Despite a challenging year, the Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control presses on!
One year ago, over 100 experts — (mostly) women — gathered in Berlin to discuss how to take small arms control forward. Activated by the urgency of this issue — having seen the shortcomings of the conventional approaches to disarmament, increasing social unrest and violence, and weapons sales going up in many countries — the formation of the Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) was a response to the need for new thinking and collaboration on small arms control. Indeed, with its first gathering coinciding with devastating news of a mass shooting in Hanau, Germany — which again underscored the dangers of violent extremism and guns — the launch of GENSAC with Germany’s generous support and active collaboration, was both relevant and timely.
GENSAC was launched just before the world as we knew it was about to change. During its official launch in Berlin, news of COVID-19 was just beginning to trickle in for an international group of women and men gender and security champions from the W. Balkans, Africa and LAC.
The meeting gathered practitioners who operate in the security, development, and gender justice sectors. We discussed how the conventional approaches to disarmament had failed to address the gendered dimensions of small arms and the connection between small arms and violence against women. This failure, far from being accidental, is linked to the low participation and representation of women in disarmament fora. GENSAC was initiated to address that issue: to advance gender-responsive small arms control, and promote the meaningful participation and representation of women in small arms decision making.
Since then, the virus has changed all aspects of our lives. Patterns of violence have been changing across the world, increased risk of social unrest breaking into violence. Data shows that violence against women has considerably surged since the beginning of the pandemic. Calls for new approaches in order to stop rates of violent death from increasing globally by 2030 are more urgent than ever. Gun violence also continues to claim many lives, both in the streets and inside homes.
In Berlin, GENSAC members proposed efforts to contain the problems of violence should, at their core, focus on gender responsive small arms control. We published an Action paper based on a thorough review of the evidence and a broad range of consultations with the community of global experts in small arms control and gender, and proposed seven practical strategies to take the work forward.
One year on, the challenges we face and how the international community goes about addressing urgent issues has changed, as well. GENSAC, too, has changed how we communicate across regions and cultures; how we share best-practices; how we create space for advocacy, and support those doing the frontline work.
We have held a series of webinars with our members and partners to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the proliferation of small arms and violence against women. We have also rallied our male allies in a discussion about their role in gender responsive small arms control. Our experts agree that the pandemic has deepened existing inequalities and vulnerabilities in the different regions. Yet, there is insufficient data available on the gendered aspect of the violence that has resulted from this pandemic. To address this, GENSAC has developed a research strategy which will include the publication of issue briefs and reflection pieces aimed at collecting disaggregated data and best practices on gender responsive and small arms control, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We intend to work with our members to involve more arms control stakeholders at grassroots and national levels in our collective effort to advance gender-responsive small arms control.
GENSAC’s one year anniversary coincides with the upcoming celebration of International Women’s Day. This year we are partnering with women’s movements and peace advocates in over a dozen countries to disseminate the second edition of our Action Paper, which has been revised to reflect the gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small arms control.
The task at hand is challenging, but our steadfast commitment to supporting gender champions working daily to save lives, prevent harm, and make their communities peaceful, remains unchanged.
In our second year, we look forward to GENSAC becoming an even more agile and dynamic platform for knowledge exchanges and
- We are committed to working with our partners to distribute their cutting-edge research and knowledge far and wide. We look forward to engaging our members in knowledge production and relying on them for insights on the emerging problems of gun violence they are witnessing in their communities.
- We will better support our members. With the appointment of three regional focal points, enhanced communications, and upcoming training and capacity development opportunities, we hope to provide tangible opportunities to those advancing gender responsive small arms control on the frontlines — be they CSO members, activists, academics, or policymakers.
- We will continue to invest in decentralized strategies. We will support local and regional activities in light of limited travel opportunities. Despite being grounded, we will work to preserve the cross-regional character of GENSAC, and come up with alternative ways of facilitating those exchanges.
- We will loudly advocate, in collaboration with partners such as IANSA, for the inclusion of gender responsive small arms control policy in the multilateral policy space. Key events such as the UN Disarmament Week, BMS6, ATT Conference of State Parties have been postponed or are taking place in a modified format. We will rely on digital campaigns and new ways of conducting advocacy to ensure that GENSAC members can still influence these political processes and their outcomes.
We will meet again. Our signature annual conference will take place, conditions permitting and most likely in a hybrid format, later in the year. Many members have told us how energizing our launch in Berlin was. Some reconnected with colleagues they had not seen in a while. Others expanded their professional networks and felt a sense of solidarity with women from other parts of the world facing similar challenges. Many reported gaining new insights and ideas for their work.
The pandemic has taken — and continues to take — many things from us, including loved ones. We are aware that the recovery will be strenuous and long. Nonetheless, we remain resolute in our commitment to stop the epidemic of gun violence that has been with us for even longer.