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
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?
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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