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Military Expenditures vs. Human Rights: You Get What You Pay For

18 September 2014

During the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, WILPF’s Human Rights programme organised a side event addressing the implications of military expenditure for human rights. This was an inspiring discussion for WILPF and created hope for a more peaceful world by using a gender-based analysis within these questions.


During the event, we presented our new publication “You Get What You Pay For”, which examines the relationship between military expenditure and gender equality.

Helen Wilandh from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic international order Alfred de Zayas, Manuela Mesa from WILPF Spain, and Mia Gandenberger from WILPF’s disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will, discussed military expenditure, its effects on international peace and security, and the need to include a gender perspective when making budgetary decisions.

The discussion, chaired by WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees, extracted information form SIPRI’s latest report on global military expenditure and the recent report from the Independent Expert.

The cost of militarisation 

Since the end of the Cold War, militarism has been growing in response to an increasingly unstable world. In 2013, the world’s total military expenditure was estimated to be 1.747 trillion USD, according to SIPRI. While this signals a slight decrease in real terms overall and a small decrease in Western military spending, it also reflects a large rise of the rest of the world’s military spending. Against the background of recent and ongoing crises around the world, there is concern that military spending worldwide will increase further.

Various panellists stressed that by redirecting the resources spent on militaries and military equipment, great progress could be achieved on the advancement of sustainable development and the protection of human rights.

Mia Gandenberger also highlighted that by using gender-aware budgeting, based on the evaluation of rights and needs of both women and men, the allocation and distribution of resources could enhance gender equality and human security.

Lack of transparency in military spending

Due to the lack of transparency and accountability in military spending reporting, there is insufficient data about military expenditure. Many governments withhold information about their spending practices, often on the grounds that secrecy is “necessary” to protect national security. Taxpayers finance the development and deployment of horrendous weapons often without even knowing.

Greater transparency is needed in order for the public to engage in serious discussions on how national budgets are allocated. In this context, Manuela Mesa from WILPF Spain raised serious concerns about budgetary decisions by her government in times of economic recession. Indeed, the Spanish government has entered into long-term defence contracts that can no longer be fulfilled.

The way forward

WILPF encourages the international community to reorient their military industries into peaceful gender-aware economies. Reallocating these resources helps create a context in which weapons and war are not always assumed to be the solution to every problem.

Already at the establishment of WILPF in 1915, militarisation and excessive armament were seen as root causes of conflict. Next year, WILPF will celebrate its 100th anniversary with the aim to build on the movement Women’s Power to Stop War and continue the work to achieve long-term peace.

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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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