WILPF Statement to the Fourth Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects

Emma Bjertén, the Programme Manager of Reaching Critical Will, delivered WILPF's statement to the Fourth Review Conference (RevCon4) of the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects on 20 June 2024.

20 June 2024

Thank you, Ambassador.

I am speaking on behalf of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the world’s oldest feminist peace organisation. With 42 National Sections operating in all global regions, the issue of illicit trade and proliferation of small arms is something that in different ways impact us all.

For a long time, the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in All Its Aspects was what we call “gender blind”. It didn’t acknowledge the differential impacts the proliferation of illicit SALW have on people of different genders and backgrounds; it did not provide guidance on how to design effective appropriate programmes for SALW control, including those relating to community safety, violence reduction, collection and destruction of SALW, and stockpile management; and it did not provide support for adopting appropriate polices about SALW control that reflect people’s different needs based on their experiences.

WILPF, together with other civil society coalitions, has for decades advocated for strengthening the gender perspective in the UNPoA process. In order to ensure an effective implementation of the UNPoA, we need to assess the root causes of armed violence and understand the gendered and socio-economic factors that are drivers behind armed violence. We were pleased to see that draft one reflected some of the issues we’ve for so long advocated for.

WILPF welcomed the new language in the first draft of 7 June that encourages efforts to explore masculinities in the context of the illicit trade of SALW. Despite that 90 per cent of international armed homicides are committed by men and 91 of the victims of firearms death are men, it was not until now we saw the role of masculinities being addressed in a UNPoA draft outcome document. We deeply regret that this language was removed in the second draft. Some people commit violence because they are taught that to perform their gender properly, they must be violent, must use guns. To explore masculinities in relation to SALW and to understand the impacts and the underlying drivers of why people of different genders acquire firearms that contribute to armed violence and conflict, are essential for saving life. To not only focus on the supply of SALW but also the demand to acquire SALW is also important in times when rapid technological development makes it possible to 3D print guns.

WILPF also welcomes the language in draft one that acknowledges that gender intersects with factors such as income, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and other characteristics. This, often referred to as an intersectional perspective, is crucial, since it results in unique combinations of discrimination and oppression or privilege. This must be considered when designing appropriate programmes and policies for preventing the illicit trade in SALW that correspond to people’s different needs and identities. However, to ensure that marginalised perspectives are included, it is important for states to recognise diversity in terms of all genders, moving beyond a socially prescribed men-women binary. In countries where data collection is possible, armed violence against people on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics remains a serious issue. In non-conflict zones, trans people, and especially trans women, seem to be disproportionately targeted. While we recognise that the language in draft one referring to “women and men in all their diversity” was a step in this direction, the binary understanding of gender represented in the drafts still leaves vulnerable groups behind, despite their overrepresentation among victims of gun violence and civil society’s persistent call for their inclusion.

Arms control is widely acknowledged as a part of the development agenda, which is demonstrated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goal 16.4. Since 2005, Official Development Assistance has been available for activities aiming at controlling, preventing, and reducing the proliferation of SALW.

While WILPF welcomes the increased recognition for how the proliferation of SALW impacts people’s lives, including access to health care, education, and opportunities to provide for themselves, we urge states to consider gendered impacts of assistance. Even if today there are increased opportunities for the participation of women and others in SALW control, arms control is still a male-dominated and militarised field.

As we head towards a path of increased synergies between arms control and development, states need to commit to providing increased and sustained funding for international assistance for the control of SALW and to recognise the key role civil society and international organisations play in this field. States should not divert spending from other key priorities of development that often already are underfunded. States should use other funds, such as from military or security budgets for security-related assistance related to control SALW.

Thank you for your attention.

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