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Day 2: Women over Weapons!

26 November 2012

The massive amounts of violence perpetrated against women are a blatant violation of human rights and our WILPF members are citizens to countries where armed violence against women takes place daily. One of the main questions we ask here at Reaching Critical Will and WILPF International is, why are women’s rights and  security so neglected at the local, national, and international levels?

While there are numerous answers to this question, we have noticed that sometimes women’s rights are simply a low priority for many governments. At the same time, it is obvious what takes high priority in the same countries: militarism and the arms trade.

In the countries where WILPF has National Sections, governments spent over 1.058 trillion dollars in 2011 on their militaries (this figure does not include information for the DRC, French Polynesia, and Palestine due to lack of information from these countries).

If all of these countries reduced and reallocated such huge military budgets, we could not only help gender equality, but we could easily pay for the entire 15 years of extra budget needed to attain ALL of the Millennium Development Goals. This would be an extraordinary achievement that would address issues like poverty, hunger, disease, the environment, education, infant mortality, and equality for women.[2] Unfortunately, the world’s money largely continues to be filtered into the military and arms, and as a result women suffer from horrific violence everyday whether in a conflict zone or in their own homes.

Photo of soldier with small armsAs many of us know, the United States (US) is the most highly militarized nation in the world and in 2011 spent about 689.5 billion USD on the military. In addition it exported 706 million USD worth of small arms and light weapons, while importing arms and military equipment worth a whopping 1.75 billion USD.

What does this mean for women? It means that women in the US are disproportionately vulnerable to gun violence, despite living in a “peaceful” society. More than half of murdered women in the US are killed with a gun and US states with high gun ownership have 114% higher homicide rates. Meanwhile, despite being a developed country, the US is ranked 47th in gender equality. Of course, US women are not the only women who suffer from US militarism and trade of arms, as the usage of American weapons in conflict zones have an even more devastating impact on the populations in these areas.

For example, Colombia – another country where we have a strong WILPF Section – is intimately linked to the US militarily. It is one of the top five recipients of US arms exports and its overall military spending in 2011 was almost 10.3 billion dollars. Conflict in Colombia has persisted for almost 50 years and the American weapons exported there contribute to the widespread violence that has lead to numerous deaths and displacement. Columbia has the 10th highest prevalence of femicide in the whole world and firearms are used in more than 60 percent of those cases. While all of this violence is taking place, only 13.8 percent of parliamentary seats are occupied by women, and less than half of the female population is literate.

Another devastating example is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to another of our WILPF Sections. The DRC has destabilized to the point that it is difficult to estimate its military spending, given that much is done on the black market, but a 2007 estimate puts military spending at 543 million USD. At the same time, women only occupy about 9 percent of parliamentary seats and less than 45 percent of the female population is literate.

A 2011 report estimated that 48 women in the DRC are raped every hour.[2] Yes, you read that correctly. It means that 1,152 women are raped every single day. This type of massive assault on women does not happen by accident, or by a few violent perpetrators. This is a highly tactical measure to “humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Women are first threatened with lethal weapons and then used as a weapon. This type of violence against women is one of the worst examples of the horrifying effects of militarism.

Whether women are victims of the use of small arms, or if their own bodies are being used as a weapon, or if they are suffering from lack of representation and equality as a result of militarised attitudes, women are on the losing end of world militarisation and arms trade.

These facts and numbers are shocking and highlight how important it is to consider violence against women when addressing issues of security and disarmament.

For example, Reaching Critical Will works hard to ensure that the coming negotiations in March 2013 on an Arms Trade Treaty will ensure a strong and robust treaty.

In particular, we believe that a specific reference to the obligation of preventing any arms exports to countries where there is a foreseeable risk that the weapons can be used in gender-based violence is absolutely necessary for this treaty. If you are interested in following our work for an Arms Trade Treaty, please visit the Reaching Critical Will website.

By Nicholette Derosia, Reaching Critical Will

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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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