nations’ Secretary-General, who has said that “disarmament prevents and ends violence. Disarmament supports sustainable development. And disarmament is true to our values and principles.”
We believe that governments and organizations can focus their efforts to address the scourge of gender-based violence and remediate gender inequalities rooted in tools of violence. Here are four ways that can allow men and women to contribute equally towards preventing and resolving conflict and building peace and security.
First, all states should adopt arms control and disarmament policies that address how weapons affect men and women differently. For example, civilian men hold most of the estimated 1 billion firearms in global circulation, and a gun in a home makes intimate partner violence against a woman five times likelier to turn lethal.
Second, women should fully participate in professional fields of conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, arms control and disarmament. As women who have dedicated our professional lives to these fields, we each understand all too well what it is like to be the only woman in a crowded room of policymakers. Sadly, the picture at the UN is not particularly encouraging. When diplomats met for last year’s General Assembly committee session on disarmament and international security, three of every four statements came from men. In and beyond the UN, countries should make every effort to ensure that women, youth and other underrepresented groups all have a voice.
Third, governments and international agencies should form diverse alliances with women’s civil society organizations and other non-governmental groups. Women peacebuilders and advocates are transforming communities around the world as they fight the proliferation of weapons. Globally, women’s movements were central to banning atmospheric nuclear tests during the Cold War and to supporting the 2017 nuclear weapons ban treaty, for which the women-led International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons received that year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Fourth, we need more solid evidence in the form of disaggregated data that illuminates the different experiences of women, men, girls and boys with respect to weapons and violence. By collecting this kind of information and sharing practices with each other, governments and organizations can develop better informed responses to peace and security challenges.
In all its chaos, this moment offers a chance to put gender equality at the core of our peace work and build towards a future that benefits us all. Let’s seize this time to bring about real change.
Op-ed written by Izumi Nakamitsu, Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and H.E. Amb. Selma Ashipala-Musavyi - Nambia