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Why Local Experiences Are the Key to Challenging the Arms Trade

The easy access to small arms and light weapons in Cameroon is discouraging young women from attending school, due to attacks by secessionist fighters in the country. Today, the Fifth Conference of the States Parties (CSP5) to the ATT starts in Geneva, Switzerland. WILPF worked hard during the negotiation of this treaty to make sure that it included a legally binding provision to prevent arms transfers where there is a risk that they could facilitate gender-based violence.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
26 August 2019

In March 2019, two Cameroonian girls on their way to school were attacked and kidnapped by men armed with rifles. The easy access to small arms and light weapons in Cameroon is discouraging young women from attending school, due to attacks by secessionist fighters in the country. Unfortunately, these incidents and others like them happen every day in varying contexts around the world, making it urgent for the international community to seriously constrain the international arms trade if we are to stop gender-based violence. 

Today, the Fifth Conference of the States Parties (CSP5) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) starts in Geneva, Switzerland. The Conference is the place where States parties and signatories meet regularly to assess the implementation of the ATT. It will take place from 26 to 30 August 2019 at the Centre International de Conférences Genève

WILPF worked hard during the negotiation of this treaty to make sure that it included a legally binding provision to prevent arms transfers where there is a risk that they could facilitate gender-based violence. Since the treaty’s adoption in 2013, however, WILPF has noticed that many of the discussions on the ATT that have been held among policymakers or experts have had few direct inputs from those who have experienced gender-based violence in settings of armed violence or conflict and those that are allegedly working to prevent it. 

That is why WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, our partner organisation Peace Track Initiative, and our members from WILPF Colombia, WILPF Burkina Faso, WILPF DRC, and WILPF Sri Lanka will be there to share national and local expertise from women peacebuilders around the world and to highlight the connections between the international arms trade and gender-based violence. Together, they will attend and speak at different events on how important it is for the international community to listen to those affected by the arms trade.

How arms transfers have increased gender-based violence

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is not a party to the Arms Trade Treaty and has until now inadequately managed arms transfers to the detriment of Congolese women and girls. This has resulted in many Congolese women and girls being deported for sexual slavery, being subjected to early marriages, and being the recipient of widespread contamination of HIV/AIDS. These are just some of the consequences of arms transfers. 

Additionally, the presence of weapons in Cameroon has made it easier to commit gender-based violence, notes Guy Feugap, Director of WILPF Cameroon Programmes. He says that “the presence of small arms and light weapons in Cameroon has diverse gendered impacts that go beyond immediate use of a weapon in an act of physical or sexual violence. There are socio-economic ramifications of armed violence and conflict, in which existing gender norms and societal roles are exacerbated and create vulnerability among both women and men.”

WILPF Burkina Faso has also noticed that “the illicit proliferation and circulation of small arms and light weapons is steadily growing, as is political unrest fragmentation of the social fabric, insecurity and the rise of violence extremism and terrorism.” 

These are just some examples about the effects of arms trade, all brought to the international community’s attention by the grassroots work done by WILPF sections worldwide. Our research has shown that gender-based violence is the most prevalent form of violence in the world. At WILPF, we believe that the Arms Trade Treaty has the potential to help prevent gender-based violence, by stopping arms from falling into the hands of those who commit it. But this is only dependent on effective implementation and political will by all states parties.

As Annie Matundu-Mbambi, President of WILPF DRC, says, now is the time to “put an end to widespread human suffering triggered by irresponsible arms transfers.”

Preventing gender-based violence through arms control

In the context of increased gender-based violence in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and DRC, our WILPF sections have produced reports sharing their local and national perspectives on preventing gender-based violence through arms control. Download them:

Following the progress on the Arms Trade Treaty

During the CSP5 to the ATT, you can follow our activities on WILPF and Reaching Critical Will social media. We will also produce an analysis of what happened during the Conference, which we will share on our Reaching Critical Will website and in our newsletter during the Conference.

Subscribe to our Disarmament Forum Monitoring newsletters to get updates about the CSP5 to the Arms Trade Treaty directly in your inbox.

If you are interested in learning more about our work on Disarmament, go to the Reaching Critical Will website.

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres


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


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


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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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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