Stepping it up for diversity, equity and inclusion at the NPT Review Conference

August 24th, 2022

During the first week of the tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the United States and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) brought together some hundred diplomats, policymakers and civil society representatives to exchange ideas on the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The event, which took place on 3 August, was timely. Despite commitments to women’s equal, full and effective participation in all disarmament and non-proliferation decision-making processes, less than 1 in 5 (18%) heads of delegations to the NPT Review Conference, taking place at the United Nations Headquarters from 1 – 26 August, are women, according to the provisional list of participants. For comparison, 22 percent of heads of the delegation were women at the 2015 Review Conference.

The high-level panel shared their views and personal experiences about how diversity enhances nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation discussions and decision-making. From left to right: Gustavo Zlauvinen, President of the NPT Review Conference, Maritza Chan, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations, Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Bonnie Jenkins, Under-Secretary for Arms Control and International Security of the United States, Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Nomsa Michelle Ndongwe, moderator and Jorge Valderrábano, youth representative.

“Diversity” goes beyond women’s participation.  Rather, moderator Nomsa Michelle Ndongwe from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies explained, diversity means the involvement of people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, gender, sexual orientations and recognizing the interconnected nature of these categories. Inclusion, she added, is defined as the practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized.

Ensuring more diverse and inclusive approaches, and to include the perspectives of gender, race, age and disabilities in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation discussions, requires everyone’s efforts, event co-hosts Bonnie Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security of the United States and Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs stressed. “This is not only as a question of equity”, Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu said, “but about rethinking traditional security and nuclear disarmament discourse.” She added that representation matters, recalling that NPT States parties have endorsed recommendations to enhance gender diversity among delegates during the review cycle.

Gender gaps persist

Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, shared lessons learned from her country’s eight years of experience implementing a feminist foreign policy, through which Sweden prioritizes equal representation of women, rights of women and marginalized groups, and allocates the resources needed to achieve these goals. She also highlighted the Stockholm Initiative and the recommendation that all States ensure the full and effective participation of women and further integrate gender perspectives in all aspects of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation decision-making processes

Gustavo Zlauvinen, President of the NPT Review Conference, welcomed the event as a central and crucial part of the NPT discussions and provided background on efforts to prioritize gender equality, diversity and youth engagement as cross-cutting themes in the Conference. A positive development in this regard was that, for the first time ever, the membership of the Conference bureau is gender balanced.

Maritza Chan, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations, believed that political, economic and systemic discrimination is a key reason for the lack of women in disarmament. Addressing these interlinked issues would require removing the dichotomy in how we approach nuclear weapon States and non-nuclear weapon States, women and men, and “hard” security and human security, she said. 

Diversity and inclusion

Jorge Valderrábano, Leaders4Tomorrow member of ODA’s #Youth4Disarmament initiative suggested ideas for enhancing the voice of young people in multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation forums, such as having youth delegates in all disarmament conferences. They also referred to the discrimination faced by LGBTI+ persons in all parts of society and their particular risk of violence and exclusion and pointed to methods used by social workers in the education field to promote inclusivity. During the NPT Review Conference, a dedicated youth working group on diversity, equity and inclusion, sponsored by the Republic of Korea, UNODA and BASIC, has worked on recommendations on these topics.

The seven speakers and 100 diplomats, policymakers and civil society representatives from diverse backgrounds discussed inclusion and equity on the margins of the tenth NPT Review Conference at the United Nations in New York

Under-Secretary Jenkins spoke about the few women and persons of color in places where “hard security” decisions are made, an observation from her 30-year-long experience in disarmament. She emphasized the need to be deliberate and strategic in addressing varying nuances of other cultures and histories than our own in efforts to close the diversity and inclusion gap.

Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu highlighted the lack of effort to actively engage persons with disabilities in nuclear non-proliferation policymaking despite the relevance of disability rights and perspective for nuclear disarmament. Ambassador Zlauvinen shared his personal experiences of applying a disability inclusion lens to all aspects of his life, which enables him to value a broad range of perspectives in his work. 

Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ann Linde, shared feminist foreign policy perspectives on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and called for intersectional and holistic approaches to peace and security

Connecting agendas

Speakers agreed that nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament is more successful when conversations place people and inclusivity at the center. They called for securing women’s equal participation, youth engagement, and disability inclusion in the NPT Review Conference and beyond. In the ensuing discussion segment, the audience and speakers identified a need to better connect disarmament and non-proliferation with other peace, development, human rights and environment agendas. One such avenue could be integrating the youth, peace and security (YPS) and women, peace and security (WPS) agendas with nuclear disarmament.

The discussion on what diversity and inclusion mean in nuclear disarmament continues on social media. To make your voice heard on diversity in nuclear disarmament, join the #NPTdiveristy Twitter campaign, submit your quote and photo here.

The full recording of the event is available here.