#Bulletproofinclusion: Mobilising for women's leadership in small arms control

This article first appeared in the Small Arms Monitor, 25 July 2021.

Written by Farida Nabourema and Allison Pytlak | GENSAC and WILPF

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity to think about the progress made in the implementation of cultural policies related to human rights and gender equality. It is also an opportunity to give shape to our dreams for a better future for the future generations of women and men.” – WILPF Nigeria

Every year, International Women’s Day is marked on 8 March through diverse events and activities around the world. In 2021, WILPF national sections in Africa joined together with the Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) to co-host a series of activities under the theme of “bulletproof inclusion”, to highlight the important role of women in disarmament and the importance of gender responsive small arms control as a part of IWD commemoration. In recent years, governments and other stakeholders have come into greater agreement and understanding about gender responsive strategies and approaches to small arms control and disarmament, in recognition that the impacts of small arms violence are experienced differently across genders and that women play significant roles within disarmament. At the international and normative level, this has been recognised through various resolutions, conference outcome documents, and commitments undertaken by states in small arms and light weapons (SALW)-related forums; increasingly with a view to the synergy between gender responsive small arms control and their commitments under the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal 5.

At the local and national level, raising awareness and working with governments to implement global commitments in this area has been an important area of work, but challenges remain. Understanding context specific obstacles and building partnership is an integral part of the work, as exemplified by the GENSAC-WILPF collaboration.

“The effort led by women in the grassroots to reduce the proliferation of small arms remains overlooked. With the GENSAC-WILPF collaboration around International Women’s Day, we intended to spotlight women’s contribution to advancing gender responsive small arms control and promote women leadership in local, national and international small arms control policy and decision making,” explains Farida Nabourema from GENSAC.

The collaboration between GENSAC and WILPF was initiated by WILPF Burkina Faso’s Regina Ouattara who is also GENSAC’s West Africa focal point. WILPF’s national Section in Sweden facilitated the collaboration with GENSAC, in cooperation with WILPF Cameroon, who coordinates and between
all WILPF national Sections and Groups in Africa. Activities were organised by WILPF Burkina Faso, WILPF Burundi, WILPF Cameroon, WILPF CAR, WILPF Chad, WILPF Ghana, WILPF Kenya, WILPF Niger, WILPF Nigeria, WILPF Senegal, WILPF Sierra Leone, WILPF South Africa, WILPF Sudan, WILPF Togo, and WILPF Zimbabwe are summarised below.

Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, multiple members of WILPF mobilised for the WILPF-GENSAC’s call for action. Events were held in the rural municipalities of Toussiana and Toma as well as in the capital city Ouagadougou. The activities were carried out by local WILPF branches in Louisiana and Toma, formally established in 2019. WILPF Burkina Faso created and distributed brochures to sensitise communities on the problem of small arms proliferation in Burkina Faso and its gendered impact. The campaign also included the importance of women leadership in small arms control and the active role women play in strengthening the WILPF movement in Burkina Faso. The national campaign of WILPF Burkina Faso was successful thanks to the support of its 215 members who massively mobilised for this project.In times of rapid expansion of terrorism in the Liptako-Gourma area in Burkina Faso, the initiative aimed at raising public awareness on the proliferation of small arms, and was appreciated everywhere.


WILPF Burundi hosted a roundtable discussion on gender mainstreaming in small arms control. The event held in Bujumbura brought together officials from the national commission on small arms and light weapons control and civil society groups working on human rights, women’s rights, and small arms control. During the roundtable discussion, participants addressed the role of women in small weapons control and devised methods for implementing gender-responsive small arms control. The discussions gave an overview of the dangers associated with the proliferation of small arms and the critical nature of considering their gendered impacts on communities. In addition, the discussion provided an opportunity to gain a better understanding of stakeholders’ perceptions of women’s roles in small arms control.


The main activity in Cameroon was a workshop that focused on gender-based violence (GBV) reduction strategies, in the context of small arms proliferation. This is a particular problem in the three conflict affected regions of the country. The workshop opened with the screening of a documentary film “Forget No One”, which generated intense reactions among participants and interactive discussion. Participants identified new conflict dynamics and expressed compassion for the victims in the film. This helped to spark several ideas for forward action and resolve for different relevant actors to collaborate more closely.

The recommendations include:Putting into place new strategies to curb GBV; Psychosocial support to victims of GBV; To put in place mechanisms for trust between the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) centre and GBV victims; To ensure that policing proximity mechanisms are practical and make it easier for GBV victims to have access to police without delays or administrative bottle necks; To build resilience structures that would grant to grant autonomy to young people, victims and ex-violent offenders; Grant financial and educational autonomy to women so that it makes life easier for them to be empowered; Adapt teaching pedagogy to better suit the current crisis situation, as children that have been absent from the classroom for years because of violence would not be taught in the same manner like those who had been able to attend.

“It was an enriching workshop as it brought together participants and experts from diverse structures, working on ending gender- based violence and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Cameroon,” noted WILPF Cameroon in its report. “The innovative mechanisms and recommendations given if implemented will help curb the spread of GBV and the proliferation of small arms in our country.”

