Women experts discuss meaningful participation in ammunition management

فبراير 23rd, 2023

On 14 February 2023, women experts in ammunition management, representatives from Member States, international, regional, and non-governmental organizations attended a virtual event on ‘Women’s Meaningful Participation in Ammunition Management: insights from women ammunition management experts’, organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and Small Arms Survey. The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Costa Rica and Austria to the United Nations in New York as well as the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the Ammunition Management Advisory Team (AMAT).

On the margins of the third substantive session of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on Conventional Ammunition which convened from 13 to 17 February 2023 in New York, this side event provided an opportunity to discuss the barriers to meaningful participation that women ammunition technical experts face, how these can be overcome in practice, and different activities that could be undertaken, including when it comes to international cooperation and assistance within the scope of a future Global Framework on through-life conventional ammunition management.

Over 130 representatives from Member States, United Nations, and international, regional and non-governmental organizations attended the side event which provided insights from women ammunition management experts.

The event, which was facilitated by the Small Arms Survey’s Gender Coordinator, Callum Watson, began with opening remarks by Ambassador Maritza Chan-Valverde, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations. Ambassador Chan-Valverde stressed the importance of gender balance, gender equality and women’s participation in ammunition management to reach the objectives set in conventional arms control instruments and the Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament. “We still find that women’s expertise is often missing from the discussion on ammunition management, which remains a very male-dominated field”, she reminded the audience.

Nora Allgaier from UNODA gave a brief overview of the newly created Women Ammunition Management Expert Network which seeks to provide a space for mentoring, capacity-building and empowerment and aims to make women in technical roles more visible at relevant  international meetings and discussions so that their expertise can be utilized effectively. The professional network has been established as a part of a project on gender and ammunition management under the UN SaferGuard programme, and currently consists of  13 women from nine countries across all regions. To build the network, UNODA in partnership with Small Arms Survey, UNIDIR and AMAT held a workshop in Geneva in November 2022 where the network members met to discuss substantive matters related to through-life conventional ammunition management as well as gender equality, while strengthening their skills in communication, training delivery and advocacy. The network is expected to grow, including through additional meetings, workshops, as well as dedicated training courses for women ammunition technical experts.

Four members of the network from different geographical and professional backgrounds were invited as speakers in the virtual event, namely Lt. Col. Preeti Kanwar, Indian Army, Shena St Mark, Royal Saint Lucia Police, Lina Castillo Mendez, UN Mine Action Service, Colombia, and Sherry Oake, Department of National Defence, Canada. They shared their experiences on the challenges women working in the sector of ammunition management encounter and gave recommendations to the international community to overcome these, including through addressing The structural factors, such as training opportunities for women and the establishment of policy frameworks, as well as socio-cultural elements, for example related to gender-biased stereotypes. Shena St Mark emphasized that a lack of opportunities for women in the technical field is a crucial factor, saying that “There has been a struggle to make training available for us.” 

Positively, opportunities for women in ammunition management have significantly improved overall in recent decades, experts said. “Initially, it was not common to see women in defense roles. They were traditionally seen as caregivers and homemakers, not in roles associated with dangerous jobs – and handling ammunition is dangerous. Times have changed, opportunities opened up, and the barriers are being overcome,” according to Lt. Col. Preeti Kanwar.

The speakers highlighted the importance of leadership for gender equality, noting that leaders create a work environment where everybody is able to thrive regardless of their gender. Experts also discussed family-related policies regarding women’s participation in ammunition management, and the difficulties women often experience in combining family life and career development. According to Lina Castillo Mendez: “It’s important to give space for women to take their maternity leave and take care of families, and it’s equally important to give time and space for men to do the same so that they can share and balance those roles.”

Touching upon what the international community can do to overcome those challenges, the speakers said that States should focus on establishing public policy frameworks that create fair and unbiased opportunities for women, promoting and cultivating working cultures where women’s capabilities are respected, and creating more opportunities for technical training and exchanges with other women working in ammunition management.

Hans Almoslechner, Deputy Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, delivered closing remarks, speaking to his country’s priorities concerning ammunition safety and security. Additionally, he shared that Austria will collaborate with UNODA in organizing a training course for women on the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG) in autumn 2023 to further strengthen and expand the Women Ammunition Management Experts Network.

The webinar closed with a brief presentation of existing publications and resources produced by UNODA, Small Arms Survey, UNIDIR and AMAT relevant to this topic.

Overview of existing publication and resources on gender mainstreaming ammunition management

Drafted by Olena Kryzhanivska