Failing to involve women in any part of disarmament and non-proliferation undermines half of the population's right to participate in shaping our common future and security. Redistributing voices more equally between women and men … is also the smart thing to do, as it brings more effective inputs and innovative outcomes.

Developments and trends, 2022

Connecting gender and disarmament agendas

In 2022, the cascading impact of the war in Ukraine and increasingly antagonistic relations between nuclear-armed States contributed to global and regional tensions while exacerbating humanitarian and human rights challenges. Global military spending, which hit an all-time high, brought disruptive implications for attaining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly its targets related to women's empowerment and gender equality.

Cognizant of those worsening dynamics, several Governments, United Nations entities and civil society organizations highlighted the need to better tackle disarmament priorities within frameworks for gender equality and, likewise, to further integrate gender considerations into the work of disarmament. In their calls to better connect global disarmament and gender agendas, many supporters recognized the role of arms control in preventing gender-based and sexual violence. For example, the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a network of United Nations entities, established arms control as a central piece of the new United Nations Framework for Preventing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, in line with the Secretary-General's recommendation in his annual report to the Security Council on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2022/272).

At the same time, on a global scale, gender-based violence continued to rise with a disproportionate impact on women. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) released a report showing that, on average, five women and girls are killed by a family member every hour. In Latin America and the Caribbean, tackling firearms-related femicides remained a top priority. The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean launched two new courses, for judges and prosecutors, on firearms investigations from a gender perspective. In addition, the Centre trained representatives from the security sector in conducting gender-sensitive firearms-related criminal investigations.[1]

Meanwhile, the role of weapons in perpetrating violence and holding back women's rights gained further international attention in 2022. Speaking at an event of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted how increased militarization and the illicit flow of small arms each impacted the human rights of women and girls, leading to restrictions on their freedom of movement, right to health and right to education, among other rights and freedoms. In that context, she urged the international community to integrate weapons-related issues into normative frameworks on women, peace and security at both national and global levels.

Similarly, in disarmament meetings, several States highlighted the potential of connecting the women, peace and security agenda with the implementation of instruments such as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and Security Council resolution 1540 (2004). Notably, in the outcome document of the eighth Biennial Meeting of States on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, States called for national focal points to coordinate with their counterparts for the women, peace and security agenda to share national good practices and experiences at the global level.

Sama Shrestha on the podium

Sama Shrestha, Programme Specialist at UN-Women, opens a training session in Nepal on how gender and small arms are linked with the women, peace and security agenda. The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific organized the event, which was held on 20 April for Government officials, parliamentarians and members of civil society.

At the same time, the Secretary-General featured disarmament issues in his annual report on women, peace and security (S/2022/740), reiterating the United Nations' commitment to partnering with civil society organizations to advocate for governments and parliamentarians to reduce military spending and reallocate resources.

However, disarmament remained relatively absent from the Security Council's annual debate on women, peace and security. During the October exchange, only 5 (Bangladesh, Guatemala, Guyana, Malta and Namibia) of the 78 States that addressed the Council spoke on disarmament or arms control, focusing primarily on small arms and light weapons when they did so. Meanwhile, three countries[2] adopted national action plans on women, peace and security in 2022, resulting in 105 countries with such action plans. In Kazakhstan's action plan (2022-2025), it committed to involve women diplomatic personnel in international negotiations and consultations on disarmament, non-proliferation and international security.

In 2022, Switzerland and South Africa co-chaired the fourth capital-level meeting of the Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network, held in Geneva in May. Participants were invited to participate in three working-group sessions, including one on the protection of women's rights and recognizing women's agency with a focus on linkages to small arms and light weapons.

Beyond their implementation of the women, peace and security agenda at the national level, Chile, Colombia, Germany and Liberia each announced the adoption of a feminist foreign policy in 2022.[3] Sweden, which in 2014 became the first country to adopt such a policy, abandoned use of the term in 2022.

Advances and pushback

The year 2022 saw progress for global gender equality alongside the rollback of some earlier gains. For instance, as the erosion of democratic institutions and civic space further endangered defenders of women's rights in some countries, the Secretary-General focused on protecting such defenders in his annual report to the Security Council on women, peace and security (S/2022/740). Women activists in disarmament were also at risk; in a new report, the International Action Network on Small Arms highlighted threats against women working to prevent gun violence in Argentina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa.

Furthermore, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), the Secretary-General called on Governments to increase funding for women’s rights organizations and movements by 50 per cent before the end of 2026.

Meanwhile, other global crises were bringing new challenges to efforts for gender equality. As the priority theme for its sixty-sixth session, the Commission on the Status of Women addressed gender equality in the context of climate change (E/2022/27-E/CN.6/2022/16). During the meetings, civil society actors called on the United Nations to develop and fund a programme for demilitarization and disarmament to help mitigate the climate crisis and ensure women's rights (E/CN.6/2022/NGO/127).

