Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Human Rights and Civilian Access to Firearms: Struggling against Insecurity and Gender-Based Violence

24 June 2016
Photo credit: Sofie Holmberg, WILPF

Firearms constitute a great threat to human rights, and even more specifically to women’s human rights. For the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a report tackling these issues, aiming at identify the impact of the use, acquisition and possession of firearms by civilians on the enjoyment of human rights and women’s human rights.

In this context and with the participation of the missions of Ecuador, Peru and Spain, WILPF held a side-event on 23 June highlighting the impacts of firearms from a gender perspective.

Nathalie Prouvez, from the OHCHR, made several crucial points. She first pointed out that firearms were widely used among civilians and that they were the primary medium for human rights violations and abuses (86% of the homicides involving firearms are occurring in non-conflict zone).

Human rights abuses are even more striking when we recall that firearms are not only used to kill, but also to threaten and intimidate. In this way it touches on women’s human rights, through sexual and domestic violence for example. Furthermore, the fear of this threat in daily life limits the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Women get a limited access to healthcare, education and participate less in the community life. Therefore, not only the misuse, but also simply the presence of firearms has an impact on adequate living.

The role of states is crucial in terms of regulating the framework that may allow the circulation of firearms; the regulation should be much stricter. Public policies are very important and states must adopt due diligence and protect individuals without neglecting the private sphere, which often tends to be left aside. The framework of the Agenda 2030 is a major step forward.

Guy Feugap, a member of WILPF Cameroon, presented a more pragmatic approach. He highlighted the fact that, in Cameroon, gender-based violence not only comes from old traditional practices but also from a weak legislation. Indeed, firearms are allowed for hunting and for personal protection, but there are many unregistered weapons, either family inherited or homemade. Of course, this is increasing domestic mortality and violent masculinities, in a context where gender equality is not achieved. Guy Feugap backed up his argument on a series of striking facts, always illustrating the power relation between women and men.

Guns, in the hands of civilians, are a danger to the life and the rights of women. They can be used in any simple argument and become a tool of threat and coercion, therefore impacting the life of the communities. It is important for the access to weapons to be more regulated, without forgetting homemade firearms. In this context, existing regional and international agreements should be implemented and deepened, in order to fight the proliferation of weapons but also to protect women’s rights. There is clearly a lack of data on the gender impact of the possession of firearms by civilians, and gender studies on this topic should be developed.

Stuart Casey-Maslen, from the University of Pretoria, advocated for a better and much stricter regulation on firearms worldwide. He also raised the issues of children owning firearms, especially in the US.

Partly thanks to the OHCHR report on firearms, it is recognised that the use of firearms and the widespread ownership among citizens is not only impacting the right to live safely but also economic, social and cultural rights. The stronger impact on women’s rights has also been acknowledged.

The issue is now integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals, and this is a major step forward.

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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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