GENSAC Network

Bojan Francuz

GENSAC in 2021

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, BMS6ATT 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.

Small arms control: It’s time for women to take the lead

By Liv Tørres, director of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

Photo: Nicole Glass /

“We all have family members who were killed or injured by small arms.” Scanning a conference room in Berlin earlier this year filled with members of a new network of women organizing for small arms control, a Balkan woman solemnly counted the number of participants’ family members who had stared down the barrel of a gun or were killed. So, if you’re wondering what women have to do with small arms control, the answer is evident: everything.

Every year, more people in non-conflict zones are killed as a result of injuries from small arms than in wars or other conflicts. The majority of those killed are men, most often by other men. From each act of small arms violence, numerous others are physically hurt, threatened and/or traumatized. Many of the victims of this violence are women. Too often, they are threatened, violated, and attacked by men who wield small arms. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this situation has worsened, with firearms sales skyrocketing in many parts of the world. As a result of the health and resultant socioeconomic crisis faced around the world, domestic violence has increased at an alarming rate. And with instability and polarization on the rise, things will get worse. So yes, the mobilization of women is definitely relevant for small arms control.

2020 was expected to be a crucial year to accelerate the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, twenty-five years since its adoption. The Declaration explicitly links the arms trade to armed violence and outlines how women are both victims of armed violence and pivotal voices in arms control and disarmament efforts. But instead of accelerating progress on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, we now find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, and amidst palpable concern that COVID-19 will push back fragile progress made towards gender equality and justice for women. So, we must fight harder.

A few key facts and figures: the Small Arms Survey estimates that there were over 1 billion small arms in circulation worldwide before the pandemic hit, produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries, with profits from the trade exceeding USD 8.5 billion. There are considerable linkages between legal and illegal markets with substantial numbers of legally acquired small arms entering illicit markets through diversion, corruption, seizure, and loss. The vast majority of global firearms, roughly 85 percent of the known total, belong to civilian owners, more than 850 million of them worldwide. Civilian ownership is also the fastest-growing market, as consumers buy more guns and as former military and law enforcement weapons gradually shift into civilian hands. In the US alone, 17 million more guns have been sold over the past months in parallel with increasing insecurity and tensions due to the pandemic, elections campaigns, and mobilization against racism.

Considerable reduction in global violence, which all countries have committed to deliver by 2030, will only be possible with the effective control of small arms and its ammunition. And it will only be possible with the heavy involvement of women. Why? First — to state the obvious — on their own, men have not managed this challenge all too well up to this point. Second, mobilizing more people and more groups in arms control is necessary in order to insert more power into the movement. Third, we know that this agenda is highly gendered. With the safety of women at stake, it’s critical that women are empowered to contribute with their knowledge and resources in the endeavor to protect themselves.

Armed violence destroys hundreds of thousands of lives every year. For women, this manifests in murder, but also in intimate partner violence, gang- and drug-related violence, suicides, and politically motivated attacks. It results in enormous amounts of fear, worry, stigma, and family care and socioeconomic problems. Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro city counselor fighting for the rights of the LGBTQI, Black, and other marginalized communities in Brazil, was killed in 2018, having experienced all of this first hand. Same with Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner murdered in 2016. And Karina Garcia who was running for mayor in a municipality in Cauca Colombia who was killed in 2019. Women in Latin America are killed at record rates. As do countless women on other continents. And since the pandemic has taken hold, the situation is worsening.

Of the estimated 70,000 killings of women worldwide every year, roughly 40 percent involve firearms. Guns are even more commonly used to injure, intimidate, and coerce women. The Women´s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) also highlights how women and LGBTQI people face gun-related social and political inequalities, and pressures resulting from an increase in female-headed households, inequalities in access to survivor assistance, and higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Another reason why women should be heavily involved in arms control and disarmament is their knowledge of and information about what is happening at local community levels. Women are often best-placed in their communities to form networks of informants and gather critical information about tensions, alliances, key drivers, and triggers of conflict, and the ways to address them.

We know that peace agreements negotiated with women around the table are more durable and better implemented. And we know that peacebuilding and rebuilding after conflict are more sustainable where women are involved. Yet, women represented only six percent of mediators, six percent of signatories, and 13 percent of negotiators in peace processes between 1992 and 2019. Broad-scale prevention work is scarce and women’s voices seldom heard. Meanwhile, rape continues. Sexual harassment continues. Violence continues. The costs of war continue to pile up. And all of it is now crucial to address in the context of increased insecurity, polarization, “weaponization”, and escalating dangers of unrest and conflict following the pandemic, as outlined in the UN Secretary-General’s last report on Women, Peace and Security. Major reductions in global armed violence will not be achieved without having full and equal participation around the table and a better understanding of the gendered linkages between the various forms of violence and dynamics of violence, insecurity and fragility. The UNSG argues that this is, fundamentally, “a crisis prevention agenda.” It is time to address gender inequality, discrimination, and conflict risks more seriously. Women are survivors and agents of change. We need to alter the narrative about women in small arms control — changing their representation from victims of violence to survivors, and to include their perspectives as influencers and leaders, imbued with the power to call for peace.

With few women around the table in arms controls discussions and peace negotiations, we also lose out on talent. After all, if we want to assemble the best minds to tackle our problems, why recruit from only half the population? By the same token, we need to converge the agendas of small arms control and the broader Women, Peace and Security Agenda. It’s crucial that women help to build the knowledge and evidence base for programming and policymaking, using approaches such as those laid out by the Small Arms Survey’s handbook. Essential efforts must also be made to adjust norms and values, address social stigma, fear of retaliation, and cultural acceptance of domestic violence which often dissuades women from reporting violence to the police and/or engaging in violence reduction programs or arms control.

So, we need to organize. And we need to build networks: stronger networks. We need to exchange learning and experiences, building bonds of knowledge and support. The Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control, hosted by The Pathfinders and sponsored by Germany,aims to make small arms control more gender-responsive and works to amplify international, regional, national, and local best practices among civil society organizations, women’s groups, conflict prevention, and development communities. The Pathfinders are aiming for further accelerated action in this area. And there are already several strong women involved in arms control and violence reduction, like Dr. Scilla ElworthyGhida Anani, Kasha Nabagesera and the SRSG on Violence Against Children, Najat Maalla M’jid.

Some say a woman’s weapon is her tongue. We say it is the networks, the solidarity among us, and the force of the fearless female combatants that have gone before us.