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Day 9: Small Arms, Big Consequences

3 December 2012

Millions of people, in particular women, are affected daily by direct and indirect consequences of use, production, stockpiling and sales of weapons. These consequences come from all types of weapons, from nuclear weapons and other WMDs, to conventional weapons and explosive remnants of war, and most significantly, small arms and light weapons. The Arms trade is big business and weapons flow in and out of countries uncontrollably. The impact of the widespread proliferation and misuse of arms heavily affects women and needs to be urgently addressed.

The arms trade has specific gender dimensions and direct links to discrimination and gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is violence related to social expectations and positions based on gender and can be committed by and aimed at both men and women. However, most gender-based violence is committed by men, and is directed against women and girls and linked to discrimination.

Picture of small arms ammunitionEmboldened by weapons, power and status, both State and non-State parties often perpetrate gender-based violence, disproportionately affecting women with impunity. This has far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace, security, gender equality, and secure development.

The arms trade affects everyone – men, women, boys and girls – in different ways. For women, the ongoing unregulated arms trade has devastating effects.

For example, sexual violence is often employed widely and systematically against civilians during armed conflict. The links to the proliferation and trade in arms is rarely discussed, but evidence from conflict zones such as Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo shows that gender-based violence against women, perpetrated by diverse actors including state security forces and armed opposition groups, has been greatly intensified by the proliferation of small arms imports into the country.

Weapons are also used daily to facilitate repression of women and state violence, and women are disproportionately affected by high levels of firearms-related homicides and domestic violence.

The ongoing arms trade is a deadly and corrupt business. It fuels conflict, allows for human rights abuse and assists in supporting non-democratic regimes while urgent development needs lack significant resources. Somehow, the international community has never agreed on any international rules on how to regulate arms trade, in order to prevent misuse, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and gender-based violence.

Every government in the world has a responsibility to reduce arms trade – both through limiting the possession within its borders, to protect its own citizens from their use, and for assuring that any export of weapons are not used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.

In July 2012 at the United Nations in New York, all the governments in the world got together to negotiate such a treaty, but failed to reach consensus on the final document. Governments will get a new chance in March 2013, when a final negotiating conference will be held, with the aim to adopt such treaty.

To be consistent with the broader UN practice of mainstreaming gender by paying attention to differing impacts on women and men in all frameworks, policies and programmes, an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) must recognise the specific impact of irresponsible international arms transfers on women and their rights.

An ATT must require states to not allow an international transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Including gender-based violence in the criteria of an ATT would acknowledge that both exporting and importing countries would have a joint, though different, responsibility to prevent these crimes.

While all gender-based violence is unlawful and the primary legal responsibility of the importing State to address, it is when transfers of conventional arms are made where there is a substantial risk of violations, that the special machinery of the ATT should be engaged: that is, where a proposed end user of an export, import or international transfer of conventional arms is under consideration for engaging in harmful activity, or for failing in their duty to prevent persistent or pervasive violations resulting in gender-based violence through the use of arms.

WILPF International calls on all its members to advocate for an Arms Trade Treaty with a strong reference to the prevention of gender-based violence and which will commit states to not allowing the transfer of arms where there is a substantial risk that such weapons are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

See Reaching Critical Will’s website for more information on the Arms Trade Treaty and how to engage in this issue.

By Beatrice Fihn, Reaching Critical Will Programme Manager

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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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