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Gathering the Courage to Ban Nuclear Weapons: RCW Attended the Vienna Conference

19 January 2015

In December, the ground shifted on nuclear weapons.

The Austrian government, at a conference it was hosting on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, pledged to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

In the coming months, it will be encouraging other states to sign this pledge and join in the pursuit of a ban on nuclear weapons.

This is what WILPF, as a partner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has been working for. This is our chance to finally outlaw these horrific weapons of mass destruction once and for all – which we think will lead to their total elimination.

What’s the story with nuclear weapons?

Nine countries together possess more than 16,000 nuclear weapons and many of these are ready to be launched within a few minutes’ warning. Most are more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people, with the effects persisting for decades.

Reaching Critical Will Director Ray Achenson and Sofia Tuvestad of WILPF Sweden participated in the ICAN Civil Society Forum in December 2014.
Reaching Critical Will Director Ray Achenson and Sofia Tuvestad of WILPF Sweden participated in the ICAN Civil Society Forum in December 2014.
Photo credit: Flickr/ICAN

The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long lasting, and unacceptable and the only solution is to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons now.

For decades, discussions on nuclear weapons have been dominated by the few nuclear-armed states. The humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons has prompted a fundamental change in this conversation, with non-nuclear armed states leading the way in a discussion on the actual effects of the weapons.

Changing the discourse

It all started with the 2010 nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, when governments officially expressed their “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and reaffirmed “the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

Following this, 16 governments delivered a joint statement at the 2012 NPT Preparatory Committee, and 35 governments did so at the 2012 General Assembly First Committee session, highlighting the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and calling on all states to intensify their efforts to outlaw these weapons. At the 2013 NPT Preparatory Committee, 80 governments joined this statement and by the 2013 First Committee, 125 governments were on board. A year later in October 2014, at the First Committee, 155 states joined a similar statement.

Governmental conferences

In March 2013, for the first time ever, governments, international organisations, and civil society addressed the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons at a conference in Oslo, Norway. The meeting was a huge success, with the participation of 128 governments, UN agencies, international organisations, and civil society. Evidence was presented on the immediate impact of nuclear weapon detonation and governments and relief agencies alike concluded that no adequate humanitarian response would be possible.

States and other actors convened again in Nayarit, Mexico from 13 – 14 February 2014 to discuss the global and long-term consequences of a nuclear detonation from the perspective and variables of the 21st century society. In his summary of the meeting, the Chair called for the development of new international standards on nuclear weapons, including a legally binding instrument. The time has come, he noted, for a diplomatic process to reach this goal.

In December 2014 states and other actors gathered for a third conference in Vienna, Austria. This conference was aimed at strengthening the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and at contributing to the growing momentum to firmly anchor the humanitarian imperative in all global efforts dealing with nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament.

At the end of the conference, Austria delivered the “Austrian Pledge” in which it committed to work to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”
At the end of the conference, Austria delivered the “Austrian Pledge” in which it committed to work to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”
Photo credit: Flickr/UNIS Vienna

At the end of this conference, Austria delivered the “Austrian Pledge” in which it committed to work to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and pledged “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.”

The road ahead

Vienna gave us a starting point. It is the most exciting opportunity we have to deal with these weapons once and for all. We must seize it and ban nuclear weapons now.

For more info on the humanitarian consequences process and the three governmental conferences, go to Reaching Critical Will’s website were you can find our monitoring reports of the conferences and statement archive and other documents from the meetings.

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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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