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What is the First Committee?

2 October 2017

October is a distinctive time of year, as the seasons in New York change and the days grow cooler and shorter. For those working in disarmament and arms control, it is also a time synonymous with a flurry of meetings, events, and visiting colleagues. October is the time of year when the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on International Security and Disarmament convenes over a four-week period, bringing together issue-area specialists from governmental and non-governmental communities.

The agenda covers all aspects of the portfolio, from all weapons of mass destruction, through disarmament machinery, regional issues, conventional arms, the arms trade, and emerging problems like cyber security or autonomous weapons systems. In the course of making national statements of position on these issues, the First Committee is also the place where resolutions pertaining to arms control and disarmament are first put forward for adoption, and if successful, are then forwarded to the General Assembly for approval at a later stage.

This process has enabled the negotiation or advancement of important instruments, most recently the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, (the nuclear weapons ban treaty). The mandate to negotiate this treaty was tabled and adopted in the 2016 session of the General Assembly, which then took place in 2017.

Key themes for the 2017 First Committee

We anticipate that a significant amount of attention will be given to the growing threat from North Korea in its pursuit of nuclear weapons although within the UN this is usually discussed in the Security Council. There will also likely be a lot of discussion about the increased use of chemical weapons over the last year, as well as other banned weapons like cluster munitions and landmines. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a chronic and growing threat for many civilians living in urban areas that have become zones of conflict.

We are looking forward to hearing positive statements from the over 100 countries that support the nuclear weapons ban treaty! Over 50 states have already signed it since it opened for signature on 20 September 2017. It’s likely that more will continue to do so in October while in New York for the First Committee, or that others will use their national statements to provide an update on intentions to join.

Gender and disarmament receives an increasing amount of attention each year. In 2010, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) began to consider the specific implications of UNSCR 1325 for disarmament with the adoption of resolution 65/69 on “Women, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation”. In 2016, the UNGA adopted a fifth resolution on this subject, which urges member states and others to promote equal opportunities for women in disarmament decision-making processes and to support and strengthen the effective participation of women in the field of disarmament. Many states will likely take note of the inclusion of gender-based violence as a risk assessment criterion in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the unprecedented language in the nuclear weapon ban treaty about women’s participation in disarmament and the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons use and testing on women.

WILPF’s disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will (RCW), is launching a new publication, The Humanitarian Impact of Drones, on 13 October during a side event.  The publication features contributions from a diverse group of experts providing insight on the humanitarian, psychological, human rights, and gender impact of armed drones, as well as ethical, moral, legal, perspectives and country and regional case studies.

We will also support and endorse a number of civil society statements to be delivered on nuclear weapons, gender, cyber security, armed drones, killer robots, and explosive weapons in populated areas. WILPF actively participates in the civil society campaigns and networks that advocate on many of these issues.

How to follow the debate?

Reaching Critical Will has been providing coverage and analysis of First Committee since 2002. This year we will again publish the weekly First Committee Monitor, a report that summarizes the debate by topic and authored by campaign leaders and experts. The RCW website will be a hub for posting governmental statements, draft resolutions, and voting. We have also prepared a First Committee Briefing Book, which provides an overview and current context of many key issues as well as inspiration and alternatives as delegates engage meetings this month.

  • Sign up for the First Committee Monitor.
  • Follow @RCW_ on Twitter. We will be live Tweeting from each session, as well as several side events!
  • Visit our First Committee webpage for statements, documents, and other key resources!

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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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