Briefing paper


The differentiated impact of firearms on women is rarely taken into account when addressing the issue firearms. Yet, we know that firearms possession and use are clearly gendered: guns are mostly owned by men[1], and women killed by guns are likely to be killed in a gender-based violence homicide.


Impact of wide availability of guns on Right to Life of women

Homicide rates in general are strongly associated with the level of firearms availability. When it comes to firearm femicides this correlation is also present. If we take the example of the frequency of intimate partner homicide-suicide[2], we see that the rates in countries with wide availability of firearms, such as Switzerland or USA are higher than in the Netherlands where the possession of firearms is very restricted.

As a report by IRIN points out: “… the diffusion of small arms into communities, engenders a rise in intimate-partner violence. Even in non-conflict settings, women are more likely to be attacked by a partner if a gun is available; in 2003 ‘The American Journal of Public Health’ found that access to a gun increased the likelihood of a woman being killed by her husband fivefold”[3].

Studies show that there is a direct correlation between femicides rates and the use of firearms. Firearms were used in a third of all femicides worldwide, reaching 60% in some Latin American countries such as Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Ciudad Juárez, firearms were used in more than 80% of femicides[4].

However, the proportion of intimate partner violence related to lethal violence is fairly low in countries with high femicide rates. Yet, for example, in Cyprus, France and Portugal (all with low or very low femicide rates) killings of women by former and current partners account for more than 80 percent of all cases.[5]

Furthermore, firearms may also be involved in femicides as a way of intimidating or coercing the victim. Such cases are, unfortunately, severely under reported.


The impact on other rights: non-lethal injuries and threats

In a study carried out in a region of Pakistan characterised by a high level of possession of firearms, it was found that women felt they were in danger not only because of gun violence, but also because of physical abuse. This was linked to the presence of a gun as much as to patriarchy and gender stereotypes imposed on them[6].

In a study in the USA it was found that guns are used to threaten women within the family more frequently than they are used to kill. Indeed, in retrospective studies of intimate partner homicides there is generally a history of violence that did not however prevent the perpetrator from possessing a gun.[7]

The correlation between high rates of sexual violence and the flow of firearms has been demonstrated in countless examples. The UN Secretary General pointed out at this correlation in his report on small arms in 2013[8].

With men almost always the bearers of guns, power imbalances between men and women are further distorted. As described above, the threat that firearms represent to women both within the household and on the streets, to their lives, to their physical integrity and to their freedom is closely linked to the imposition of patriarchy.


Firearms and negative conceptions of masculinities

The symbolism of gun use and virility cannot be denied. The advertisement illustrating this note is but one example. This symbolism is even more effective in contexts where gender inequality and violence against women is commonly accepted.

Thus, while firearms themselves may not always be directly implicated in violence against women, they are correlated with an increase in gendered inequality and a generalised culture of violence against women. This is supported by specific studies in India, which have found that patriarchy, gendered inequality (and segregation) and the socialisation of men and boys around displaying heterosexual prowess and exerting control over women are key determinants of violence. [9] Similarly, in Nepal, gun ownership is tied to power and social status, and as such the prerogative of powerful men. Women are generally perceived as opposing the use of firearms.[10]


Lessons learned

Current levels of regulation or the implementation of regulation regarding firearms are not thorough enough.

When it comes to civilian ownership of guns, measuring perceptions of firearms i.e. among Liberian women and men, show that both groups overwhelmingly referred to as guns as a threat to safety rather than a source of security.[11]

Work-related access to guns is not exempt from risks either. In South Africa, 10% of femicides in 1999 were perpetrated by men who had access to guns within their profession. The risk is even higher when it comes to victims of post-traumatic stress.

It is thus essential to strictly regulate the possession of guns and to implement those regulations closely. Both these processes must take in to account the gendered aspects of gun possession. Small arms survey 2013[12] found that “comprehensive reform of firearms legislation is associated with reduction of overall and intimate partner homicides.”

Therefore, interventions that address violence against women and girls are more likely to be effective when they are part of a multifaceted approach, including legal reform and accountability for perpetrators.