Despite some pushback, many States, international and non-governmental organizations, and researchers continued to collectively incorporate a gender perspective in all their efforts within the disarmament field, both to improve the functioning of the disarmament machinery and to strengthen international peace and security. Furthermore, many called for coordination and sharing of good practices to advance gender equality in disarmament. Within multilateral frameworks such as those of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, States established focal point mechanisms to advance gender dimensions. In addition, several United Nations entities and agencies, including the Office for Disarmament Affairs, UNIDIR and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, promoted the implementation of gender provisions in various multilateral instruments by, for example, incorporating gender in national policies and programmes for managing small arms and ammunition. In the General Assembly, States adopted a revised version of the biennial resolution on women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control (77/55),[4] committing States to advance women’s full and effective participation in disarmament while encouraging countries to address the gendered impact of armed violence. As in 2021, about one third of the General Assembly's disarmament resolutions contained references to gender, including some resolutions introduced for the first time. Furthermore, many States contributed to the Secretary-General's report to the General Assembly on women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.

Figure 6.1

bar chart showing the number of disarmament-related GA resolutions with gender perspectives over the years

Of 66 resolutions adopted by the General Assembly First Committee in 2022, 20 refer to gender or women, including the resolution on women. Nine of those resolutions reference both women's participation and substantive gender perspectives. One additional resolution refers to diversity and inclusion.

However, increasingly divided opinions on the role that gender should play in disarmament persisted. Some States expressed their stance that human rights and gender equality should be considered in other forums and addressed less often in disarmament discussions.

Diversity and inclusion in international disarmament forums

Noting the gaps in ensuring the meaningful participation of women, the Secretary-General continued calling for the establishment of gender quotas to accelerate women's inclusion in all areas of peace and security, including disarmament. Meanwhile, gender gaps persisted within delegations to multilateral disarmament forums. Less than a third of statements to disarmament meetings, such as the First Committee of the General Assembly, were delivered by women in 2022.

However, progress in women's meaningful participation was not entirely elusive. For example, progress towards gender parity continued in the Open-ended Working Group on Security of and in the Use of Information and Communications Technologies (2021-2025), where women delivered nearly half of the statements of the third substantive session. Initiatives such as the “Women in Cyber Fellowship”, which supported women's attendance at the Working Group and offered cyber-focused negotiation training sessions to women diplomats from across regions, promoted parity in that forum.

Figure 6.2

Percentage of women speaking in disarmament forums

The General Assembly has agreed through its resolution on women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control (77/55), and other commitments, to achieve women’s equal, full and effective participation in disarmament decision-making. The Office for Disarmament Affairs collects gender-disaggregated data on speakers in most forums, usually through daily summaries. In 2022, the First Committee and the Biennial Meeting of States on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons saw slight increases (3 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively) in the proportion of women delivering statements. The 2022 meetings of the Biological Weapons Convention and the Open-ended Working Group on ammunition registered higher increases (8 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively) in women speakers, with the Open-ended Working Group on information and communications technologies approaching gender parity. Meanwhile, in the Conference on Disarmament, the percentage of women taking the floor in 2022 decreased.

In addition, several States joined civil society organizations and young people in calling for international forums to broaden their discussions on gender inclusion and address intersecting perspectives such as age, disability, ethnicity or race. The Office for Disarmament Affairs and the United States held events on diversity and inclusion on the margins of the tenth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the ninth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference. In a joint statement to the General Assembly First Committee, civil society organizations focused on broadening the understanding of diversity and gender norms, noting how weapons had racialized impacts. Similarly, they called for an intersectional approach towards weapons and war, including by engaging with those most impacted by militarism to develop credible disarmament and arms control processes.

Furthermore, gender experts, States, civil society representatives and other speakers attending side events and other discussions on gender, peace and security often highlighted the need for increased focus on cultural concepts of masculinity as they related to disarmament and arms control.[5]

[1] The Centre reached 41 ecurity-sector representatives in Antigua and Barbuda through its specialized course on “Firearms Investigations from a Gender Perspective”, offered under the Caribbean Firearms Roadmap Initiative with funding from Canada.

[2] Burundi adopted its third national action plan. Kazakhstan and Morocco adopted their first national action plans.

[3] There is no agreed definition of what constitutes a feminist foreign policy. Such policies often vow to mainstream a gender perspective in all foreign policy actions, advocate for progress in gender equality and, when relevant, assign resources to gender equality in development and humanitarian aid. At its most ambitious, such a policy should aspire to transform the practice of foreign policy to the greater benefit of women and girls.

[4] The measure was first introduced by Trinidad and Tobago and adopted as resolution 65/69 of 8 December 2010.

[5] The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the MenEngage Alliance launched a joint programme on ”Confronting Militarised Masculinities: Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace”. The International Action Network on Small Arms launched a booklet, in English, French and Spanish, on abusive masculine behaviour and gender-based gun violence.