7 things you need to know about the resolution on Women and Disarmament from UNGA First Committee

Written by Lorey Campese, Control Arms

During the UN General Assembly First Committee, a resolution was adopted this year on the role of women and broader international security. Of 63 resolutions adopted, it was easily the most hotly debated with multiple meetings scheduled nearly every week to negotiate the text of the resolution.

The resolution achieved substantive progress from previous editions and called for real action. That’s something you don’t always see in resolutions.

Here are 7 things you need know about First Committee’s hottest resolution this year:

1. The rise of a resolution

The General Assembly has seen the Women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control resolution before. It was introduced three times in the past four years. But this year’s edition looked much different. It took general and vague language that easily gathered consensus in from 2010-2013 and gave it some teeth. At the United Nations, when you get agreement on anything, it’s easy to simply leave it alone and say the same thing year after year. The leaders for this resolution chose a different path and had to use serious diplomacy and hard work to achieve the results. That’s a small example of how change happens in a system that, at times, appears to be allergic to it.

2. Arms Trade Treaty impact

During informal discussions, one diplomat (that doesn’t like the ATT very much) argued that they have a problem with “any reference to the Arms Trade Treaty” in the resolution. I’m sure they know that the ATT is the first piece of international treaty to ever mention gender-based violence. But that historic bit of info takes a back seat to politics from time to time. The ATT was the center of discussion in every consultation on the resolution, but progressive leaders stood firm and ensured that the Arms Trade Treaty had its place in a resolution where it truly belonged. Perhaps even more interesting is that a handful of countries that didn’t vote in favor the ATT’s adoption a year and a half ago voted to KEEP the reference in this resolution. Countries co-sponsoring the resolution also included some ATT-abstainers such as Bolivia. These small shifts in voting are indicative of progress for the lifesaving treaty.

3. Risk assessments

Not only was there a reference a reference to the ATT, but the resolution also called for “national risk assessment criteria to facilitate the prevention of arms to commit violence against women.” The translation from legalese to English is as follows: the ATT says that countries have to take into account the risk of weapons being used to commit gender-based violence, before they can authorize a transfer. This resolution encourages countries to develop risk-assessment criteria. A small step, but one that’s important enough to save lives and hold violating governments accountable.

4. 98 co-sponsors

The resolution was cosponsored by nearly 100 countries. For those counting, that’s more than half of the entire world. A co-sponsorship signals two things: that the government is firmly behind all of the provisions of the resolution AND that they are guaranteed to vote yes on it. Any time you have any action at the UN with half the membership on board, you have to call that a win.

5. Small States, big impact

ATT negotiations showed that you didn’t have to be an economic or political powerhouse to change the world. Sure, the US, China, Russia, the UK, and others flexed their muscle, but countries like New Zealand, Iceland, and Costa Rica also showed that everyone has an important role to play when it comes to saving lives. Trinidad and Tobago’s leadership in leveling the playing field for women in disarmament and arms control shows once again that small states can have massive impact at the United Nations.

6. Disaggregated data

One person dies every minute from armed violence around the world. How many of those are female deaths related to the irresponsible trade and illicit trafficking of weapons?

Nobody is really sure, and that’s a problem.

Reports have shown that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the illicit and irresponsible trade of weapons, but it’s difficult to determine because the data doesn’t specify whether victims are male or female. This resolution calls for that higher level of detail. This one small extra step could equal groundbreaking insights.

7. Unanimity after intensity

I was in the room for the final vote on this resolution and a tweet I issued, described the feeling in the room as “borderline chaotic.” In retrospect, there may not have been anything borderline about it. Over the final two days, regional blogs huddled in opposite corners of Conference Room 4 with mediating diplomats hashing out deals that would be agreeable for most. The vote was delayed. The Chair suspended the meeting. Tensions elevated. The vote was delayed again.

A “paragraph vote” was called by some countries who don’t like the ATT. The room voted on the sentence “”noting the entry into force of the ATT and encouraging states parties to fully implement all the provisions of the treaty, including the provision on serious acts of gender based violence”

It was passed by 139 votes, with 24 abstentions. In the UN, you can vote on a word.

Then Iran, who had assured a crowd of governments just one day earlier that they would not call for a vote on the overall resolution, did exactly that. With intense negotiations on various parts of the resolution, abstentions or votes opposed were all but expected, but the resolution passed unanimously. The resolution wasn’t perfect. But it stood for progress. Progress for the ATT, for spelling out risk assessments, and for women and girls.

Lorey Campese is the Digital Communications Manager for Control Arms and also engages in direct advocacy at the United Nations. Follow him on Twitter @MrCampese.

All posts to the Control Arms Blog are the work of the individual contributor and may not necessarily be reflect the views of the Control Arms Coalition, its individual members, or the Control Arms Secretariat.