Gender and Nuclear Weapons Meetings

14 July 2023

On Friday, 14 July 2023, the Mission of Chile convened a third meeting as the TPNW Gender Focal Point. Three speakers were invited to brief participants about various considerations in developing gender- and age-sensitive assistance as mandated by the TPNW’s Articles 6 and 7 on victim assistance, environmental remediation, and international cooperation and assistance.

Zia Mian, Co-Director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University and Co-Chair of the TPNW Scientific Advisory Group, noted that the process of the design, development, and testing of nuclear weapons has been dominated by men. From the very beginning, as illuminated by records of the Manhattan Project, these men knew the impacts that nuclear weapons would have and the dangers of radiation, yet they decided to drop the bombs on workers and housing, knowing this would kill many women and children. Mian also noted that in terms of the scientific knowledge about the physical impacts of nuclear weapons, men focused their experiments on animals and physically active young men in the military, and used these metrics as if they would apply equally to all everyone.

In the context of implementing the TPNW, Mian urged states parties to keep in mind that the effects of nuclear weapons go beyond just radiation. Fire and blast also impact people disproportionately depending on how a society is structured—on how and where people live, who is responsible for child care, who is at home and work, etc. Nuclear weapons also have social and economic impacts through the destruction of city, communities, and ecologies. He urged participants to look at broader social and economic impacts in order to design assistance efforts, so they can adequately address psychological, economic, and social impacts, taking into consideration how gender identity and normativity—and resulting discrimination and inclusion/exclusion—-already manifest within systems of health care, economics, and social and political life.

Ivana Hughes, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, reiterated data about the physical impacts of ionizing radiation on women and girls, drawing from research that Mary Olson presented to an earlier meeting convened by the Gender Focal Point. Hughes noted that there are higher risks of cancer among girls and young women in particular, and that intergenerational harm is key for TPNW states parties to be aware of and address. Hughes also highlighted the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and other investigations of US nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, as well as studies of Soviet nuclear testing in Kazakhstan, as case studies that will be useful to designing assistance programmes under TPNW Articles 6 and 7.

Vanessa Griffen, a founding contributor to the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement and a member of the Pacific Network on Globalisation, highlighted the importance of gender- and age-sensitive health care and medical responses as a priority in the development of any victim assistance programmes. She emphasised that the harm caused by nuclear testing and use is not something in the past; people today actively require assistance. Gender-specialised health care would be beneficial in treating radiation-related illness and to address the medical and health neglect when it comes to intergenerational effects. She also explained that age-responsive inclusion in care is essential, noting that the services needed, and the volume of service, for people of varying ages significantly different in countries that have experienced nuclear testing than in other countries. Griffen also noted that a focus on women and girls is not meant at the exclusion of attention to men when they are the majority, as ex-servicepeople who were exposed to nuclear tests were almost exclusively men and they are equally victims in need of health and medical care. While her remarks focused on health care, Griffen noted that land rights and displacement are also some of the other “vast cruelties” of nuclear testing that need to be addressed in assistance efforts. 

In response to these comments, Mian added that what happens to victims and survivors of nuclear tests is not up to them but up to health, economic, political, social, family systems to provide adequate care. Thus, when considering what we need for adequate assistance, we have to ask not just effects of exposure to fire, blast, and radiation, but also what is the capacity of society to deal with these effects already. Discrimination is built into these systems on the bases of gender, age, and disability, thus more awareness is needed about existing health care provisions, social and economic inclusions/exclusions, and how these structural issues can be addressed. 

In line with this, Griffen also noted that it’s important that assistance does not just go towards research on impacts, but that it directly helps people. The lives of many victims and survivors of nuclear testing are already based on exclusion, because of the colonial relations of their countries to nuclear-armed states. She also urged that psychological harm needs to be addressed through assistance programmes, which Hughes amplified, noting that the World Health Organisation defines health as physical, social, and mental well-being. Picking up on Griffen’s point about displacement due to nuclear testing, Hughes also noted that displacement has meant loss of sustainable practices and changing food sources, which has led to other health impacts such as diabetes. While these are not caused directly by the testing, they are caused by displacement from the testing, and these “indirect” impacts must also be included in assistance programmes.

A few states parties offered comments, including Kazakhstan, which as Co-Chair of the Working Group on Articles 6 and 7, suggested that the Trust Fund being considered should offer a practical solution for funding work to address some of these irreparable and disastrous impacts of nuclear testing. Kazakhstan also noted that this kind of practical support will hopefully be an attraction for states to join the TPNW.

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21 March 2023

Chile in its capacity as TPNW Gender Focal Point convened a second meeting to address gender in the TPNW, hearing expert presentations about how gender-sensitive guidelines and gender perspectives have been integrated into other treaty body victim assistance initiatives. Mary Olson, founder of the Gender and Radiation Impact Project, presented about the gendered harm of ionizing radiation, explaining that for every two boys who would develop cancer in their lifetime after radiation exposure, four girls would. Erin Hunt, co-director of Mines Action Canada, explained the evolution of a gender-sensitive approach to provisions under the Mine Ban Treaty and the Cluster Munitions Convention and provided examples of guidelines developed for implementation of a gender–sensitive approach to victim assistance. Wanda Muñoz, a consultant on victim assistance and humanitarian disarmament, spoke to provide recommendations for gender-sensitive victim assistance from the MBT, CCM and Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including employing a twin-track approach, pairing assistance with empowerment, and working towards gender-responsive budgeting. Experts addressed questions from attending states parties including about their recommendations for progress by the Second Meeting of States Parties and potential outputs.

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30 January 2023

On 30 January 2023, the Mission of Chile hosted the first meeting of the TPNW gender focal point at the UN in New York. Among other things, the gender focal point is tasked with developing guidelines for gender- and age-sensitive victim assistance in relation to the TPNW’s Article 6 provisions, as well as guidelines for integrating gender perspectives in relation to the TPNW’s Article 7 provisions on international cooperation and assistance. 

Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will/WILPF and Véronique Christory of the International Committee of the Red Cross were invited by the Chair to address the meeting. They presented some context for the gender components of the TPNW and the 2022 Action Plan and offered some recommendations for the intersessional period and 2MSP. A briefing paper from WILPF on this topic is forthcoming.

Several states parties in attendance indicated their support for the presentations and for pursuing work in relation to gender and the TPNW. The Chair indicated that he intends to convene virtual consultations with states parties and civil society during the intersessional period to get inputs to further work on these issues. There was also some discussion of how those interested in the gender focal point work can collaborate with the Article 6 and 7 working group, given the overlaps with the mandate of the focal point to develop age- and gender-sensitive guidelines in that respect.

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