Weapons and weapons policies are inherently gendered: their production, marketing, stockpiling and use relies upon and reinforces gender as a set of social ideas, and they differentially impact men, women, girls and boys. Therefore, humanitarian disarmament initiatives must include a gender perspective in order to gain an accurate picture of the impact of weapons and produce effective proposals for change. In view of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which enjoins all actors to incorporate gender perspectives in peace and security efforts, Article 36 affirms the importance of using a gender lens* in disarmament policy analysis and development, and of working toward inclusion of both women as a group, and gender experts (regardless of their sex) in disarmament processes.

For Article 36, using a “gender lens” means taking into account the impact of ideas of femininity and masculinity in all aspects of policy processes, paying attention to the differential impacts of policies on differently situated women and men, thinking past common assumptions about the innate characteristics of men and women, and ensuring the inclusion of diverse perspectives in policy processes.

Gender and Weapons Culture

Cultural ideas about gender interact symbiotically with cultural ideas about weapons.

  • Weapons design and procurement often reflects gendered cultural stereotypes about ‘warrioring’ rather than a rational assessment of military considerations.
  • Military experts use gendered language to shape social norms and justify policies designed to kill. The need for weapons is often justified through reference to the “protection” of “women and children” even though women and children are adversely impacted by armed conflict and comprise a disproportionate number of civilian casualties.
  • In the media, weapons are often marketed and idealized through gender caricatures and imagery equating guns and explosive violence with sexual potency. Boys are socialized into militarized gender identities (and girls and women are socialized to support such identities) through the marketing of weapons culture through toys, stories, films and social norms.
  • In some conflict settings, the association of weaponry with ‘manliness’ and sexuality is an important driver of recruitment into armed groups.

Article 36 recommends that the interrelationship between gendered ideas and weapons cultures be a focus of analysis in humanitarian disarmament initiatives. Attention should be given to how to cultural products, including popular films, video games, and advertisements, either reinforce or could be used to challenge and change both dominant stereotypes about gender and the cultural legitimation of armed violence.

Gendered patterns of armed violence

The production and use of weapons implicate and impact men, women, girls and boys differently – but not always in stereotypically assumed ways.

  • Conventional weapons are generally designed by men but often produced by low-paid women, who can become vulnerable as perceived ‘military targets’ in munitions factories.
  • The majority of weapons-bearers are men, but civilian men are also at the greatest risk of armed violence.
  • Girls and women also join armed groups but are often disadvantaged in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes.
  • Biological differences mean men and women are impacted differently by the medical effects from weapons of mass destruction.
  • Gendered differences in freedom of movement create different vulnerabilities from specific types of weapons in conflict zones.

Governments, the UN and NGOs who address gender issues sometimes do so using stereotypical language that reinforces gendered ideas, such as the idea that women are inherently peaceful, that women are always civilians, that women are associated with children. These gender essentialist ideas obscure the complexity of gender roles in armed conflict and contribute to gendered outcomes.

Article 36 proposes that be part of analyses should include a careful examination of how different men and women are located in relation to power, process and outcomes. Moreover, data should be collected in ways that do not reinforce gender assumptions (for example female deaths should not automatically be reported as ‘civilian’).

Gender representation in disarmament settings

UNSCR 1325 calls for increased representation of women across all security sectors, but despite the ubiquity of female experts and civil society representatives, women remain seriously under-represented in formal disarmament settings. For example, at the CCW Experts Meeting on Autonomous Weapons in May 2014, not a single female expert was invited to speak on the topic. Article 36 has organised a boycott by male disarmament experts on panels, working groups and other settings in which women are not equally represented. Additionally, Article 36 supports efforts to compile lists of non-male experts on disarmament and weapons issues and encourages men in disarmament to support their non-male colleagues by suggesting their names to conference and meeting organizers – in civil society, government and UN settings; work toward legitimating progressive norms around women’s participation, such as the reimbursement of childcare expenses, and actively encourage male colleagues to create a climate that is respectful and inclusive of women’s views rather than dismissive.