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Day 12: What Assumptions Do You Face?

6 December 2012

War is an international business based on profits and the proliferation of weapons. Yet this reality is not addressed by the policy tools we have today.

When adopted and supported by WILPF International, Resolution 1325 was intended to challenge militarism, weapons and war; yet there has been a collective failure to address what is sometime referred to as the third pillar of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda– the Prevention pillar.

The downward cycle of violence begetting violence and profits justifying arms sales continues unabated. In a recent paper, I examined this gap and addressed 5 ways the WPS agenda must be strengthened if the promise of conflict prevention is to be realised.

To highlight and expand thinking among policy-making at UN headquarters, PeaceWomen recently hosted our friend, and renowned feminist scholar, Cynthia Enloe to speak on the topic, ‘Women and Militarisation: Before During and After Wars‘.

Picture of PeaceWomen staff and Cynthia Enloe
Cynthia Enloe (centre) with Maria Butler (far left) and the other PeaceWomen staff

Cynthia challenged participants (including 1325 implementers; i.e. member states, UN officials, NGOs) to reflect on their own feminist analysis and ask themselves; what assumptions do you face?

Defining assumptions as, “things that go unsaid but that motivate people,” Cynthia further elaborated on some of the most often heard assumptions articulated in our work including: “women have always been insecure”; “women’s insecurity matters less than political stability”; “oppression of women is good for political stability”; and “impacts on women are not different than men’s”.

It made me reflect on what assumptions I face.

One of them is that if we add a woman, then women’s rights and gender perspective are included: that box is ticked. Not true in any context, particularly highly charged transitions periods.

Another assumption is that western states are always “friends” of WPS. This assumption is far from true. One of the areas highlighted in the above mentioned paper is the demand for States and non-state actors to stop selling arms that inherently violate human rights in conflict zones, at home and abroad. Globally just six countries export 74 % of the world’s weapons: US, Russia, Germany, UK, China and France. The US sells 35% of the global total.

This cannot be silenced or ignored and I would be remiss if I did not take this time to reiterate that these top-sellers also represent the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The policies of arms exporters are incongruent and contradictory, and often unquestioned.

It is no wonder that these UN Security Council members have contributed to a narrowing of the WPS agenda, when the world’s arms trade is policed by the very actors who are profiting most from the sale of arms around the world. The weapons in the DRC are not manufactured in the DRC or on the African continent, but instead largely originate from States that often call themselves “Friends” of women, peace and security.

These same exporting States continue to discuss in the Security Council the implementation of WPS resolutions within DRC, focusing on protection issues and sexual violence but failing to address their roles in exporting weapons that fuel the cycle of conflict and the business of war. This dual personality of peace and war does not have to be the ‘normal state of affairs.’

These kinds of arms transfers demonstrate that decision-making processes are driven by profits, national security and foreign policy concerns, at the cost of lives and human rights. There is not the political will to address the complex financial interests, which fuel the war and the rapes in the DRC or the violence against peaceful protesters in Middle East region. This is what needs to change – the conflicting policies of exporting States. This is what needs to be challenged.

The Women, Peace and Security agenda is a tool for conflict prevention first and foremost. It cannot be silent on the weapons of war or the profits of violence if it is to address the root causes of conflict and the problems endemic to a flawed system.

There is no panacea to address these complex issues. We must be brave in our work to expose the lies, consistent in the face of conflicting interests, insistent in the face of vested silence, and diligent in our work to propose transformative shifts in policy through ever more effective strategies.

By Maria Butler, PeaceWomen Programme Director

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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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