Gender, arms and security in the Pacific

Analysis & Opinion, In the field, Women's rights article written on the 25 Nov 2014

Photo: Jerry Galea/OxfamAUS

By Hannah Lewis, Arms Control Program Officer, Oxfam Australia

When Pacific governments ignore the gendered nature of arms and security, women’s needs are ignored and women are excluded from decision-making around arms and security.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Effective implementation of international and regional commitments can go a long way in ensuring that women’s voices are heard and they are more effectively protected from the devastating impacts of armed violence.

A new report launched today by the Pacific Small Arms Action Group — a network of civil society activists throughout the Pacific region including Oxfam — entitled Arms, Security and Gender in the Pacific details how Pacific governments can more effectively address this important issue.

Getting it wrong can have serious impacts.

Every minute someone dies of armed violence and women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence such as domestic violence and rape.

In Papua New Guinea, the proliferation of arms has been linked to sexual assault and the spread of HIV/AIDs by the Gun Control Committee. The Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Committee found that during the conflict between 1998-2003,  although men experienced sexual violence and assault, this was significantly more likely to be experienced by women.

Women must not, however, be just seen as victims of gender-based armed violence.

In the Pacific, women have played an integral role in disarmament, arms control, peace building and conflict prevention in the Pacific.

Women in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, negotiated with armed actors to get them to lay down their arms at significant risk to their own lives. Likewise, women in Fiji after the 2000 coup organised peace and prayer vigils.

Despite this, women have often been excluded from formal processes related to disarmament, arms control, peace building and conflict prevention. This is compounded by women in the Pacific having the lowest global rate of participation in national legislatures: they make up only 4% of legislators compared to 21% globally.

The report, launched as part of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence beginning today, makes eight key policy recommendations to help Pacific Island governments effectively integrate gender into policy and practice on arms and security.

Read the Pacific Small Arms Action Group’s new report, Arms, Security and Gender in the Pacific. You can support the report by sharing it on Facebook or twitter with the hashtag #16days.