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Report from the Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

14 February 2014

Amidst the sun and surf of Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, governments, international organizations, and civil society are gathering the 13-14 February for a very sober conference. WILPF is of course there, and we will be examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

Picture of WILPF’s Disarmament team. From left; Mia Gandenberger, Beatrice Fihn, Joy Ada Onyesoh of WILPF Nigeria, Gabriella Irsten and Ray Acheson.
WILPF’s Disarmament team is present at the conference in Mexico. From left; Mia Gandenberger, Beatrice Fihn, Joy Ada Onyesoh of WILPF Nigeria, Gabriella Irsten and Ray Acheson.

We will hear testimony from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we will hear from experts about the effects of a nuclear detonation on the environment, economies, weather, and crops. And from civil society and others, we will hear about the urgent demand for political and legal action to prevent any possible use of nuclear weapons by banning and eliminating them once and for all.

This is the second conference to be held in the last year on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. In March 2013, Norway hosted the first conference on this subject. And yesterday morning, on the first day of the conference, the government of Austria announced that it would host a third conference to continue the dialogue!

This is extremely exciting news, because it means that governments are serious about carrying forward this discussion despite complaints by nuclear-armed states that this subject is “distracting” and naïve. The majority of countries and civil society groups are newly reclaiming our place in the debate on nuclear weapons. No longer accepting that these weapons are good for “strategic stability,” we are highlighting their devastating and unacceptable effects and demanding concrete action to ensure such catastrophes are prevented forever.

Picture of Gabriella Irsten, Joy Ada Onyesoh and Ray Acheson sitting behind a conference table.
Three members of WILPF’s Disarmament Team spotted at the conference in Mexico. From left; Gabriella Irsten, Joy Ada Onyesoh and Ray Acheson.

Last year at the Oslo conference, participants concluded that the detonation of nuclear weapons has devastating immediate and long-term effects locally and globally and that no state or international body could adequately address these effects. The government of Mexico is hosting this second conference to draw attention to some of the long-term effects on nuclear weapons, including on economics and development, displacement of populations, food production, and more. It will also address the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. Concepts like “nuclear deterrence” make some governments want to keep them and others seek to acquire them, but the concept relies on willingness to use nuclear weapons. 17,000 nuclear weapons remain in the hands of just a few states that refuse to comply with the overwhelming demand from the rest of the world that they eliminate these weapons.

Screens showed Beatrice Fihn speaking
Programme Manager Beatrice Fihn speaking on one of the panels.

146 governments have registered to attend the conference in Mexico. UN agencies, other international organisations, academics, and civil society are also actively participating, bringing their expertise and experience to bear on the discussion. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is coordinating civil society’s participation in this meeting. ICAN advocates for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, with the belief that categorically prohibiting a weapon can facilitate its elimination. Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction not subject to a prohibition. Now is the time to address this exemption. The announcement of the next meeting in Vienna on this humanitarian framework indicates a willingness amongst states to move from a discussion about the impacts of nuclear weapons to a discussion about what must be done to make sure they can never be used again.

As mentioned, WILPF is represented at the conference by our Reaching Critical Will team. They are all there—Ray, Beatrice, Gabriella, and Mia—and Joy of WILPF Nigeria has joined them.

Beatrice will be speaking on one of the panels and Ray will deliver the closing statement on behalf of civil society.

We also be Tweeting during the conference at #goodbyenukes and #hinw14 and will release a report after the conference is over. You can also live stream the conference.

Over the past two days, the WILPF team has been participating in the ICAN campaigners’ meeting to discuss our advocacy strategy and build our knowledge and commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons. You can see pictures and stories from the meeting at

Now that the intergovernmental conference has begun, we will be speaking on panels, talking with government representatives, and working together with the over 100 activists from ICAN to build momentum and confidence for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

It’s time to ban the bomb!

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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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