WILPF Statement to 2023 NPT Preparatory Committee on Gender and Intersectionality

The First Preparatory Committee for the Eleventh Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) took place in Vienna from 31 July–11 August 2023. WILPF delivered a statement to the Preparatory Committee on 2 August 2023.

Thank you, Chairperson.

I am speaking on behalf of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the world’s oldest feminist peace organisation. A number of other civil society organisations have endorsed this statement. The full list is available on the statement posted online.

In recent years, gender has gained increasing prominence in the working papers, statements, and policies of many NPT states parties. Much of this has focused on the lack of gender diversity in the NPT sphere—in particular, the continued dominance of men and exclusion of women from discussions and decision-making on nuclear policies.

There is a stark disparity in the level (seniority or rank) and the number of men as compared to women in disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control discussions, negotiations, and processes. This needs to be addressed. But so far, most of the discussions and actions related to this subject have centered on a binary notion of gender. Nonbinary and LGBTQ+ voices and experiences have been deliberately silenced and their agency in nuclear policy discussions has been marginalised, thus their opposition to nuclear weapons has not been reflected in mainstream debates and decision-making.

In addition, NPT states parties need to consider the broader lack of diversity in nuclear policymaking. We need an intersectional approach that recognises the marginalisation and exclusion of certain people along the lines of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, disability, age, and more.

While important, increasing the number of women is insufficient, as is considering “women” to be a monolithic group regardless of all other identities. Furthermore, real diversity is not just about adding bodies to meeting rooms but also about creating space for non-hegemonic ideas, imaginations, and perspectives to inspire concrete changes in policy and practice.

Part of the work for diversity and inclusion needs to examine and amplify the harms caused by nuclear weapons. Some of the NPT gender-related work undertaken so far has looked at the patterns of gendered harm caused by nuclear weapon tests and use—especially the disproportionate harm caused to women and girl’s bodies from ionizing radiation.

This is important, but much more is needed. An intersectional approach is also necessary when examining humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. This means considering the disproportionate harms that people experience based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, class, disability, age, and other identities. Social norms, economic injustices, and political exclusions mean that some people are privileged to participate in shaping nuclear weapon policies, while others are marginalised and actively excluded. Differential access to health care or medical treatment of women, LGBTQ+ people, racialised people, and others means that those suffering from the impacts of nuclear weapon activities might not receive adequate or equal care.

Nuclear weapon themselves create intersectional harms. The nine nuclear-armed states have primarily carried out nuclear weapon testing on the lands, water, and bodies of Indigenous Peoples. Settler states and colonial governments have mined uranium for nuclear weapons primarily on Indigenous lands. Nuclear weapon development and radioactive waste storage are situated largely within or near poor communities, especially communities of colour and First Nations. In the manufacture of the first atomic bombs in the United States, underpaid working class women were employed in the nuclear labs without being told what they were working on or the risks of handling uranium products. All of these experiences are underexplored in the NPT space and are not taken into account when developing commitments for the Treaty’s implementation.

However, while understanding the gendered and racialised impacts of nuclear weapons is important for ensuring the provision of adequate care and assistance for survivors and affected communities, and for advancing nuclear disarmament policies, it is also important not to simply focus on harm. This risks elevating a perspective of victimisation and can result in patronising approaches to the inclusion of other marginalised or affected communities.

Thus, in addition to physical, economic, and social harms, NPT states parties need to begin to examine the gendered and racialised nature of the discourse and thought about nuclear weapons, which has implications for policies around nuclear weapon possession, development, deployment, testing, and use.

Gender norms, for example, perpetuate a binary social construction of men who are violent and powerful and women who are vulnerable and need to be protected. The term “militarized masculinities” has been used by feminist scholars and activists to describe the normative association of cisgendered, heterosexual masculinity with militarised violence. In this context, weapons are typically seen as important for security, power, and control while disarmament is treated as something that makes countries weaker or more vulnerable.

Nuclear weapons are a linchpin of militarised masculinities, signifying the ultimate form of strength and power. In this context, those who amplify the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and call for their prohibition often are accused of being “emotional” and “irrational,” which are typical gendered responses meant to feminise and thus, ridicule. This gendered framing is extremely problematic when it comes to accepting disarmament as a credible approach to security.

Incorporating the perspectives of marginalised groups and affected communities in discussions and policymaking can help challenge ideas that are treated as immutable truths and can articulate alternative conceptions of strength and security that are relevant for decisions of NPT states parties.

Some NPT states parties have begun to engage with these issues. At the NPT Review Conference last year, 67 states parties signed a joint statement on gender, diversity, and inclusion. Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, Panama, the Philippines, Spain, Sweden, and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research also put forward some concrete recommendations in the last NPT review cycle in joint working papers, as did civil society groups like WILPF.

Today we have some additional recommendations to advance diversity and inclusion at the NPT, and to promote feminist intersectional thinking about nuclear weapons in this space.

In terms of diversity, NPT states parties should support and facilitate the participation of people of all genders in NPT meetings, nuclear weapon decision-making spaces, and in work to implement the Treaty. It should also promote and facilitate the participation of other marginalised groups, including people from affected communities and those of diverse racial, socioeconomic, and other backgrounds, who have been systemically excluded from nuclear weapon related work in the past. To achieve intersectional diversity, states parties should establish a sponsorship programme for diplomats from Global Majority countries and for women, nonbinary, and LGBTQ+ diplomats to attend NPT meetings and to participate in relevant programmes, trainings, and policy work.

States parties should also seek the appointment of women and other marginalised people to leadership positions within the review cycle, including Chairs of Preparatory Committees, Main Committees, and Subsidiary Bodies, Presidents of Review Conferences, in the Bureau, and within their own delegations.

When drafting outcome documents, working papers, and statements, states parties should use inclusive language such as “all genders” and call for other metrics of diversity beyond gender. The Secretariat should also collect, track, and publish gender-disaggregated data and statistics on diversity more broadly within NPT meetings.

The NPT review process should also support and facilitate the participation of people from nuclear weapon affected communities, including by welcoming their input to the drafting of recommendations and other outputs from meetings. States parties should also facilitate research on gendered, racialised, and economic impacts of nuclear weapon production, testing, deployment, and use, including through funding and amplification of results. It should also examine practices and policies of discrimination in care for those impacted by nuclear weapon activities.

Finally, it is vital that the NPT review process avoid just “adding women” to its meetings, but instead that it listens to marginalised and affected voices offering alternative perspectives about nuclear weapon and security. As Ireland suggested in its 2019 NPT working paper, delegations should “step outside the traditional, one dimensional security approach to addressing nuclear weapons, and embrace issues of gender equality and human security,” and “avoid the use of gendered discourse that perpetuates harmful stereotypes about power and security.”

Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to taking these ideas forward in the work ahead.

Endorsing organisations:

Arms Control Association
Article 36
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
ICAN Aotearoa New Zealand
Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Mines Action Canada
New Detroit
PEAC Institute
Peace Action New York State
Peace Boat
Peace Boat US
Peace Movement Aotearoa
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
Youth Arts New York/Hibakusha Stories

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