Empowering Women in Ammunition Management: insights from a roundtable discussion at the Office for Disarmament Affairs in Vienna 

November 24th, 2023

On 30 October, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) Vienna Office held a roundtable discussion for women ammunition technical experts. Expert practitioners and institutional representatives from Vienna-based organizations participated in discussions on various aspects of through-life ammunition management. The event was organized on the margins of the UN SaferGuard Training for Women Ammunition Technical Experts on the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG), which took place in Wiener Neustadt from 23 October to 3 November and was hosted by UNODA in cooperation with the Austrian Ministry of Defense and the Ammunition Management Advisory Team (AMAT). Ten women technical experts from around the world participated in the training, which was designed to promote gender equality, enhance national capacity, and strengthen the global network of women experts working in this male-dominated field.

The ten participating women technical experts were joined by training facilitators and organizers, for a group picture, along with institutional representatives and expert practitioners from Vienna-based organizations participating in the roundtable discussion.

While the UN SaferGuard training focused on safe and secure ammunition stockpile management, its primary objective was to unpack various aspects of through-life conventional ammunition management, including transfer controls, criminal justice responses, investigations into illicit ammunition trafficking and regional modes of approach. All of the above were seen through the lens of the wide range of entities engaged in this work. The purpose of the roundtable discussion was to provide a platform for an interactive exchange of experiences, best practices, and to discuss challenges faced by experts from different institutional backgrounds.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Rebecca Jovin, Chief of the UNODA Vienna Office, emphasized that the roundtable had been organized against the backdrop of two recent policy developments of relevance to the ammunition management field: the presentation of the New Agenda for Peace by the Secretary-General on 20 July and the adoption of the new Global Framework for Through-life Conventional Ammunition Management by the General Assembly on 1 November. Taking into account these developments and the evolving global environment, Ms. Jovin opened the discussion by underlining the importance of incorporating diverse perspectives in through-life ammunition management, in particular the gender perspective.

Chief of the UNODA Vienna Office (in the center), Ms. Rebecca Jovin, underlined that the roundtable was designed to promote gender equality and diversity in ammunition management.

Ms. Susanne Hammer, Head of Export Controls in the Disarmament Department of the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria, underlined that ammunition safety and security was key to maintaining national, regional, and international security and stability. She emphasized that training events of this kind were instrumental in shedding light on issues related to through-life ammunition management and in drawing attention to the hard work and commitment of technical experts, in particular women, as illustrated by the nature of their high-risk daily work. Ms. Hammer also expressed the hope that the roundtable could act as a mechanism for technical experts to acquire and share knowledge among themselves and with colleagues in their respective countries.

Ambassador Dr. György Molnár, Head of the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) Secretariat, Mr. Vincent Fleuriot (Colonel),Senior Officer, and Ms. Nicole Gonyea, Reports Officer, situated WA within the broader context of international export control regimes and described the WA Secretariat’s technical contacts with other related organizations. Ambassador Molnár emphasized the Arrangement’s consensus-based decision-making process, highlighting its efforts to strike a balance between security concerns and facilitating legitimate civilian transactions. Mr. Fleuriot focused on the work of the WA, addressing the specificities of the munitions list within the context of export control and the wide range of items covered by the list, designed or modified for military use. Ms. Gonyea wrapped up the presentation on the WA, highlighting their commitment to transparency and information exchange among Participating States. She reiterated that this helps build confidence and ensures commitments are fulfilled as well as aiding decision-making related to potential transfers, especially in regions of concern or areas of conflict.

On the left, Ms. Gonyea, Reports Officer at the Wassenaar Arrangement, stressed that the Arrangement engages in standard setting work through best practice guidelines, which provide non-binding guidance on implementing controls at various stages of the process, such as licensing and transit. These guidelines are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure their relevance.

Mr. Max Menn, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer and Legal Advisor at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), introduced UNODC’s work in addressing ammunition trafficking, in particular through the Firearms Protocol. He underlined the complementary nature of international instruments, including the Global Framework for Through-life Conventional Ammunition Management, the Firearms Protocol, and the Arms Trade Treaty, in addressing ammunition trafficking. Throughout his presentation, Mr. Menn discussed different cases of ammunition trafficking, illustrating how differences in national regulatory regimes and the transnational nature of trafficking can impact global security. Lastly, he underscored the importance of a multi-faceted and holistic approach in addressing ammunition trafficking, involving legal and policy frameworks, prevention measures, criminal justice responses, international cooperation, and information exchange, while taking into account cross-cutting aspects such as gender and human rights.

Mr. Luka Buhin, Projects Officer at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), shifted participants’ focus from the global to the regional level and presented the OSCE’s work and priorities related to management of small arms and light weapons and stockpiles of conventional ammunition. He stressed the complex nature of these issues, the importance of gender mainstreaming and assistance mechanisms as well as the need to address multiple doctrinal approaches in addition to crimes associated with arms trafficking. He also discussed the key role played by regional engagement when addressing the proliferation of illicit weapons and ammunition, noting that regional efforts are often perceived to be more effective than national ones. He stressed that engaging in life cycle management involves collaboration among multiple stakeholders, which requires transparent processes and strategic coordination.

The final panelist, Mr. Yosuke Nakagawa, Associate Expert at the UNODA Vienna Office,  briefed participants on the Vienna Office’s disarmament education programs, as contained in the UNODA Disarmament Education Strategy, and highlighted Disarmament education’s key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. He presented the wide range of UNODA e-learning resources, available for free on the Office’s e-learning platform, and provided an overview of the training courses offered in the field of small arms and light weapons and ammunition management. Mr. Nakagawa acquainted participants with two new forthcoming fellowships coordinated by UNODA, namely the Fellowship Training Programme on Small Arms and Light Weapons Control and the Fellowship Training Programme on Through-life Conventional Ammunition Management, which will be launched in 2024 and 2026 respectively.​

Pictured to the right, Mr. Yosuke Nakagawa, Associate Expert at the UNODA Vienna Office, highlighted the relevance of disarmament education.

Following these presentations, panelists and women technical ammunition experts exchanged views on through-life ammunition management, including on related international assistance and capacity-building opportunities.

Wrapping up the roundtable discussion, Ms. Jovin acknowledged the dedication and leadership of all participating organizations, technical experts, and training facilitators. Their efforts would, she said, serve as an example for future generations of women aspiring to make a contribution in the field of ammunition management.

As part of the discussion, participants shared their insights on how to promote women’s meaningful participation in ammunition management.