The Preparatory Committee and Review Conference of the Programme of Action (PoA) present an important opportunity to improve implementation of the PoA by making it more gender-responsive.

“It is not about feminism, it is about business. Member states give us money to implement projects, and if I implement a project that only affects 50% of the population, that is bad business.” Agnès Marcaillou, former head of the Regional Disarmament Branch of UN Office for Disarmament Affairs

A gender-sensitive approach is not exclusively about women, but about analysing gender more broadly. This approach factors the special needs and capacities of men and women, and boys and girls, in the formulation of appropriate responses to issues of gender and small arms and light weapons (SALW). For example, global research has shown young men suffer disproportionately from the direct impacts of SALW use (90% of gun homicide victims are men), while women tend to be victims of the indirect, longer-term consequences.

However, it is inaccurate to identify women solely as victims of violence perpetrated by men with small arms. Such an approach not only neglects the active role that women play globally, regionally and locally in civil society-driven as well as government-led disarmament initiatives as peacebuilders, politicians, community organisers and activists, but also ignores the role that women and girls increasingly play as users of guns, as combatants or traffickers. In this regard, UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 represents an important tool to empower women.

For example, India's Northeast, especially Meghalaya State, has become a supply zone for the traffickers of women and girls who have been lured by promises of employment or abducted by armed men. It is a transit point on the route for trafficking in women and SALW. The traffickers use extortion and intimidate people with guns. They also provide armed security as some people pay for informal armed protection during their illegal migration from one country to another. The international border is extremely porous and transnational criminal networks flourish.

There is evidence that both guns and women are being traded across the frontiers including cases where trafficked Burmese girls were caught carrying guns in the Indian State of Mizoram. Many of the routes where women are trafficked are the same routes where SALW and drugs flow (see: 'Trafficking women and guns in India's Northeast' in Women at Work: Preventing Gun Violence, IANSA Women's Network Bulletin No. 17, January 2009). Such a phenomenon cannot be addressed without a gender-responsive policy.

The PoA contains only one reference to gender, in paragraph 6 of the Preamble in which states express grave concern about the devastating consequences of the illicit trade in small arms for children ‘as well as the negative impact on women and the elderly’. Men are not mentioned at all.

It is important to note that the use of the phrase ‘women and children’, though widespread, is often inappropriate. Putting ‘women and children’ together portrays women as hapless victims, rather than as a key resource in combating gun violence. Children are minors, cannot vote, and require specific and different attention and protection to that of women. It is vital to make this distinction clear in order to ensure that each group gains the attention it requires.

Mandates for Gender in the PoA

The UN has endorsed the strategies of gender mainstreaming and gender balance in its pursuit of gender equality through the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, implementation of UN SCR 1325 and 1820 on Women, Peace and Security, the Beijing Platform for Action, ECOSOC-agreed conclusions on gender mainstreaming (see: ECOSOC, Agreed Conclusions 1997/2, contained in "Report of the Economic and Social Council for 1997", A/52/3/Rev.1. See also ECOSOC Resolutions 2001/41 of 26 July 2001, 2002/23 of 24 July 2002, 2003/49 of 24 July 2003, 2004/4 of 7 July 2004, 2005/31 of 26 July 2005, 2006/36 of 27 July 2006, 2007/33 of 27 July 2007, and 2008/34 of 25 July 2008) and various other policy and practice initiatives.

A Gender Mainstreaming Action Plan launched by UNODA in April 2003 also underscores the commitment and importance it attaches to addressing the impact of all categories of weapons, including SALW, on both men and women.

UN SCR 1325 recognises the active role that women can play in peace processes and as advocates, and it binds Member States to ensure women’s full participation accordingly. It has also proven to be a decisive mandate for the field of small arms control policy and practice, to include women in decision-making and take gender issues into account.

Gender objectives for combating the illicit trade and trafficking of SALW

Addressing the gender, poverty and development dynamic behind illicit trade and trafficking including sexual exploitation and human trafficking in national, regional and international collaboration with development partners will enhance the effectiveness of PoA implementation by:

  • Strengthening control of the illicit trade in SALW in all its aspects;
  • Eliminating opportunities for traffickers to exploit the vulnerability of the poor and other marginalised populations;
  • Addressing the human rights, security and livelihood needs of women and girls drawn into trafficking networks and offering livelihood alternatives to men who rely on trafficking to make a living;
  • Increasing the engagement of social and economic development actors in SALW control.
  • Improving knowledge of criminal network mechanisms in order to better address the problem of trafficking;
  • Encouraging and supporting participatory enabling mechanisms and the concomitant capacity to identify and respond to potential conflict situations;
  • Combating the drivers of illicit trade in SALW.

What you can do to integrate gender

An inclusive approach will help in full ownership of all efforts to eradicate illicit small arms and light weapons trade. It is a fact that gender-oriented policy, continuously and rigorously implemented, will maximize all efforts.

Designed to assist policy makers and field personnel in incorporating gender perspectives in all relevant initiatives and operations in the process of implementation of the PoA, the “Guidelines for Gender Mainstreaming for the Effective Implementation of the UN PoA” take into account new developments, progress made and lessons learned in the implementation of the PoA, as well as in the area of gender mainstreaming in peace and security. Benefiting from a wide array of field based experience and knowledge, they have been developed as a user-friendly resource that will help practitioners identify concrete ways of mainstreaming gender perspectives in all relevant initiatives and operations, and at all stages, from information gathering and planning to implementation, monitoring and evaluation, in the process of effective implementation of the PoA.

Integrating gender perspectives is critical to the successful implementation of the PoA in the following four key areas:

  1. Illicit trade in SALW, and the linkages between different forms of trafficking;
  2. DDR programmes;
  3. National and regional focal points: defining specific regional and national approaches; and
  4. Civil society integration and public awareness initiatives.

International implementation of the PoA has come a long way in terms of building norms and standards to combat and prevent the proliferation of SALW. To ensure sustainability of progress to date and to make sure that the PoA responds adequately and more meaningfully to peace challenges on the ground, it is critical that the gender implications of SALW form an integral component of national and regional strategy development.

The Guidelines for gender mainstreaming for the effective implementation of the UN PoA (A/CONF.192/2006/RC/CRP.3) are available at: http://www.iansa-women.org/node/454