Taking a Stand Against Gender Discrimination in Disarmament Policymaking

Last week, I attended the discussions on fully-autonomous weapons (“Killer Robots”) at the UN in Geneva as a representative of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC). The deliberations, held in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), represent the first dedicated diplomatic discussions of the dangers of automated violence — an encouraging landmark for the civil society Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

However, as Charli Carpenter and Sarah Knuckey pointed out in their excellent blog posts, the meeting was discouraging for its blasé and retrogressive gender dynamics. None of the 18 “expert” panelists called upon to testify before the states party were women, despite no shortage of women ably qualified to do so. Most of them were also from North America or Western Europe. Women who were experts were literally condemned to the margins — only allowed to speak in civil society statements from the back of the room or ‘Side Events.’ There were more subtle discourses too, with boosters of killer robots depicting the civil society campaign as hysterical, or claiming that robotic weapons would avoid soldiers’ “emotional responses” to war (which are supposedly a bad thing) and would be more “rational.” Read Heather Roff’s challenge to this discourse here.

All this is, of course, a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which committed states to include women in global policymaking on peace and security. Article 36, a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, released a statement today condemning the exclusion of multiple gender identities from global policymaking on peace and security, saying:

In response to the all-male expert selection at the CCW last week, women involved in the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots gathered to discuss ways to advance the participation and visibility of women in meetings on disarmament, peace and security. One suggestion from this group was that men should refuse to participate in all-male panels at meetings within this field.

As part of this effort, Article 36 is compiling a list of people working in the field of peace and security – particularly disarmament, arms control and the protection of civilians – who benefit from their male gender and have committed not to speak on panels that include only men.

Read Charli Carpenter’s take on our statement, here.

Back as undergraduate in the 1990s, I read the fantastic essay by Carol Cohn, picking apart the everyday casual misogyny of nuclear weapons experts. I naively assumed that such blatant gender discrimination in the weapons policymaking arena would at least be more subtle by now. Unfortunately, however, we’re still fighting Second Wave battles in the world of disarmament, asking the basic question of Cynthia Enloe: “Where are the women?”

Those of us who benefit from our conformity to cisgender male gender norms* have an obligation to call attention to the injustice of the privileges it affords us everyday. I have signed the Article 36 statement and call on all others in the disarmament community who benefit from being identified as men to add their support. For we must fight for the process of achieving disarmament to be as just as the outcomes we are also fighting for.

In the words of the civil society statement on disarmament “ways of work” at last year’s UN General Assembly First Committee meeting:

We are frustrated by the failure of the disarmament machinery to meet expectations—both of our governments and our publics—of addressing the security concerns of the majority. These failures undermine the UN’s legitimacy as a problem-solving body. … [T]his structure is anachronistic. The entire system must be reformed. …

Member states should incorporate a gender perspective into their disarmament and arms control- related programmes and policies. They should also discuss and identify ways of strengthening and improving the resolution on women and disarmament, such as by including strengthened language on incorporating a gender perspective in disarmament-related programmes and policies and by recognizing progress in other elements of the UN system.

To read the Article 36 statement on gender discrimination and add your name to the list of supporters, click here.


*To be “Cisgendered” means that your experience of your gender matches comfortably with the biological sex you were assigned at birth.

~ by Matthew Bolton on 19 May 2014.

2 Responses to “Taking a Stand Against Gender Discrimination in Disarmament Policymaking”

  1. […] Bolton, who joined the men of Article36 in signing up for this boycott, has more on the issue of gender representation as well as the gendered nature of the CCW debate at his blog Political […]

  2. […] women. And yet the panels proceeded as planned, leaving women, as Matthew Bolton put it, “literally condemned to the margins — only allowed to speak in civil society statements from the back of the room or ‘Side […]

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