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The Many Humanitarian Impacts of Armed Drones

17 November 2017

“In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time,” said Pervez Musharraf, the country’s former president. He was talking about the very first drone strikes being initiated in his country by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, in 2004.

Since then, over 700 air and drone strikes have taken place across Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Since 2015, over 3,000 strikes have taken place in Afghanistan potentially causing the deaths of up to 1,400 civilians. The harm to people, places, and communities at the local, national, and international level is manifold and multi-faceted encompassing physical and psychological trauma, as well as raising serious questions about human rights, international law, ethics, and government transparency.

This is the reason why WILPF’s disarmament programme has published a new book, The Humanitarian Impact of Drones.  One of the key objectives of the book is to refocus the debate about armed drones on the harm caused to people, disrupting narratives that emphasise the “low human costs” of deploying explosive force from drones as well as shift the burden of proof onto users of armed drones, putting pressure on them to justify their policies and practices. Through country and regional case studies, as well as personal stories, the book illustrates the multiple humanitarian effects of armed drone use as well as explore dimensions of the problem that are seemingly overlooked by policymakers or media in their coverage of the issue.

It also takes a close look at gendered aspects of drone use in a chapter authored by the director of WILPF’s disarmament programme, Ray Acheson—an aspect frequently overlooked in mainstream commentary on this issue. She illustrates that drones should be viewed through a gender perspective to help situate in them in the broader context of militarism and the culture of violence, and highlights ways in which the use of drones can constitute gender-based violence and undermine gender equality.  “Gender analysis should not be a footnote. It offers specific tools that can help unpack or understand more fully the ways drones are perceived by users and victims; the physical and psychological responses to the use of armed drones; and the situational context of drones in terms of military technology as well as gender relations,” writes Ms. Acheson.

The book has been published at an opportune time, when not many countries yet possess or use armed drones but are on the verge of acquiring them.  The United States, by far the world’s largest user of armed drones, is attempting to develop international guidelines to regulate their export through a process that has been largely secretive and closed to civil society. WILPF signed a joint open letter from multiple civil society organisations in September as the only way to register input to that process. It was published around the same time that US President Trump announced that he would like to relax some of the policies and limitations used in drone strike targeting and decision-making, in order to expedite those processes.  The number of US-led drone strikes have spiked since he took office.

Joy Onesoh, President of WILPF Nigeria, authored a case study about Nigeria, which is the eighth country to use armed drones in combat. “As a Nigerian, I have a number of additional concerns about potential effects of the use of drones. These include the potential harms on the environment, human health, and agriculture,” she writes. “Drone activities, in particular their munitions and the munitions used against them, may pose a threat to public health within these regions and their sources of livelihood: the cultivation of crops and rearing of animals.”

The book was launched at an event in New York in October that involved several of the authors and editors. It is published jointly with Article 36 and the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University. It is available online at and Reaching Critical Will intends to organize further events and opportunities in 2018 to present and explore its content.


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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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