STATEMENT: Impact of War & Conflict Spending on Women & Poverty

Reaching Critical Will
Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 20:00
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Initiative Type: 

United Nations Human Rights Council 17
Panel on Women-Poverty-Crises-Human Rights
3 June 2011

According to the new report released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military expenditures was estimated at $1,630 billion in 2010, an increase of 1.3 percent in real terms since 2009. This is the highest number ever.

At the same time, it becomes more and more obvious to people around the world that such continued investment in weapons and militarism does not make the state safer, and it definitely does not make individuals safer. Military investments are underpinned by a belief that states' security can be guaranteed by threats of violence. It's an investment in war and conflict. But military might cannot address the main threats that people all over the world are facing today, such as natural disasters, increased food prices, and lack of adequate health care, education, violence against women and a clean environment.

When states go to war, and use all of that purchased military equipment, it's mostly civilians that fall victims, despite the arguments behind war often are based on assumptions about protection.

These weapons instead have disproportionate effects on women and increased military expenditures are draining resources from the world's poor and in particular from women. Over 1.2 billion live in what is known as “extreme poverty”, i.e. less than 1.25 USD per day. 70% of these are women. In addition, over 30,000 children die every year because of poverty. All the time, all over the world, women and girls are being discriminated against; they earn less money than men and suffer the worst consequences of poverty, lack of education and lack of political and human rights.

Despite the fact that the MDG's state that poverty in the world is to be halved by 2015, enough efforts are not being made to reach them. The World Bank estimates that it would take between 35 to 76 billion USD per year until 2015 for the world community to be able to live up to the MDG's. Compare these amounts to the 1,630 billion USD that was spent on world military expenditures last year. It's nothing.

There is a strong connection between high militarization and its disproportionate effect on the spending available for development and poverty reduction.

One example that WILPF has pointed out is the relationship between military expenditures and maternal mortality rates. Reducing the maternal mortality rates is one of the MDG's. The fourteen states which have the highest rates of maternal mortality have ALL been involved in major conflict, internal or external in the last 15 years. Most appear very high up on the global militarism index and are in the top the list on high military expenditures in comparison to GDP.

The war in Afghanistan had at the end of 2009 cost the coalition of states 287 billion dollars. In real terms this equals a $300,000 cash payment to each person in Afghanistan. One of these 287 billion dollars could pay for 2.5 billion meals for hungry people, or 31 million vaccinations against the six main childhood killer diseases - diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, polio, tetanus and tuberculosis, or 700,000 family homes, or 270,000 schools furnished with desks, chairs, tables or 53 million children supplied with school books for a whole year.

Unfortunately, military expenditures are often left off the debate in human rights and poverty. There needs to be a thorough examination of states priorities. Investments made into militarism negatively impact upon the fulfillment of states obligations and commitments in two ways:

1. Militarism and weapons leads to and intensifies conflict and violence. They inhibit the provision and protection of human rights in the most direct sense, especially for the most vulnerable citizens – women in poverty.
2. Diversion of resources to militaristic ends indicates states failure to use their resources to fulfill their obligations and achieve their goals.

The Human Rights Council and Universal Periodic Review process, as well as the Human Rights Treaty Bodies could be the forums where we examine and evaluate this balance of priorities demonstrated by governments. WILPF strongly believes that all issues of peace are linked, you cannot separate weapons production from social injustice, economic development and women's rights. They are all interlinked and must be dealt with in connection to each other.

Beatrice Fihn,
Reaching Critical Will - WILPF