Women demand greater political will in negotiations

by Gustavo Capdevila

Geneva, 8 Mar 2001 (IPS) -- An international women’s seminar has reproached the Conference on Disarmament for the opportunities lost in the last few years toward achieving the goal of eliminating the international arms race.

Women are “deeply disappointed and disheartened,” said the seminar’s statement read Thursday before the Conference on Disarmament by Vladimir Petrovsky, director-general of the United Nations offices in Geneva, as part of International Women’s Day events.

The message from the Women’s International Disarmament Seminar calls on the Conference on Disarmament to move beyond the foot-dragging that has predominated in the last two years and warns about the consequences of small arms proliferation throughout the world.

The seminar, coordinated by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, maintains that “women are particularly affected by the wide availability and use of small arms, both in times of war and in times of peace.”

Their declaration underscores “the sad fact” that more and more women are participating in armed conflicts while at the same time statistics show they are the primary victims of such circumstances.

“Women’s experiences in armed conflicts are markedly different to those of men,” points out the document drafted during the seminar held last week in this Swiss city.

“Women are strategic targets due to their role as biological, cultural and social reproducers of their societies and are subject to gender-based violence at the hands of power wielded through a handgun or an AK-47.”

Another side of the situation is the fact that small arms manufacturers are focussing on women as potential buyers and users of the weapons, “capitalizing on women’s need for safety.”

The participants in the seminar, which was also coordinated by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, concluded that violent conflicts and arms transfers have changed a great deal in recent years.

A United Nations study calculates that there are currently 300 small arms and light arms manufacturers in 70 countries. Most of these weapons are purchased by government forces, but a large number end up in the hands of irregular armies, political factions, criminal organisations, drug cartels, and individuals.

In addition, the vast majority of recent armed conflicts have involved small and light weapons. Of the 49 conflicts recorded since 1990, these arms were predominant in 46.

Every year, 500,000 to 700,000 people die worldwide from wounds inflicted with small weapons, the equivalent of 1,700 deaths each day, or one each minute.

The women’s declaration urges the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament to confront the difficulties and political differences in multilateral negotiations, instead of recurring to destructive tools that block all progress.

In the past, the Conference has achieved “remarkable successes in the field of arms limitation and restraint,” say the women’s groups.

The Biological Weapons Convention constitutes one such feat, but has “now reached a crucial stage in its path towards more effective implementation, as we wait to see if dominant countries and pharmaceutical interests will allow the current verification negotiations to succeed.”

SUNS 4852, 12 Mar 2001