In Canada, a universal licensing and registration system for all types of firearms, established in 1995, was responsible for a reduction in intimate partner homicides involving firearms. This law also introduced mandatory gun prohibition orders and revocations in domestic violence cases.

Separating perpetrators or suspects from guns has also proven to be effective. However, application of these measures may vary if the decision is left to the judgment of judicial authorities and police. Long-term multidisciplinary projects with US Air Force personnel, as part of a risk population owing a gun, has also been found to be a successful best practice.


Recommendations in View of the Upcoming HRC Resolution:

  • Request a report to:
    • Investigate the impact of firearms on gender-based violence including domestic violence and feminicide
    • Identify the best-practices and lessons learnt in regulations and practices to reduce gender-based violence, domestic violence and femicide through the use of firearms
  • Regulate the possession and use of firearms by civilians and security forces, including utilising a vetting system to avoid perpetrators of gender-based violence from obtaining arms permits, as well as orders of removal or confiscation of firearms by police authorities when suspicion of gender-based violence.
  • Implement special multidisciplinary programmes to raise awareness of GBV and monitor firearms owners, in particular collectives that own guns professionally.
  • Regulate and control the circulation of small arms, both domestic and international, including by enforcing the Arms Trade Treaty, UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, and related UN Security Council resolutions.
  • The creation of monitoring mechanisms of arms advertising to eliminate all attempts to use misogyny or patriarchal conceptions as a means of merchandising weapons.
  • Education and awareness-raising among schools and communities about the dangers of firearms in domestic violence and acts of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.


Agreed text:

  • 57th CSW, 2013 PP 25 The Commission recognizes that the illicit use of and illicit trade in small arms and light weapons aggravates violence, inter alia, against women and girls.
  • HRC RES 26/16 PP7 Alarmed that hundreds of thousands of human beings of all ages around the world, including women and children, have their human rights, in particular their right to life and security of person, negatively affected by the misuse, intentional or unintentional, of firearms, and that a significant number of such killings of women have occurred as a result of inter-partner violence,
  • UNSC RES 2117 (2013) PP 10 Recalling with grave concern that the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons fuel armed conflicts and have a wide range of negative human rights, humanitarian, development and socioeconomic consequences, in particular on the security of civilians in armed conflict, including the disproportionate impact on violence perpetrated against women and girls, and exacerbating sexual and gender-based violence and the recruitment and use of children by parties to armed conflict in violation of applicable international law,
  • GA RES A/RES/69/61 (2014) OP 4 Encourages Member States to better understand the impact of armed violence, in particular the impact of the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons on women and girls, through, inter alia, strengthening the collection of data disaggregated by sex and age;
  • HRC RES 26/16 OP 2 Calls upon all States to take appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures, consistent with international human rights law and their constitutional frameworks, in order to ensure that civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms are effectively regulated with the aim of enhancing the protection of the human rights, in particular the right to life and security of person, of all;


Contact us: María Muñoz Maraver – Human Rights Programme Director –

Mia Gandenberger – Reaching Critical Will Programme Manager –

[1] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2013. Chapter 2: Too close to home – Everyday dangers, small arms survey 2013. Cambridge University Press: page 30

[2] Intimate partner homocide-suicide is:

[3] IRIN, Guns Out of Control: The continuing threat of small arms, IRIN in Depth, 2006

[4] Matthias Nowak, Femicide: A Global Problem Research Notes Armed Violence Number 14. Small Arms Survey, 2012.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Awaz Foundation Pakistan, Survey Report Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign 2009. Supported by IANSA.

[7] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2013. Chapter 2: Too close to home – Everyday dangers, small arms survey 2013. Cambridge University Press

[8] Small arms Report of the UN Secretary-General, 22 August 2013 S/2013/503

[9] Sharna De Lacy, More arms than Mahishasura, WILPF and CAFI, 2014

[10] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2014. Chapter 1: In War and Peace – Violence against women and girls, small arms survey 2014 – women and guns. Cambridge University Press.

[11] ibid

[12] Small Arms Survey, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 2013. Chapter 2: Too close to home – Everyday dangers, small arms survey 2013. Cambridge University Press