Ammunition management, a male-dominated field, seeks to better understand its impacts on women, men, boys and girls

November 6th, 2020

Poorly managed ammunition can explode suddenly or fall prey to theft, endangering women and men in distinct ways that demand more attention, experts said at a virtual panel discussion in late October.

The ammunition-management sector could help save lives by adopting policies and practices that are gender-sensitive, according to participants in the exchange organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the Small Arms Survey, an independent research institute. 

Their discussion, which drew about 100 online participants, coincided with the launch of a new UNODA briefing paper that calls for gender parity and women’s meaningful participation to be prioritized in work involving ammunition at every stage of its life cycle, from production to storage and maintenance to eventual disposal.

UNODA and Small Arms Survey’s event, which drew about 100 online participants, coincided with the launch of a new UNODA Briefing Paper titled “Making Room for Improvement: Gender Dimensions of the Life-cycle Management of Ammunition”.

“The gendered impacts of unplanned explosion events are not well understood and require further study, including through more precise sex- and age-disaggregated data and qualitative research,” Emile LeBrun, a senior consultant at the Small Arms Survey, wrote in the paper. “Insights into men’s and women’s involvement in ammunition diversion and its prevention are also needed”.

Ms. Maja Messmer Mokhtar, Head of Humanitarian Policy in the Human Security Division of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, kicked off the discussion by emphasizing the importance of building a bridge between ammunition management, gender dimensions, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. She added that the world’s growing understanding of these gendered impacts could be valuable in high-level decision-making.

Ms. Emma Tobin, Desk Officer at the Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Section of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, welcomed Mr. LeBrun’s assertion that national ownership of ammunition management issues is a prerequisite for tangible progress on gender integration. She added that applying a so-called “gender lens” to the sector is necessary to pursue parity in a field where women are significantly underrepresented.

Experts discuss how the ammunition-management sector could help save lives by adopting policies and practices that are gender-sensitive

Ms. Katherine Prizeman, a UNODA Political Affairs Officer, explained how efforts to integrate gender considerations into the life-cycle management of ammunition (LCMA)build on norms previously established through the Security Council’s resolutions on women, peace and security, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament.  She highlighted the linkages made between the risk assessment of the legally binding Arms Trade Treaty––which covers all conventional ammunition transfers––and gender-based violence (GBV). Addressing gender considerations in ammunition management will make the sector more effective and sustainable, she added.

Mr. LeBrun emphasized that the life-cycle management of ammunition is primarily a management and control process rather than a disarmament process: its primary aim is to keep ammunition safe (from unintended explosions) and secure (by lowering diversion risks). He then highlighted two areas where he saw room to improve how gender is addressed in the professional field of ammunition management. Stakeholders, he said, should (a) strive to ensure women’s meaningful participation and gender parity among practitioners and (b) gender mainstream life-cycle management policy and practice. He also pointed to five key findings and recommendations for progress contained in his paper.

In an expert roundtable session that followed, participants touched on a range of related issues:

  • Mr. Manuel Martinez Miralles, Conventional Arms Researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, presented a new Institute study linking the use of illicit firearms with increased gender-based violence in contexts of gang violence and violent conflicts. 
  • Mr. Dragan Bozanic, Gender and Research Project Officer at the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC), emphasized the importance of gathering more gender-disaggregated data This, in turn, can attract partners and champions and ultimately support change in institutional cultures.
  • Ms. Afifa Habbassi, an expert trainer and explosive ordnance disposal specialist, discussed structural obstacles to gender parity in the sector such as its specialized nature, scant government oversight, narrow recruitment criteria, limited job mobility and focus on promoting people from demographics that are already well represented. 
  • Mr. Eric J. Deschambault, an explosive safety consultant who helped develop the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG), noted that the IATG were developed in a gender-neutral manner. He argued that mainstreaming gender considerations in the IATG and their implementation could help overcome the original lack of focus on gender dimensions. 
  • Ms. Jovana Carapic, Programme Manager with the Ammunition Management Advisory Team at the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), reiterated calls for additional focus on “gender and diversity”. As in mine action, ammunition management should not only focus on men and women, but on all relevant stakeholders, for example from different backgrounds, cultures, levels of ability, and so on. She pointed to the International Mine Action Standards as a useful example in this regard. 

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