The massive amounts of violence perpetrated against women are a blatant violation of human rights and our WILPF members are citizens to countries where armed violence against women takes place daily. One of the main questions we ask here at Reaching Critical Will and WILPF International is, why are women's rights and security so neglected at the local, national, and international levels?
While there are numerous answers to this question, we have noticed that sometimes women's rights are simply a low priority for many governments. At the same time, it is obvious what takes high priority in the same countries: militarism and the arms trade.
In the countries where WILPF has National Sections, governments spent over 1.058 trillion dollars in 2011 on their militaries (this figure does not include information for the DRC, French Polynesia, and Palestine due to lack of information from these countries).
If all of these countries reduced and reallocated such huge military budgets, we could not only help gender equality, but we could easily pay for the entire 15 years of extra budget needed to attain ALL of the Millennium Development Goals. This would be an extraordinary achievement that would address issues like poverty, hunger, disease, the environment, education, infant mortality, and equality for women. Unfortunately, the world's money largely continues to be filtered into the military and arms, and as a result women suffer from horrific violence everyday whether in a conflict zone or in their own homes.
As many of us know, the United States (US) is the most highly militarized nation in the world and in 2011 spent about 689.5 billion USD on the military. In addition it exported 706 million USD worth of small arms and light weapons, while importing arms and military equipment worth a whopping 1.75 billion USD.
What does this mean for women? It means that women in the US are disproportionately vulnerable to gun violence, despite living in a “peaceful” society. More than half of murdered women in the US are killed with a gun and US states with high gun ownership have 114% higher homicide rates. Meanwhile, despite being a developed country, the US is ranked 47th in gender equality. Of course, US women are not the only women who suffer from US militarism and trade of arms, as the usage of American weapons in conflict zones have an even more devastating impact on the populations in these areas.
For example, Colombia – another country where we have a strong WILPF Section – is intimately linked to the US militarily. It is one of the top five recipients of US arms exports and its overall military spending in 2011 was almost 10.3 billion dollars. Conflict in Colombia has persisted for almost 50 years and the American weapons exported there contribute to the widespread violence that has lead to numerous deaths and displacement. Columbia has the 10th highest prevalence of femicide in the whole world and firearms are used in more than 60 percent of those cases. While all of this violence is taking place, only 13.8 percent of parliamentary seats are occupied by women, and less than half of the female population is literate.
Another devastating example is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to another of our WILPF Sections. The DRC has destabilized to the point that it is difficult to estimate its military spending, given that much is done on the black market, but a 2007 estimate puts military spending at 543 million USD. At the same time, women only occupy about 9 percent of parliamentary seats and less than 45 percent of the female population is literate.
A 2011 report estimated that 48 women in the DRC are raped every hour. Yes, you read that correctly. It means that 1,152 women are raped every single day. This type of massive assault on women does not happen by accident, or by a few violent perpetrators. This is a highly tactical measure to “humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Women are first threatened with lethal weapons and then used as a weapon. This type of violence against women is one of the worst examples of the horrifying effects of militarism.
Whether women are victims of the use of small arms, or if their own bodies are being used as a weapon, or if they are suffering from lack of representation and equality as a result of militarised attitudes, women are on the losing end of world militarisation and arms trade.
These facts and numbers are shocking and highlight how important it is to consider violence against women when addressing issues of security and disarmament.
For example, Reaching Critical Will works hard to ensure that the coming negotiations in March 2013 on an Arms Trade Treaty will ensure a strong and robust treaty.
In particular, we believe that a specific reference to the obligation of preventing any arms exports to countries where there is a foreseeable risk that the weapons can be used in gender-based violence is absolutely necessary for this treaty. If you are interested in following our work for an Arms Trade Treaty, please visit the Reaching Critical Will website.
By Nicholette Derosia, Reaching Critical Will