Gender stereotypes seen as a key obstacle in tackling small-arms challenges

October 9th, 2020

Entrenched expectations about women and men contribute to small-arms challenges around the world, staff from the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) told university students in early October.

Small arms and light weapons impact women, girls, men and boys differently, and socially constructed assumptions about masculinity are significant contributors to perceptions of small arms, said Ms. Ida Scarpino, UNRCPD’s Gender and Small Arms and Light Weapons project coordinator. Disarmament efforts and activities under the women, peace and security agenda can augment one another, she explained, adding that progress in both areas is vital to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Ms. Swarna Rajagopalan of Prajnya Trust moderates a discussion on the important role of gender in arms control and disarmament.

Ms. Scarpino was one of three United Nations speakers in a webinar organized by the Prajnya Trust and Sansristi, two India-based civil society organizations seeking to empower women in the fields of peace and development while fostering research and dialogue on gender-related issues. During the virtual event—the fourth in a series organized by the groups to discuss the impact of gender issues on human security efforts—UNRCPD staff talked about the different effects of armed conflict on people of different genders, how gender norms have influenced the professional field of disarmament and arms control, and what efforts are now under way to address gender in activities to counter threats from small arms and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After Ms. Scarpino concluded her remarks, a second UNRCPD staffer elaborated on the need to integrate gender considerations into the area of WMD non-proliferation.

UNRCPD’s Steven Humphries discusses trends in gender representation in multilateral disarmament forums. While there has been steady progress in efforts to include more women in State delegations, the proportion of women who head their delegations has continued to lag behind.

Mr. Steven Humphries, Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) Project Coordinator, said that binary stereotypes about what is “masculine” and what is “feminine” have often affected WMD policies and decision-making. Because women have been historically underrepresented in the disarmament field, many WMD disarmament instruments lack language on gender considerations, he said.

Then, on a more positive note, Mr. Humphries said that women’s participation has been growing in United Nations negotiating bodies dealing with disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he added, further underscores the need to advocate for gender equality and disarmament.

Ms. Linh Trang, United Nations Youth Champion for Disarmament, introduces #Youth4Disarmament, a UNODA initiative aimed at equipping young people with knowledge and skills to advocate for disarmament.

Ms. Linh Trang Phung, one of the 10 United Nations Youth Champions for Disarmament, then introduced #Youth4Disarmament, an initiative of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs to help youth become involved in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts.

Her remarks gave way to a lively discussion with the student audience about the role of young people in disarmament and opportunities for youth in this field. Their exchange also touched on the importance of integrating gender perspectives into disarmament and security policies and practices; emerging security threats associated with artificial intelligence; and the role of women as key agents of peace.

For further information, please contact Ms. Ida Scarpino,, and Mr. Steven Humphries,