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Exploring WILPF’s Participation in GENSAC’s #bulletproofinclusion Campaign

Did you know that one third of all femicides involve small arms and light weapons? Yet despite this fact, the gendered aspect of small arms control is often ignored in conventional approaches to disarmament.  

To draw attention to the impact of small arms and light weapons on women’s safety and well-being, the Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) – a partner of WILPF – decided to launch the #bulletproofinclusion campaign on International Women’s Day 2021. 

Envisioned as a series of events organised by GENSAC’s partners, the campaign aimed to promote the leadership of women and the inclusion of their perspectives in small arms control efforts. WILPFers played an active role in the campaign, with 17 WILPF Sections across Africa organising events in partnership with GENSAC, which funded these online and in-person conferences, panels, and workshops. 

Before we share highlights from the campaign, let’s take a closer look at the gendered impacts of small arms and light weapons. 

Why is it important to address the interlinkage of small arms and gender?

Small arms – weapons created for individual use that can be easily transported by a person – are estimated to cause approximately 46 per cent of all violent deaths worldwide. 

Small arms affect people of different genders in very specific ways, both as perpetrators and as victims, and often in relation to gender roles and expectations. WILPF’s disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will, has repeatedly shown how small arms can increase women’s vulnerabilities: they make it easier for men to commit sexual violence, make domestic violence more deadly, and facilitate human trafficking.

But the possession and use of guns are also linked to the perpetuation of violent masculinities and the militarisation of communities, which in turn affect women and men alike. Small arms have come to symbolise power, domniation, control, and strength – concepts that are commonly seen as attributes of masculinity. This view of masculinity inherently links it to violence – often leading young men into situations where they must use or are victims of light arms. 

The interlinkage of small arms and gender is true everywhere: from the streets of the United States, where transwomen and gender non-conforming people of colour are routinely murdered, to Iraq, where small arms are increasingly used in cases of domestic violence, to Mexico, where domestic violence is worsened by the steady stream of guns coming in from the United States.

Recognising the profound impact of small arms on their lives, families, and futures, women have long been at the forefront of efforts to remove these weapons from their communities. Yet despite their leadership and a growing body of evidence demonstrating the devastating gendered impacts of small arms and light weapons, most policies and programmes addressing small arms proliferation do not take gender into account at all.

How WILPF Sections are leading efforts against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons

As part of GENSAC’s efforts to raise awareness of the importance of creating gender-sensitive or gender-transformative programmes in small arms control, the network reached out to WILPF to offer support for related projects being undertaken by Sections or Groups across Africa. 

The end of a war or conflict does not always mean the end of the use of small arms. And as sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed increasing amounts of conflicts in the past decades, so too has it increasingly suffered from the negative impacts of small arms and ammunition flows. Given this context, many of our African Sections decided to participate in GENSAC’s #bulletproofinclusion campaign. 

Together, the 17 Sections and Groups organised many events funded by GENSAC as part of #bulletproofinclusion – so many, in fact, that it would be impossible to talk about all of them. Most focused on raising awareness of the gendered dimensions of the proliferation of small arms and of the key roles women can play in the prevention of small arms proliferation and use. 

We wanted to share a few with you, and highlight the innovative ideas that some Sections developed – which we hope will inspire you to take action!

WILPF Ghana: Photographs to start conversations

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WILPF Ghana organised an online event – complete with a photographic presentation and online campaign – on women’s participation in disarmament. 

Using visual materials, they kickstarted a critical discussion on effective strategies to connect arms control, gender, human rights, and peacebuilding at the local level and to push for women’s leadership in small arms control decision-making nationally. 

During an online seminar, participants discussed their experiences, knowledge, and advice on the inclusion of women in disarmament programming.         

WILPF Sierra Leone: Radio debates               

WILPF Sierra Leone, which is part of the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA), also organised a meeting with other women and youth-led partner organisations in Kenema, one of the districts most affected by violence.

Together, the participants discussed strategies to mainstream gendered perspectives into small arms control programmes, map out areas of concern so as to plan their future work, and reach out to new members and key people in the work against small arms proliferation. 

They also hosted a radio round table that offered listeners an opportunity to participate via text message! Radio remains one of the primary channels of communication in sub-Saharan Africa, so we can be sure that this show reached a wide audience!  

WILPF Burkina Faso: Going to the community 

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WILPF Burkina Faso held educational activities for young people in the country’s border regions with Mali and Niger, where there is a vast proliferation of small arms. 

WILPF Burkina Faso created a number of educational materials on the intersection of gender and small arms proliferation, as well as on the key role women could play to stem it. WILPFers then separated into small groups that canvassed the various villages of Toussiana and Toma to distribute these flyers and start discussions.

Moreover, in Toma, a discussion and debate session was organised by WILPF with members of local women’s organisations. Together, they discussed the importance of women’s leadership in small arms control. They came to understand how social class also plays a role in the way small arms can affect a population, and that women often know about the circulation of weapons in their communities – and, as such, can play a crucial role in stopping it. 

Read the full report!

We could only share a few examples of the amazing work that our National Sections and Groups undertook thanks to GENSAC’s funding. 

Through creative multimedia and community engagement, WILPF Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, and Ghana helped spark conversations about the gendered impacts of small arms and about the importance of women’s leadership in these areas. Other Sections involved high-level officials and other civil society actors in their discussions. 

Find out more by reading Reaching Critical Will’s report on the various activities in the Small Arms Monitor (p.11)

If you are a WILPF member and have access to myWILPF, then you can read the final reports:

  • English report including WILPF Sections/Groups: Zimbabwe, Sudan, Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.
  • French report including WILPF sections/groups: Burundi, Chad, Togo, Niger, Senegal, RDC, CAR, CI, and Burkina Faso.

For more information: 

And of course, make sure to read WILPF and Asuda’s report on The Correlation Between the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapon in Iraq and Rates of Violence against Women, as well as the corresponding webinar.

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