One in three women experience physical and sexual violence in their lifetime. A situation that is exacerbated by the proliferation and misuse of the over one billion small arms in circulation around the world, said UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu in a video message to mark the 2023 International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
To raise awareness about the ways in which disarmament and arms control measures can have real and tangible impacts and prevent gender-based-violence, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) participated in the annual campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”, which was themed “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”. Using the #NoExcuse hashtag, UNODA and its regional centers posted about solutions to end such violence through its social media platforms posting a daily messages across its X (Twitter) Instagram, and LinkedIn platforms.
The proliferation of illicit small arms threatens the safety of women and heightens the risk of violence
During the campaign, which ran from 25 November – 10 December 2023, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UN Women launched a new report on gender-related killings of women and girls, demonstrating that more than 133 women and girls are murdered by an intimate partner or family member every day. In the meantime, reports of sexual violence continue to surface from the many conflicts ongoing around the world. Through its channels, UNODA showed how arms control measures can be a practical tool for preventing gender-based, sexual or conflict-related sexual violence, since firearms often function as an enabler to such violence. On 6 December, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the UN Action Network against Sexual Violence in Conflict, of which UNODA is a member, hosted an online event on the role of weapons in conflict-related sexual violence, with a focus on the situation in Sudan.
A call for better data on armed violence against women
In her video message, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu reiterated that the exact magnitude of armed violence against women is not known because statistics are scarce. To build effective strategies for preventing and responding to violence against women, better data and analysis on the role and impact of weapons in these situations are thus needed, she said. As part of the campaign, UNODA presented a solution to obtain such data, namely by leveraging synergies between the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 5 on violence against women and Goal 16’s targets on all forms of violence and illicit flows of arms.
Placing gender-based violence at the heart of arms control policy
Another pathway to preventing gender-based violence, also underscored during the campaign, is to incorporate a gendered lens into arms control strategies. The Fourth Review Conference on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which will be held in June 2024, will present a unique opportunity to further develop these connections and reshape policies, something that has been recognized by States in the meetings leading up to the Conference and supported by UNODA through a multi-year project funded by the European Union. An additional example that was highlighted in the campaign was the recently adopted Global Framework for Through-life Conventional Ammunition Management which contains practical steps to mainstream a gender perspective into ammunition management activities.
Regional initiatives to prevent gender-based violence
UNODA’s approach to combating gender-based violence extends globally and regionally. During the campaign, UNODA’s regional center in Africa, the Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), hosted a webinar featuring lessons from Sierra Leone, Burundi, and Cameroon on gender mainstreaming in small arms control. In UNODA’s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC), piloted a “Course on Gender Perspective in Arms Control” in Colombia. Meanwhile, its Asia and the Pacific regional office, the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD), collaborated with UN Women, integrating arms control into the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Moreover, the Saving Lives Entity, or SALIENT, jointly managed by UNODA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) dedicates 30 percent of its funding to gender-responsive actions in tackling armed violence and illicit small arms and light weapons.
Moving beyond policy measures, a transformative approach to gender power dynamics is needed to prevent violence against women. The UN Secretary-General’s “New Agenda for Peace” calls for concrete actions to transform gender norms, move toward the dismantlement of the patriarchy and oppressive power structures.
Financial commitments to ending violence
Addressing the global crisis of violence against women requires not only strategic policy measures but also robust financial investment. At the official UN commemoration for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, General Assembly President, His Excellency Mr. Dennis Francis noted that current global funding levels are inadequate to prevent such violence. The UN Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace echoes this sentiment, advocating for more international assistance funds to be allocated to gender equality and women’s organizations, which, at present, form less than 0.2 percent of global government aid.
Civil Society partnerships for transformative change
Civil society organizations play a pivotal role in the fight against gender-based violence. Over the course of the 16 Days campaign, UNODA worked closely with the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and amplified the network’s campaign which called for practical measures to end violence such as by restricting firearms in homes in which domestic violence is perpetrated.
United efforts against gender-based violence continue
The messages during the 16 Days of Activism were clear: there is no excuse for violence against women. While 10 December, Human Rights Day, marked the last day of the online campaign, UNODA’s efforts and advocacy to prevent armed gender-based violence continues all year round.
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