The ATT, women, and gender

February 28 2011, 6:57 AM  by Ray Acheson
by Emma Rosengren, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Sweden
The importance of women’s participation in the sphere of international peace and security has been given increased international attention during recent years. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action from 1995 specifies women’s political representation as crucial to reach equality, development, and peace. Furthermore, United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (UNSCR 1325) from 2000 highlights the importance of women’s participation in all levels of decision-making in the sphere of peace and security, as well as the need for an integrated gender perspective. UNSCR 1325 has been followed up by several related resolutions, 182018881889, and 1960, which together constitute the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.

However, women’s participation in international disarmament and arms control negotiations is still very low, and the negotiations too often tend to ignore the importance of women’s participation, experiences, and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective. The consequence is biased outcomes, with a disproportional and narrow focus on the experiences of a very limited number of men.

Regardless of men’s disproportionate representation in international disarmament and arms control fora, recent arms control discussions have succeeded in including some aspects highlighted in the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda mentioned above. Thanks to the hard work of a few states with the support of some civil society organizations, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in 2010, includes language on the importance of UNSCR 1325 in its preamble. Last year, on 28 October, the UNGA First Committee adopted draft resolutionA/RES/65/69 on “Women, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation” without a vote. Even though the adopted version includes several unfortunate changes from the original text tabled by Trinidad and Tobago, it is interesting and appreciated that the First Committee has been able to adjust to the changing discourse of the international community by recognizing the importance of women’s contributions to these issues.

There are different ways of including relevant language on women, peace, and security in the arms trade treaty (ATT) process. For example, it is crucial to recognize that arms transferred without regulation continue to kill or maim civilians, of which a majority are women and children, long after conflicts end. Furthermore, it is important to recognize the need to provide gender-sensitive assistance to victims of arms transferred without regulation and to address the special rights and needs of vulnerable groups. This can be done by requiring all state parties, with respect to victims of the arms regulated in this treaty and in areas under its jurisdiction or control, to, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation, and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion. Due to a general lack of information on these issues, it is important to encourage all state parties to make every effort to collect reliable, gender disaggregated and relevant data with respect to victims of these weapons.

UNSCR 1325, 1820, 1888, and 1960 explicitly target sexual violence. In his report on 1820/1888 in December 2010, the UN Secretary-General stresses, “Sexual violence as a tool of war can become a way of life: once entrenched in the fabric of civilian society, it lingers long after the guns have fallen silent.” Keeping that in mind, the ATT should recognize the involvement of conventional weapons in facilitating violence against women, including sexual and gender-based violence. Moreover, it is appropriate to stress that “conflict-related sexual violence,” when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, is a serious violation of human rights and international law that significantly exacerbates situations of armed conflict and impedes the restoration of international peace and security. In this regard, the ATT should explicitly affirm that the regulation and reduction of arms transfers should be designed to help prevent such acts of sexual violence as highlighted in UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, and 1960.

More generally, the ATT should also require that state parties do not issue a license or authorization where there is a substantial risk that the export under assessment may be used in acts that may constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide, noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute such crimes. Furthermore, it should also require that state parties shall not issue a license or authorization where there is a substantial risk that the export under assessment may be used in acts of gender based violence as prohibited and defined in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women; or where there is a substantial risk that the export under assessment may exacerbate situations of armed conflict and impede the restoration of international peace due to the enablement of sexual violence commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians; or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, as highlighted in UN Security Council resolutions 1325, 1820, and 1888.

An ATT will likely only be focused on regulating the international trade of conventional weapons. However, it is important that this opportunity to include women’s experiences of war and armed violence is not ignored. Even though women most likely won’t be equally represented at the negotiation table when the ATT is being written, negotiators must not ignore the fact that women do exist.