Gender and disarmament

The negative impacts on our society of patriarchy and male privilege are perhaps nowhere more pervasive and pernicious than in the field of weapons, war, and militarism. By consequence, much of the discussion on disarmament perpetuates the highly problematic gender constructions of men who are violent and powerful and women that are vulnerable and need to be protected. Gender perspectives in disarmament, peace, and security must be about exposing and challenging this state of affairs, not about including more women in the existing systems of structural inequalities and violent masculinities.

For 100 years, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has articulated the links between militarism and violent masculinities, armed conflict and military expenditure, and the advancement of women’s equality and rights and the development of sustainable peace and justice. As the disarmament programme of WILPF, Reaching Critical Will seeks to achieve disarmament, challenge militarism and violent masculinities, and confront gender discrimination through monitoring and reporting on international forums such as the United Nations and other meetings of governments, as well as through research, policy analysis, advocacy, and collaboration with international civil society campaigns.

To this end, we research, analyse, and highlight gendered impacts of the use and trade of weapons; gender diversity in disarmament discussions, negotiations, and processes; and gendered perspectives on disarmament and arms control.


Gendered impacts of the use and trade of weapons. Women and men can suffer disproportionate or differential impacts from the use or proliferation of weapons, inside or outside of armed conflict. Men tend to make up the majority of direct victims of armed violence. Sometimes, they are targeted just for being men. Women, however, can face differential impacts from the use of weapons such as exacerbated social and political inequalities and pressures from the increase in female-headed households; inequalities in access to survivor assistance; and higher risk of sexual violence.

Gender diversity in disarmament. There is a stark disparity in the level and volume of participation of women, men, and others in disarmament and arms control discussions, negotiations, and processes. Recent research has shown that at any given intergovernmental meeting on disarmament, only about one quarter of participants are likely to be women and almost half of all delegations are likely to be composed entirely of men. This underrepresentation is fueled in part by the tendency to treat women as vulnerable victims, usually grouped together with children and the elderly—this framing reinforces persistent constructions of women as the “weaker sex” in need of protection by “powerful” men and enable women’s continued exclusion from authoritative social and political roles. Meanwhile, the framing of all military-aged men as “potential” or actual militants entrenches a tendency to support “violent masculinities”—a social construction in which masculinity is linked with preparedness to use military action and to wield weapons.

Gendered perspectives on disarmament and arms control. The framing of women as weak and vulnerable is also often used to construct “a feminized and devalued notion of peace as unattainable, unrealistic, passive, and (it might be said) undesirable.” The devaluation of certain perspectives, ideas, and, interests because they are marked as “feminine,” coupled with the equation of masculinity with violence gives war positive value as a show of masculine power. This means that even if women do participate in negotiations or discussions on matters related to peace and security, their positions or ideas are often forced to conform to the dominant perspective in order to be taken seriously. This is not to say that women bring one perspective to a conversation and men bring another. It rather highlights the gendered understandings of war and peace, disarmament and armament, strength and weakness, which dictate what is considered “acceptable” by the dominant perspective in such conversations.


We are also engaged with preventing gender-based violence by addressing arms transfers and the proliferation and use of weapons. Reaching Critical Will, together with partner organisations, successfully advocated for the Arms Trade Treaty to be the first ever treaty to recognise the link between gender-based violence and the international arms trade. We are working to provide information to diplomats, export officials, and civil society groups on how best to implement the ATT with a view to preventing gender-based violence. Most recently we have published a paper on this topic, and another analysing the ATT, UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons, and other multilateral instruments from a gendered perspective.

In addition to our research and analysis and our advocacy with governments, we also promote gender and disarmament among civil society colleagues. For example, we co-hosted the third humanitarian disarmament campaigns forum in October 2014, the theme of which was gender. We were also part of a group of women who, after the CCW meeting of experts on autonomous weapons in 2014 failed to include any non-male speakers out of 17 spots, decided to launch an initiative against all-male panels. We also maintain contacts of women who can speak on a variety of disarmament issues. We also organise social events for Women in Disarmament on the margins of intergovernmental disarmament meetings.

Below are some of our publications, articles, interviews, presentations, and statements on gender and disarmament.



Articles and chapters



WILPF statements