What does gun violence have to do with the Women, Peace & Security Agenda?

Six months ago, the Global Study on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) was launched at the fifteenth anniversary of UNSCR 1325.

The October 2015 Global Study provided the evidence base for action to implement the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and strengthening women’s participation, protection, and rights across the conflict spectrum. A key recommendation was strengthening action on conflict prevention including demilitarisation as a key priority area.

As WILPF’s disarmament program Reaching Critical Will has shown, small arms are part of a global armed violence epidemic. Small arms facilitate sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, and armed conflict, and are integrally tied up with violent masculinities and the militarisation of communities.

Yet six months after the Global Study, how far have we come in moving from words to action? This week’s Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence provides an opportunity to assess where we are at on this this key area for conflict prevention and peace.

What did the Global Study say on Militarism and Arms?

The Global Study recognised that demilitarisation is a critical part of structural conflict prevention and addressing root causes of war. It found that militarism and cultures of militarised masculinities create a climate of political decision-making in which resorting to the use of force becomes a normalised mode of dispute resolution.

The Global Study called for member states to address inequality, arms proliferation, organised crime, and militarisation including by:

  • implementing the Arms Trade Treaty’s criterion on gender based violence (article 7(4)),
  • implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on gender equality (Goal 5) and Stable and Peaceful Societies (Goal 16), and
  • adopting gender responsive budgeting to address militarised state budgets and their destabilising impact on peace and women’s rights in consultation with civil society
  • provide financial, technical and political support to encourage educational and leadership training for men, women, boys and girls, which reinforces and supports non-violent, non-militarised expressions of masculinity.
Where are we now?

Today we have made some progress. Eighty member states have now ratified the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which obligates States Parties who transfer arms to assess the risk of arms being used to commit SGBV or “serious acts of violence against women” (Article 7(4)). Almost all states have signed on to the international women’s rights convention, CEDAW, which in General Recommendation 30 outlines state obligations to uphold women’s rights in conditions of conflict, and includes a recommendation for states to sign, ratify and implement the ATT. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals include an indicator addressing reducing illicit arms flows (16.4). Other international norms, guidelines and international instruments exist to regulate small arms and light weapons.[1]

Despite these promising developments, WILPF’s PeaceWomen programme has brought attention to how many member states that purport to be “friends” of the Women, Peace and Security agenda continue to invest in militarism and arms, which directly facilitate sexual and gender based violence, conflict and war.[2] Three of the five permanent members of the Security Council have not ratified the ATT; indeed, China and Russia have not even signed it. The US, Russia, China, France and the UK were respectively the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th largest exporters of arms in the world in the years 2011-2015 and combined, the USA and Russia supplied 58 per cent of all exports.

In addition, recent trends to focus on gender-blind counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism threaten to blindly continue militarised approaches to state security that put at risk women’s human security and peace. As civil society has pointed out, action aimed at counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism has resulted in women human rights defenders and peace activists being labelled as potential terrorists; silenced legitimate, peaceful dissent; and raised concerns around reallocating funding away from the WPS agenda, women’s human rights defenders and other gender-equitable social development.

What should be done?

As the Global Study recognised, civil society has affirmed “Women, peace and security is about preventing war, not about making war safer for women” (191). This requires substantially strengthening the conflict prevention pillar of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, to transform political economies of militarism and arms connected to violent masculinities for non-violent conflict resolution alternatives, gender justice, and peace.

A holistic understanding of conflict prevention includes strengthening small arms controls; further preventing SGBV by harmonising firearms laws with other national laws; and incorporating means to prevent the diversion of legal arms into the illicit market, since illicit arms remain a driver of modern armed violence and the vast majority of illicit weapons begin their lives as legal weapons.[3]

As member states continue to take action around preventing terrorism and violent extremism, they should also recognise the constraints of militarised approaches. Instead, they should seek constructive alternatives, including through holistic gendered conflict analysis of the causes of conflict and violence, address injustices, and support peacebuilding and transformative governance based on rule of law, justice, and gender equality.


More than 15 years on from the adoption of the ground-breaking UNSCR 1325 and six months after the UNSCR 1325 Global Study, effective implementation of the agenda, especially in the area of conflict prevention remains a major gap. Recognising the connections between arms proliferation and sexual and gender-based violence, and taking action to transform systems of violent masculinities and political economies of war is critical for transformational change.

As lead author of the UNSCR 1325 Global Study Radhika Coomaraswamy declared at the October civil society launch: ” No to militarisation, yes to prevention – that is what women claim.” It is time for states to listen, and take action.

[1] Relevant norms, guidelines and international instruments include, eg.: Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000) and its Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition; United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (2001);  International Tracing Instrument (2005); UNSCR 2117 Small Arms and Light Weapons (2013); Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (1983); Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (1997); Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008) 43 Arms Trade Treaty (2013); UN Security Council sanctions (arms embargos); General Assembly Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms Control (2014); Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development (2006); Oslo Commitments on Armed Violence (2010); General Assembly Resolution A/RES/63/23, Promoting Development through the Reduction and Prevention of Armed Violence, 17 November, 200849 OECD’s Armed Violence Reduction Lens.

[2] Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (2014).

[3] Aditi, Malhotra (2011). Aditi, 2011. Cited in Small Arms Survey (2015).