Are women being heard?

May 23, 2014

By Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

In recent disarmament meetings, the issue of gender representation has become an issue. It was noted during the 2014 NPT PrepCom that many side event panels consisted of just men, and at the recent expert meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) on fully autonomous weapons, 17 experts were invited to speak during the plenary sessions. None were women.

It is common to hear organisers answer that they did not find any suitable woman to participate. This is a blatant excuse, given the high number of qualified women experts on disarmament issues.

Situations like these are unacceptable but not uncommon. Women tend to be underrepresented in fields such diplomacy, military affairs, high-level politics and research. They are underrepresented and constantly struggle to create a space for themselves or simply be heard and taken seriously.

The ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ has recently published a series of articles on “women and nuclear weapons policy”. Associate Fellow Reshmi Kazi argues in one of the articles that women’s influence over nuclear policy is “dismally low”, on both national and international levels, as well as in the realms of politics, military affairs, and science and technology.

Evidence shows that women have played pivotal roles in developing the Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention, the Mine Ban Treaty, the Cluster Munitions Convention, and the Arms Trade Treaty. Women are key stakeholders of global policy making. But most importantly, women are also qualified experts who bring a different perspective that needs to be taken into account.

The CCW meeting discrimination case is even more intolerable considering that it happened inside the United Nations, a body that should be a frontrunner against discrimination and which is bound to respect UN Security Council Resolution 1325 , which commits to inclusion of women in discussions on peace and security.

The autonomous weapons panel, in addition to the countless male-only panels on nuclear weapons issues, shows that much more still needs to be done to involve women in fields that traditionally have been considered the sole domain of men. In ICAN, partner organisations including Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Nobel Women’s Initiative, Norwegian People’s Aid, IANSA Women Network, as well as our co-chair, Rebecca Johnson have published material on why a gender perspective on nuclear weapons and disarmament is so important.

In a field like nuclear disarmament, a gender perspective is not only a matter of equality but also an invaluable contribution to a debate that has been stagnant for decades. A gender balance on bodies and groups working on these issues should be a priority.

While simply adding a few women will not be enough to move forward on disarmament, a conscious gender-perspective on disarmament discussions and negotiations will affect the way people and societies view weapons, war, and militarism. Making sure that women are represented in policy discussions is therefore a first step to ensure a more comprehensive gender-perspective.

As a response to the 17 all-male speakers at the CCW, ICAN’s partner organisation Article 36 called on men working in the fields of disarmament and arms control to commit to refrain from participating in all-male panels.

ICAN welcomes such initiatives, and calls on all our partner organisations to ensure that any panels and events organised by us include women as speakers and contributors, and that ICAN partner organisations always enquire if women are included when accepting invitations.

If you or any other organisation you work with is struggling to find women to participate in panels and events, ICAN is more than happy to provide a long list of women actively working and speaking on nuclear weapons, campaigning and civil society movements from all regions of the world.


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