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Guns and Gender-Based Violence

19 June 2014

Last week we organised a side event during the Human Rights Council on Guns and Gender Based Violence to address the issue of civilian use of firearms and its impact on women’s rights.

Guns as the Ultimate Form of Violent Masculinity
Panellists at the event Guns and Gender-Based Violence
Panellists at the event Guns and Gender-Based Violence

In some societies, gun ownership and use is widespread and firearms are a common household object. This is not only a question of easy access, but it is also because they are linked to a mix of wide insecurity and existing customs and an underlying culture that supports gun ownership.

For example, one of the panelists explained that in Iraq gun ownership by civilians is spread as part of what is considered “men’s obligation to protect their families”. Children are commonly given toy guns, which leads them to consider them as ordinary objects which they would like to use once they are older, following the example of their fathers.

Women can also be a part of this social acceptance of firearms, as they can be seen as being tools for protection. But civilian possession and use of firearms is demonstrated to result in more frequent, and more lethal violence against women. While men are much more likely to perpetrate and fall victim to gun violence, many more women than men are killed, injured and intimidated by firearms in the context of domestic violence.

The possession and use of firearms is not only demonstrated to directly cause gender-based violence, but it also indirectly reinforces gender inequality. Firearms, marginally more often possessed by men, exacerbate patriarchal conceptions of masculinity that represent a threat to many women and hinder their ability to challenge gender inequality.

When insecurity is widespread, and in particular when the danger of sexual violence is rampant, firearms represent a constant threat to women on the streets and within their households. On the streets, the impact on the mobility of women prevents them from fully participating in public life, hinders their economic empowerment, and affects their political participation.

Within the household, the presence of firearms, almost always in the hands of the male “head of the household”, represents an additional threat to gender equality within the family. Weapons in the home represent a constant reminder to women and children on who has the power, limiting their freedom and security.

A Militaristic Culture

At the panel we also had the opportunity to present our Human Rights Programme Publication: “More Arms than Mahishasura: Feminist Critiques on Militarism in India” written by a member of WILPF Australia and of the Young WILPF Network, Sharna de Lacy. Sharna touched the root of the problem, talking about guns as non-neutral objects soaked in political connotations. As was highlighted, “the gun and its mythology is the ultimate form of violent masculinity”, as it is linked to a macho culture, characterised by rigid hierarchal distributions of power, masculine authority, obedience, the use of violent force and the subordination of women.

For example, in highly militarised societies such as India, Government policies have a direct impact on civilian culture. In India, the State’s increasing military spending and armed interventions in certain areas of the country, such as the Northeast, is reflected in civilians’ attitudes towards violence. It is this militaristic culture that penetrates into every layer of society, contributing to an increasing insecure environment, especially for women.

Human rights – Appropriate Forum?
Flyer of the side event
Flyer of the side event

When discussing arms at the Human Rights Council, there are always questions of whether this is the appropriate forum for them. For us, there are no doubts that the possession and use of weapons has a direct implication for human rights: as firearms are directly linked to gender-based violence, the human rights community has the obligation to address the fact that the arms trade and the informal market need to be regulated using a human rights approach.

The Human Rights Council is probably not the best place to discuss specific details on how they should be regulated or at what path, but it needs to address them as protecting human rights are the ultimate objective of disarmament, giving it its legitimacy.

Furthermore, many other ways of regulation connected to weapons, such as regulation on advertisement of firearms, or children toys, or education in school, will never be discussed in the disarmament fora, it has its place at the Human Rights Council.

There is always going to be violence as long as weapons exist, but the more regulations there are the easier it will be to reduce it.

Read more on these issues in our background paper on the Civilian Possession of Firearms and its Impact on Women’s Rights.

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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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