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What Do Feminists Think of Nuclear Weapons? 

Although nuclear weapons have not been used in war ever since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a handful of States have undertaken thousands of nuclear test explosions. Nine governments possess nuclear weapons, arguing that they are safer with them. Yet, a vast majority of States disagrees. Two years ago, 122 countries voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which outlaws these weapons of genocide and terror. Today, we invite you to revisit this debate through a feminist lens.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
6 August 2019

On 6 and 9 August 1945, the United States detonated two nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today marks 74 years since this catastrophic event in our history. Although nuclear weapons have not been used in war ever since, a handful of States have undertaken thousands of nuclear test explosions. Nine governments possess nuclear weapons, arguing that they are safer with them. Yet, a vast majority of States disagrees. Two years ago, 122 countries voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which outlaws these weapons of genocide and terror. Today, we invite you to revisit this debate through a feminist lens.

Why are Nuclear Weapons a Patriarchal Tool?

As many feminist scholars and activists have revealed, patriarchy conflates masculinity with strength, courage, and protection. This contributes to the continued existence of nuclear arsenals.  It also means that peace and disarmament, associated as feminine, are seen as “unattainable, unrealistic, weak, and even undesirable,” whereas war and violence are strong and masculine. 

Ray Acheson, Director of the Reaching Critical Will programme of WILPF, explains that nuclear weapons are a “symbol of masculine strength,” seen as a political representation of power.  She explains that nuclear weapons are used as tools of dominance and control, and to give admission to a very elite club of powerful states. She also notes how anyone who calls for disarmament is put down as emotional and weak. Governments and activists alike are told by nuclear-armed states that they do not understand how security works.

In reality, nuclear weapons are about destruction, not safety or security. In 1945, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima resulted in hundreds of thousands dead. There is nothing to be proud of a country’s security being based on the “threat of instant vaporization of large numbers of civilians and on enormous numbers subjected to an excruciatingly painful death caused by fires, blasts and overwhelming prompt nuclear radiation.”

In this Ted Talk, Ray Acheson explains our feminist vision on nuclear weapons:

In nuclear weapon discussions, those in favour of the bomb often reject the experiences of those who have felt the intergenerational harms of nuclear weapons use and testing. By doing so, politicians and governments deny that nuclear weapons are the most indiscriminate, inhumane and destructive explosive devices, and have catastrophic humanitarian, environmental, and economic effects. But in a matter of seconds, nuclear weapons can eliminate entire cities and countries – and with them decades of progress and development. Their objective is “pure and simple extermination” of human beings. They do not discriminate between the rich and the poor, nor between doctors, civilians, or children. They are ecocidal, suicidal and genocidal weapons.

Nuclear weapons are about choosing to live or die.

Why We Need to Ban Nuclear Weapons

Even if nuclear weapons are not being used directly, they are negatively affecting our daily lives. As Ray Acheson highlights, “We live in a time where we spend more money developing new ways to kill each other than we do on saving each other from crises of health, housing, food security, and environmental degradation. It is neither strategic nor stable to spend billions of dollars on nuclear weapons when billions of people suffer from our global inability to meet basic human needs for all.”

The use of nuclear weapons will never be justified. To protect the human race and make possible a civilised and peaceful world, we must eliminate nuclear weapons.

The first progress towards this peaceful world happened in 1970 with the Non-Proliferation Treaty becoming international law. The Treaty prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons by 190 UN Member States. However, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea left the Treaty to develop nuclear weapons and India, Israel, and Pakistan never joined and possess nuclear weapons now. Even worse, the five nuclear-armed states that are parties to the Treaty are not complying with their legal obligation to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. Instead, they are pouring billions into the “modernisation” and further development of these weapon systems.

Since 1915, WILPF has been committed to working towards world disarmament. When horror stunned the world in 1945, WILPF emphasized the need for a nuclear-free world if we are to preserve the human race.

The time is NOW for a Nuclear-Free World

In July 2017, 72 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new step towards the end of the nuclear weapons was achieved. 122 States voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, supported by the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – of which WILPF is a leading member. It outlaws the development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, stationing, deployment, transfer, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons, or assisting with any of these prohibited activities.

Chart form RCW on how to promote the banning of nuclear weapon.

The treaty needs 50 ratifications to enter into force. To date, the treaty has 23 ratifications.  We need 27 more. We can start by asking all 193 UN Member States to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and work together towards world nuclear disarmament and feminist peace. The money that would be spent on nuclear weapons’ development or tests must be redirected to meeting social human needs.

If you want a nuclear-free world, make sure to join the movement and take action!

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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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