Central African Republic (CAR)

WILPF CAR and GENSAC members in CAR organised a workshop in Bangui, at the National School of Arts around the theme “Integrating gender in the control of small Arms and light weapons (SALW) in the Central African Republic”. Following the opening remarks delivered by the president of WILPF CAR Bernice Ouango- Nadackalla, participants learned about causes of the proliferation of small arms and the role of women in small arms control. The speakers underlined that small arms control cannot be seen only come from men, and women must be involved at all levels of policymaking and decision-making. Representatives of the national commission of SALW control representatives applauded the initiative, and shared that they are in the process of mapping women organisations working on arms control and that they will include WILPF CAR in their database of actors.


WILPF Chad held a retreat in observance of International Women’s Day. This yearly retreat attempts to restore International Women’s Day’s original goal by concentrating on increasing awareness of ongoing inequities and mobilising women to take action to achieve gender equality. This year, the collaboration with GENSAC enabled WILPF Chad to expand the scope of this activity. The retreat offered an opportunity for Chadian women to get together and address the ills that plague Chadian society and exacerbate women’s living conditions. Additionally, it educated women on the dangers of small arms proliferation and the ways in which women may contribute to small arms control. This retreat helped more Chadian women gain awareness about the consequences of small arms proliferation for their community.

Côte d’Ivoire

WILPF Côte d’Ivoire organised multiple activities as part of its collaboration with GENSAC. An online consultation with civil society actors and members of the national commission on SALW control discussed progress on small arms control in Côte d’Ivoire. The country has seen increased proliferation in small arms as a result of the civil war that broke out in 2002. The consultation was followed by a survey and series of interviews held as part of a study to increase understanding on the status of women’s participation and gender equality in disarmament and small controls efforts. After completion of the study, WILPF Côte d’Ivoire published a statement, urging the government to take more action to mainstream gender in small arms control policies. The statement was disseminated in the press and on various digital platforms during an online campaign.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

More than two dozen development, security, and media professionals gathered in Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital, to commemorate International Women’s Day. The event titled “Women’s leadership in disarmament and peace processes,” was organised by WILPF DRC with the support of Irène Essambo, the Minister of People with Disabilities and GENSAC’S focal point in the DRC. During the conference, the participants discussed progress toward implementing UN Resolution 1325

and the difficulties associated with increasing women’s participation in peace processes in the DRC. The event strengthened networking among practitioners involved in disarmament and security sectors and reaffirmed their commitment to advancing women’s leadership in peace and security processes.


WILPF Ghana hosted three online activities. The first, a “Women’s Conversation” about gender equality and the participation of women in disarmament was an opportunity to hear perspectives on this topic from women, and men, already working in this field.

An online seminar on a similar theme was also organised which provided concrete examples of women’s leadership in small arms control and disarmament. The main speaker shared her own perspectives, knowledge, and experience.

The third event took the form of an online campaign for demilitarisation which included a photographic presentation about women’s participation in disarmament.

“Hearing women share their experiences, knowledge, and advice is one of the best ways to get inspired to make change,” noted WILPF Ghana in its report. “Online presentations, discussions, visuals and photographic presentation, posters and info graphics catalyse critical discussion for more effective strategies to connect the arms control, gender, human rights, and peace building communities at the local level and push for women leadership in small arms control decision making nationally.”


In June, a virtual event sought to explore the reality of arms in Kenya. During the event, it was shared that Kenya has about 600,000 to 700,000 guns circulating at the community level. The national government has policies in place to manage small arms such as Nairobi Protocol, the Firearms Act, and a Kenyan National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons (KNFP) who is collaborating with communities through sensitization processes and trainings to reduce gun proliferation, including through porous borders with neighbouring countries.

Small arms and especially gun proliferation has been associated with post-election violence, internal displacement, and human trafficking in Kenya. A conclusion from the event was that addressing the root causes of gun violence through poverty reduction programs, improving housing, ensuring quality education, and reducing concentrated poverty in regions will reduce gun violence and crime.

The collaboration that went into organising the event helped to bring relevant actors together, who agreed to continue their joint efforts in order to create a platform to address proliferation as well and conduct community sensitisation.


The proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a critical issue in Niger, which is considered an arms transit zone due to its geopolitical location in the Sahel region. In observance of International Women’s Day, WILPF Niger collaborated with the organisation FAD Niger to host a public meeting focused on the role of women in the country’s strategy to fight small weapons proliferation. The attendees were given a presentation on small arms and light weapons, their origins, and how they proliferate. The speakers acknowledged the critical role women play in the fight against small arms proliferation and emphasised the importance of increasing capacity on gender mainstreaming in small arms control for law enforcement and security agencies. Finally, they was discussion about women interested in joining the security forces.


GENSAC and WILPF Nigeria coordinated a dialogue on effective strategies to connect the arms control, gender, human rights, and peace building communities at the local level and how to push for women leadership in small arms control decision making nationally and globally.

