Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Arms Are at the Centre of the Problem

17 June 2014
Event panel
WILPF’s panel from the left- Olena Suslova, Dean Peacock, Madeleine Rees, Annie Matundu, Laila Alodaat, Gorana Mlinarevic, Katherine Ronderos and Lisa Davis

Last week WILPF hosted three fringe events at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in in Conflict.  One of these was the event Gender and War: Impact and Solutions, on the 11th of June.

A packed room listen intently to the discussion, which was structured in three parts– gender dynamics in pre, during and post conflict. The panel consisted of civil society experts from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, South Africa, Colombia and Bosnia.

Annie Matundu, President of WILPF DR Congo framed how we understand sexual violence and pointed out that violence continues after a conflict has officially ended. When the fighting stopped in the DRC, she said, the men who came back to their homes found that they had ‘lost their power’. Women have run the households independently for years and subsequently have become less reliant on their male partners.

This change in the dynamics threatens one of the core cultural norms around which traditional masculinity is constructed. As a reaction to this, many men turn to violence. Women’s security is threatened because they have challenged gendered power relations. After a conflict has concluded, these masculinity norms must be addressed as part of preventing “post conflict” violence.

Dean Peacock from Sonke Gender Justice network in South Africa spoke about norms around masculinity, violence and militarism as a driving force behind sexual violence.

He highlighted an argument that was brought forward by many women’s rights activists during the summit, which was, when discussing sexual violence we must move away from the false assumption that northern and western countries are “bringing the solution to a problem that exists elsewhere”.

The problem is global and gender is at play in multiple contexts, such as the political sphere, the private sector and in different geographical areas. We need to discuss for example, the construction and effects of masculinity norms in the male dominated arms industry, entrenched traditional masculinity norms in such industries, which indeed constitute a key player in conflicts all over the world where sexual violence persists.

“The international security system has expired – we don’t have rule of law anymore, we have the law of arms”. This is what Olena Suslova, from the Women’s Information Consultative Center in Ukraine stated when asked about the impact of arms proliferation and militarism on gender relations and women’s security.

The uncontrolled international trade in arms is one of the root causes of violent conflict, and a tool that is used to uphold unequal power relations between men and women in conflict as well as in peacetime.

Laila Alodaat, a Syrian human rights lawyer and WILPF’s MENA Agenda 1325 Project Associate, commented that arms are at the centre of the problem. Her recommendation to all exporting states is to “Stop taking arming dictators lightly!” Regardless of contractual obligations Laila Alodaat emphasised to states, that these weapons will be used to kill the people.

We must start demilitarising our every day life, was the message from the panellists. This is true not only during conflict, but also in post-conflict and peacetime. Katherine Ronderos from WILPF Colombia stated we must challenge conventional methods for implementing peace agreements. “We don’t need more militaries around”, post conflict reconstruction should rely on civilian methods involving civilian agents.

On the note of post-conflict justice, Gorana Mlinarevic, a researcher from Bosnia and Herzegovina spoke about gender injustices in post war Bosnia. The families of perpetrators of sexual violence during the war are being taken care of, Gorana remarked, while the women who survived the violence have had to struggle to achieve their basic needs such as feeding their children and finding somewhere to live.

Once again it is clear that women, including women from civil society, must participate meaningfully in all peace and justice agreements. The gendered dimension of conflict experiences must be reflected and acted on in a way that promotes equality rather than uphold patriarchal norms through unfair distribution of political power and economic resources in post conflict societies.

Madeleine Rees speaking
WILPF’s Secretary General Madeleine Rees inviting all in attendance to WILPF’s anniversary.

With this event, WILPF brought together advocates from various countries to show the complex gendered causes and consequences of violence that exist differently in pre, during and post conflict settings.

The event achieved its goal of creating a space at the summit on such topics, which were being excluded from discussions elsewhere.

WILPF is advocating that by recognising that the prevention of sexual violence must come with preventing conflict. Both of which cannot be achieved without disarmament, inclusion and gender equality.

WILPF Secretary-General, Madeleine Rees, ended the discussion by summing up the panels recommendations for action and inviting all to be part of WILPF’s movement – Women’s Power to Stop War!

Read the full text on key issues and recommendations discussed at the event.

Written by,

Tove Ivergård, International Coordinator, WILPF Sweden

Sofia Tuvestad, Policy & Advocacy Officer, WILPF Sweden

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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