Women Representation in Disarmament and Peace Building: Where Are We at?

Livia Cesa

Operations Team, SCRAP Weapons


2020 marks the 25th anniversary from the Beijing Declaration, which promoted the most visionary agenda in  terms of gender equality in many areas, including security. Women still constitute a small percentage within  peace building processes, disarmament and non-proliferation: for example, in between 1992 and 2019 only  6% of treaties’ signatories are women. Seven out of ten peace building processes have no women involved.  Recent evidence has shown that women’s presence in these processes enhances the durability of the treaties  and reduces the probability of conflicts to break out. Therefore, the exclusion of women not only overlooks their  contribution, but also ignores a potential strategy for fostering stability. These issues have been addressed  through some international declarations and UN Resolutions; nevertheless progress has yet to be seen.  We need the civil society to keep advocating for higher inclusion of women and the international institutions  to be more audacious in its commitments.  

During the last century, we have seen a number of women’s organisations in support of peace and  disarmament: the Women International League for Peace and Freedom during WWI, the European  Women Against Nuclear Armament in the 1960s and the Women’s Peace Movement in the 1980s, to  name a few. While these movements protested mainly for international peace and international  feminism, in the last two decades women have been calling for more participation in disarmament  and peace building processes. As a matter of fact, the almost complete absence of women in  platforms for peace building, conflict prevention, disarmament, and non-proliferation is  both astonishing and revealing. 

The lack of involvement of women in these processes is explained by the mainstream rhetoric that  sees men as violent, women as peaceful: war is a matter of men, and weapons are for boys;  women are victims of violence and conflicts and cannot be perpetrators. Therefore, they do not have nor need a space when it comes to disarmament and deployment of troops at the end of a  conflict.  

Useless to say how limiting and damaging this rhetoric is. To begin with, women can be and are  active parts of conflicts, by supporting armed groups or opposing violence. In addition, women  represent the majority of displaced people during conflicts and are those affected the most by  violence, as they are the first to be affected when infrastructures collapse and are expected to  take care of injured/harmed people. Not representing women in post-conflict scenarios, thus, means ignoring a large part of the actors and this inevitably causes a series of problems. How can we  expect peace treaties to be durable if they have been negotiated ignoring part of those involved in  the conflict? For the sake of stability and durability of the peace, we would not exclude an armed  group from peace talks, thus why are women systematically underrepresented if not outright excluded?  Moreover, the aftermath of a civil war is often followed by a baby boom: if women are not involved in peace building, there is a high risk of having large uneducated families, which are more likely to  be radicalised.  

Women can cover different roles in conflicts: they can be active soldiers, supporters – such as  nurses or caregivers – or dependents – daughters and wives of combatants. Although all these  roles are becoming more visible, women still have no representation when the conflict ends and peace building begins. Between 1992 and 2012 women represented 8%in delegations and less  than 3% in signatories.  

Multilateral diplomacy has been trying to improve women’s participation through declarations and  resolutions. one of the most famous is the Beijing Declaration and Platform for  Action (1995) promoted by UN Women. Its agenda was one of the most visionary and progressive  for women and girls and the “Generation Equality” campaign aimed to remove the systemic  barriers that hold women back from equal participation and access to all areas of life, including  security, peace-building and disarmament.  

In 2000, the United Nations recognised through Security Council Resolution 13/25 the importance  of adopting a gender perspective in peace building. This was a watershed moment, as the world  recognised the different needs of men, women and children in post-conflict scenarios; in addition,  the resolution included increased women participation in decision making, attention to specific  protection to women and children and gender perspective in UN programming.  

Yet, no mention was made about the “tools” of violence, and “disarmament” was only mentioned  in the DDR (disarmament, deployment and reintegration) programming context. Only ten years  later, in 2010, the UN General Assembly addressed for the first time the specific contribution of women in preventing and reducing armed violence in non-conflict  contexts  through the Resolution 65/69.  

Thus, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, the 20th of the Security Council  Resolution 13/25, and the 10th Resolution 65/69. Yet, since then we have been witnessing  little improvements: from 3% of signatories in the period 1992-2012, women are on average 6%  in the period 1992-2019 and from 8% of women in delegations in 1992-2012 period, to 19%.  Seven peace building processes out of ten still have no woman.  

This protracted failure in including women in peace building processes not only overlooks their  contributions, but also ignores a potential strategy that would enhance security around the world.  As a matter of fact, new evidence shows that women’s participation increases stability  and reduces conflicts. Then, why not be more inclusive? What is this continuous  underrepresentation due to?  

With the 25th anniversary of the “Generation Equality” campaign, we can expect UN Women to  advocate more towards women’s inclusion in disarmament, non-proliferation, peace building and  arms control. 



Livia Cesa

Operations Team, SCRAP Weapons