Gender and the ATT

Friday, June 15, 2012
Saferworld and Tongji University
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

Ahead of July, when final negotiations will be held at the UN on the ATT initiative, several civil society groups and state parties (1) have called for the inclusion of gender in an ATT: to refer explicitly to gender-based violence in the Treaty text; and to ensure women's participation in the field of arms control more broadly. Below, the ATT Update examines why gender matters in conventional arms export control, focusing on the links between small arms and gender-based violence. A brief overview is provided of some of the proposals made by the International Action Network for Small Arms (IANSA) Women's Network to include language on women, peace, and security in an ATT. (2)

Evolving national and international norms and policies to prevent the proliferation of conventional weapons have brought to attention the enormous human suffering facilitated by the transfers of these arms, and particularly of small arms and light weapons (SALW) – during conflict, but also in their aftermath, and in formal peace settings. In and alongside this normative approach to arms export control, attention has been drawn to the gender-specific impacts of the end-use of conventional arms and ammunitions: women, men, girls and boys are uniquely affected as victims of uncontrolled SALW proliferation.

Small arms and gender-based violence

While the vast majority of victims of gun violence worldwide are men, women are often targets of certain types of violence as a result of their gender. Field-based research conducted over the past decade indicates that small arms and ammunition facilitate widespread domestic violence, rape, and other forms of sexual violence both during and outside of conflict.(3) As feminist academic Cynthia Cockburn explains, the assignment of gender identities often means women are seen as ‘men's property': ‘In war, militaries often engage in campaigns of rape to reduce enemy men by appropriating ‘their' women.'(4)

Firearms and their ammunition can facilitate widespread sexual violence even in non-conflict settings, as a consequence of insecurity and impunity. In non-conflict or post-conflict situations, such as those documented in Haiti and the Balkans, small arms facilitate widespread sexual and domestic violence. Academics such as Cockburn argue that, in non-war settings, domestic battery and rape are often also ‘intended to enforce a man's property rights over a particular woman'. The risk of death in intimate partner violence is much greater when there is a firearm in the home. Sexual violence perpetuates insecurity more broadly, too. ‘It holds entire communities hostage, and has an economic, social, cultural and intergenerational impact: women cannot access water-points and markets; children cannot safely get to school; “war babies” are ostracized.'(5)

What a 'gender-aware' ATT could look like

  • Principles: It is widely agreed amongst supporters of a ‘gender-aware' ATT that the Treaty should address gender-based violence in accordance with existing international commitments specific to women and conflict, and to addressing and addressing sexual and gender-based violence. The preamble on an ATT should refer to relevant existing international instruments on women's rights and gender-based violence, and explicitly affirm that the regulation and reduction of arms transfers should be designed to help prevent such acts of sexual violence as highlighted in UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, and 1960. These binding international instruments must be applied in arms transfer decisions.

  • Scope: That the proliferation of small arms has been linked with the facilitation of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence is compelling evidence that an ATT should apply to all conventional arms, and in particular, to SALW and ammunition.

  • Parameters: To be effective, an ATT must clearly prohibit the international transfer of weapons and ammunition where there is a substantial risk that they are likely to be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. This can include sexual and gender-based violence. As recognised in UN Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888, the perpetuation of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, where used as a weapon by parties to armed conflict, ‘is not a private matter; it is a tactic of war that threatens international peace and security'.(6) Rape and sexual violence are specifically codified as a distinct and recognisable crime within the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR), and can therefore be prosecuted as crimes against humanity, as war crimes and as acts constitutive of genocide.(7) Yet, the nature of gender-based violence also underscores the importance of adopting an approach in conventional arms control that will address armed violence outside of armed conflict settings.

  • Victim assistance: Many argue that it is important to recognise the need to provide gender-sensitive assistance to victims of arms transferred without regulation and to address the special rights and needs of vulnerable groups. It is proposed that this could be done by requiring all state parties to provide such assistance, with respect to victims of the arms regulated in this treaty and in areas under its jurisdiction or control, to, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law.

  • International co-operation and assistance: Gender-differentiated research on the use and impact of SALW remains underdeveloped. A lack of political interest and will, scarce resources, and the sheer difficulty of keeping track of firearms related injuries in places with poor infrastructure and recordkeeping capacities underpin this lack of quantitative gender disaggregated data and qualitative information on the experiences, views and actions of women and men in gun prolific societies.(8) Importantly, however, women in many parts of the world have made themselves heard as activists in the field of arms control and in broader peace processes: they are not simply or singularly victims of the atrocities facilitated by uncontrolled SALW proliferation. In view of the gender-specificity of the effects of uncontrolled SALW proliferation, women's participation is key. To enhance the implementation of an ATT's obligations and goals, civil society and women's groups should be consulted, and included in capacity-building and assistance programmes.


  1. During the 2nd and 3rd ATT PrepCom meetings, the issue of gender was raised by several states, including Trinidad & Tobago, Mali, Spain, Nigeria, Norway and Australia. These states argue for an ATT to address gender-based violence in accordance with existing international commitments on women, peace and security
  2. See the IANSA Women's Network Policy Paper, ‘Including Gender in the Arms Trade Treaty', 13 July 2011,
  3. Cukier W, ‘Global Effects of Small Arms: A Gendered Perspective', In the Line of Fire: A Gender Perspective on Small Arms Proliferation, Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 2001), Also see
  4. Cockburn C, ‘Guns, war and the domestic battlefield', openDemocracy, 8 March 2011,
  6. Dokmanovic M, ‘Linking an ATT and Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889', speech made at the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament, 22 October 2009,
  7. UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Review of the Sexual Violence Elements of the Judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Light of Security Council Resolution 1820 (2010).
  8. Schroeder E, Farr V and Schnabel A, ‘Gender Awareness in Research on Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Preliminary Report', Working Paper (Swisspeace, January 2005),