Women, peace, and disarmament: an agenda under construction

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  • Every May 24th, the International Day of Women for Peace and Disarmament is celebrated worldwide.
    Every May 24th, the International Day of Women for Peace and Disarmament is celebrated worldwide. Source: Unsplash.

"Women have the fundamental right to participate in decision-making processes that affect them, such as disarmament processes".

Carme Suñé


President of Fundipau

Vertical photo: 
Carme Suñé, president of Fundipau.
Square photo: 
Carme Suñé, president of Fundipau.
Horizontal photo: 
Carme Suñé, president of Fundipau.

The United Nations and its member states, through various instruments, recognize the need for women to have a significant role in disarmament negotiations and peacebuilding programs. The 2000 Agenda on Women, Peace, and Security, as well as the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, provided a new impetus for gender objectives and perspectives to be consistently and comprehensively included in state policies, multilateral resolutions, and international agreements.

Slowly, albeit not as quickly as desired, disarmament is beginning to address the gender perspective in various international forums such as the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, where resolutions on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control have been approved. However, it remains a challenge for disarmament processes to incorporate gender-sensitive approaches throughout their course, from policies to mechanisms established to advance disarmament, including addressing security needs that should also be approached with a feminist lens. Historically, men have been considered the only relevant actors in armed conflicts and their resolutions, despite women's involvement as mediators, combatants, politicians, or activists, and the disproportionate impact they endure. Therefore, women have the fundamental right to participate in decision-making processes that affect them, such as disarmament processes. Furthermore, the inclusion of women is also a strategic imperative as they bring a broader range of perspectives and visions that can lead to more inclusive and consensus-based bilateral, multilateral, and disarmament treaties.

Regarding the nuclear dimension, history reveals that women have been largely absent from multilateral and bilateral diplomatic forums aimed at curbing and limiting the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction or promoting disarmament. Nuclear weapons have a gender dimension. Their existence is largely based on and perpetuated by gender norms concerning power, violence, and security, and their abolition is hindered by the lack of gender diversity and other forms of diversity in nuclear policy debates and negotiations. With a few exceptions, women are still not prominently present among the key actors responsible for the texts on the Treaty on the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, or the Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces. While some women played significant roles as negotiators during the Cold War (such as Swedish diplomats Alva Myrdal and Inga Thorsson), it was not until the late 1990s that narratives on nuclear diplomacy began to include women in prominent positions. For instance, Ambassador Arundhati Ghose led India's delegation during the negotiations for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. More recently, some of the negotiating teams for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program also featured the participation of women in key positions.

From this broader historical perspective, the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) are part of these recent advancements that have broken the pattern of women's invisibility in nuclear disarmament diplomacy. Furthermore, the preamble of the treaty acknowledges the importance of equal, full, and effective participation of women and men in promoting peace and security, as well as the specific commitment of women to nuclear disarmament. This is the first nuclear disarmament treaty to include such recognition. The first conference of states parties, which took place in Vienna in June 2022, laid the groundwork for the effective implementation of the treaty's gender provisions with the adoption of an action plan by all states that have ratified the TPNW. This plan envisages integrating gender considerations throughout the treaty's implementation. But we need to go further and move towards an agenda that considers gender-transformative and intersectional approaches that are fundamental to achieve the nuclear abolition.

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