16 days of activism against armed gender-based violence

Written by Sofia Tuvestad, Women’s International Leage for Peace and Freedom Sweden and Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will

PHOTO: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign unites WILPF and other organisations in activism against three priority issues: violence perpetrated by state actors; domestic violence and the role of small arms; and sexual violence during and after conflict. This is not the first time the 16 Days Campaign has highlighted the link between arms proliferation and gender-based violence. But it is the first time since the adoption of a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to back up our cause.

The Arms Trade Treaty is historic in being the first-ever treaty to recognize the link between gender-based violence and the international arms trade. It reflects a growing recognition of the fact that the unregulated transfers of arms facilitate this violence, perpetrated by both state and non-state actors, inside and outside of the home. By mandating exporting states parties not to authorize any transfer of arms where there is a risk of using them to commit or facilitate gender-based violence, the ATT codifies states’ obligations to prevent this violence.

WILPF and our partner organisations worked hard for years to ensure the ATT would be gender-sensitive. While this issue remained at the side-lines of the negotiations until the very last weeks, the inclusion of gender references is now recognised by many states and civil society as a major success – and rightly so.

The adoption of the ATT is a success story not only in terms of what the treaty entails. It has also become a key catalyst for building momentum and progress around gender and disarmament within other parts of the UN machinery.

In his 2013 report on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), the UN Secretary-General notes that one of the “emerging protection-related concerns” is the proliferation of small arms posing a serious security concern for women. Security Council resolution 2117, adopted in September this year, recognizes that the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation, and misuse of small arms and light weapons exacerbate sexual and gender-based violence. This is further reiterated in Security Council Resolution 2122 on WPS, adopted just a few weeks ago, which includes as well a very welcome reference to the ATT. Resolution 2122 says the council is “looking forward to the important contribution that implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty can make to reducing violence perpetrated against women and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict situations.”

These instruments recognise disarmament as a key step in preventing gender-based violence; an argument that WILPF has been making since our founding in 1915. They also show a growing recognition of the need to empower women as decision-makers in disarmament, including in the implementation of the ATT. The recent Security Council resolutions urge member states and UN entities to ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in efforts to combat negative effects of small arms. The council underline the importance of comprehensive approaches to disarmament that are in line with the UN agenda on Women, Peace and Security.

These recent reports and resolutions show that not only do we kick off this year’s campaign with a gender-sensitive ATT on our side, but that we do it as well with disarmament emerging as a new theme of the UN agenda on gender dimensions of peace and security. This makes for a number of valuable references and stepping-stones for activists and organisations working to eliminate the root causes of gender-based violence.

Sofia Tuvestad is Policy and Advocacy Officer at the Swedish section of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF. She works on disarmament and gender, peace and security. Follow her on Twitter @Sofia_Tuvestad

Ray Acheson is the Director of Reaching Critical Will, a programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She monitors and analyzes many international processes related to disarmament and arms control and led WILPF’s advocacy during ATT negotiations. Follow Reaching Critical Will on Twitter @RCW_

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