In the course of the dialogue, “bulletproof inclusion” was described as involving women in leadership and decision making in small arms control, and at the heart of gender equality is the recognition that women, as well as men, have the right to participate in debates and decision-making on matters that affect their lives and well-being. The dialogue also helped to unpack technical definitions and terminologies and the WPS Agenda.


WILPF Senegal organised a workshop to build the capacity of women’s organisations to combat the proliferation of small arms. The workshop, which was held at the headquarters of the Dalifort municipality, gathered local government actors and leaders of women rights organisations and human rights groups. This activity created a
great collective awareness on the danger of the circulation of small arms, as well as the damage this generates within the community and especially on in vulnerable situations, such as women and young people. The workshop allowed participants to gain a better understanding of the women’s risk of rape and violence as result of these weapons, and to make commitments for local awareness raising in relation to this insecurity.

Sierra Leone

In commemorating the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence (31 May – 4 June) WILPF, GENSAC, and the Sierra Leone Action Network
on Small Arms (SLANSA) convened a regional meeting with other women and youth-led partner organisations in Kenema district. This is in the Eastern part of Sierra Leone which over the years has experienced many violent attacks on individuals and property involving the use of SALW. WILPF Sierra Leone has sought to engage rural women more often in its work on small arms control, who have often been overlooked in protection and engagement efforts.

Overall, the meeting helped to engage and bring together relevant organisations across the Eastern region to plan for further collaboration and joint work. Human rights defenders from participating organisations were identified as focal points for further work within the three districts of the region, for example.

A well-received radio discussion considered the possibility of extending advocacy on issues of gun violence to all regions and communities through continuous radio engagement, and the idea of bringing together media and state institutions into a dialogue with civil society about women’s participation and leadership in small arms control was also discussed.

South Africa

Through two events (in March, and in May) WILPF South Africa explored the issue of militarised masculinities in relation to gender and small arms control.

“South Africa is a country which despite being labelled a post conflict one is however facing various forms of violence and unrest. This includes the extreme levels of gender-based violence and violence against women and girls whose statistics are staggering. This reflects a deep-seated culture of violence in which those who are perceived as vulnerable are often at the receiving end. Women are also marginalised in terms of leadership roles and access to economic activity, where they often lag behind their male counterparts, thus demonstrating the structural violence which also contributes to GBV that they are often exposed to.”

An objective of the sessions was to learn from a diverse pool of experiences and expertise on how to transform and address conflict, including at
the community level, as well as how to challenge the toxic masculinities that perpetuate violence particularly against women and girls. The sessions also identified ways to advocate for social cohesion and the inclusion and meaningful participation of women and girls at all levels, which was felt to be central to addressing broader issues of gang violence and xenophobia. There was discussion and encouragement to report on suspicious or harmful activities, noting that does sometimes bring other concerns. Many of the participants were learning about relevant frameworks like the WPS Agenda and the CEDAW Convention for the first time.


WILPF Sudan coordinated a workshop aimed at raising the awareness of women on the gender dimensions of the proliferation of the small arms in Sudan, in particular in the conflict affected parts and Khartoum state. The workshop also included discussion of the threats posed by armed movements forces and militias in
the cities and residential areas in particular Khartoum and Darfur, which stands as a threat to the civilians especially women. Participants included representatives of civil society, including women groups; journalists; and local resistance committees that include community.

As a result of the workshop, the capacity of participants—especially women—to advocate for the implementation and mainstreaming of gender in small arms policies was strengthened.


WILPF Togo held a conference on gender mainstreaming in small weapons control. Over thirty actors from civil society, several government agencies, and foreign organisations attended
the event. The purpose of this conference was to advocate for the inclusion of a gendered perspective on small arms proliferation in policies and programs, as well as to allow women to engage with national actors working to combat illegal trafficking and proliferation of small arms.

At the conference, civil society groups emphasised the absence of women in small arms control decision-making bodies and highlighted the role women should play in this effort. The Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, as well as elected representatives from local governments present at the conference, acknowledged that gender ought to be addressed in small arms regulations. They expressed their commitment to pay careful attention to the advocacy efforts of WILPF Togo and its partners to increase women’s participation in small arms control.


WILPF Zimbabwe raised awareness on the need for gender-responsive approaches to small arms control within mining communities. A workshop with local security officers, government stakeholders, the media and civil society organisations, the Section facilitated critical discussions for effective strategies to connect arms control, gender, human rights, and peace building.

“During the workshop the stakeholders agreed that Kwekwe and other mining cities are facing a huge problem of small arms, these include machetes, small axes, spears and a number of weapons that are home made. Young girls and women are being raped, people are being robbed, there are a number of bloody wars in and around mining communities and this violence is also making its way into the households. More important was the notion raised on security officers who take arms home from work and use them to intimidate their partners, and their partners find it hard to report the cases.”

WILPF Zimbabwe reports that the workshop was a first step in building national momentum around women’s leadership and representation in small arms control through localised activities.