Bringing feminist perspectives to disarmament

For 105 years, WILPF has articulated the links between militarism and gender norms such as violent masculinities. Reaching Critical Will seeks to achieve disarmament, challenge militarism and violence, and confront gender discrimination and normativity, including in our 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.

The negative impacts on our society of patriarchy 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.

Throughout our work, Reaching Critical Will researches, analyses, and highlights 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. People can suffer disproportionate or differential impacts from the use or proliferation of weapons based on their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, 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 and LGBTQ+ people, 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 and gender-based violence.

Gender diversity in disarmament. There is a stark disparity in the level and volume of participation of women, men, and non-binary or gender non-conforming people 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 under-representation 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. There is also a tendency to reinforce the gender binary in efforts to increase women's participation without reflecting non-binary and gender non-conforming people. An intersectional feminist approach to diversity is necessary, in which not just sex but also gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, and other factors are taken into consideration.

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.

In order to help promote the above perspectives and ideas, Reaching Critical Will tries to disseminate as much information from feminist activists, scholars, and others working to shed more light on the relationship between gender, militarism, and war. We launched a Gender and Disarmament database in January 2020. It features a wide range of resources such as reports, articles, books and book chapters, policy documents, podcasts, legislation or UN documents, and will be constantly updated including based on user feedback and suggestions.

RCW is also engaged are also engaged with preventing gender-based violence by addressing arms transfers and the proliferation and use of weapons. Together with partner organisations, we 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. 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.

Publications and papers

Books, articles, and chapters

Presentations and webinars


WILPF and RCW statements