Breaking The Link Between Guns & Masculinity

On 3 March 2008, Widad took part in a panel titled The Impact of Guns on Women’s Lives, organised by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. Other speakers included Dr. Wendy Cukier from Ryerson University and Mr. Daniel Prins, UNODA Conventional Arms Branch Chief.

“Male-dominated societies frequently justify small arms possession by claiming that they are necessary to protect defenseless women. But what we see instead is that these very women become victims of gun violence…
Rape as form of ethnic cleansing, as well as a war strategy has been going on for a long time… It is important to note that the trauma of rape does not end when conflict does.”

UN Commission on the Status of Women, New York, USA

Statement by Dr. Widad Akreyi

Date: Monday, 3 March 2008

Time: 1.15pm – 2.45pm

Room: UN HQ Conference Room 2

Statement title: “Breaking the Link Between Guns and Masculinity”

“Distinguished diplomats,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to present our views on violence and masculinity. It is particularly relevant for me to do so because of my professional experiences from previous projects in countries, where every child must understand the different kinds and levels of masculinity in their society. From the earliest age, the link between guns as symbols of manhood and authority is made clear, and the consequences of this are devastating.

It is a well-known fact that men account for the vast majority of victims of arm violence. So, male decision-makers on small arms and light weapons are developing strategies that focus exclusively on men. Women are seen only as solely victims; their work is unrecognized and unrewarded. Women continue to have restricted access to decision-making despite working longer hours.

However the link between gender and armed violence is not so black or white. For example, some men are actively involved in arms control campaigns, and are working alongside women to challenge existing cultures of male dominance. Some women and girls take parts in the battles, either willingly, or because they have been kidnapped and forced to partake in combat. Women and girl soldiers like these cross traditional gender lines by adopting masculine values. They may learn to view guns through masculine eyes and view them as tools of empowerment. And of course many female combatants are forced to commit atrocities with these firearms.

Male-dominated societies frequently justify small arms possession by claiming that they are necessary to protect defenseless women. But what we see instead is that these very women then become victims of gun violence. In Darfur, the janjawid militias are shaping gender-roles by manifesting their masculinity with gross violations of human rights. Their attacks forced hundreds of thousands of women and children to flee to eastern Chad.

Rape as form of “ethnic cleansing,” as well as a “war strategy” has been going on for a long time. Women are raped at gunpoint, and guns are used as instruments of rape. It is important to note that the trauma of rape does not end when conflict does. Rape victims and sexually enslaved women continue to suffer gross humiliation and stigma in their communities. Offspring conceived as a result of rape also face the stigma of being labeled as “enemy children.”

Some groups reassert their masculinity through demonstrating severe repression and violence against women. They appeal to traditional religious customs to restrict women’s mobility and participation in social and political life. This can lead to men believing they have the right to kill women who are seen to be disobedient. Evidence of this tendency can be seen in Iraq, where many women are killed in brutal “honour killings” or targeted simply because of their political affiliations. In Southern Iraq, in Basra, 133 women were killed last year; 79 of the victims were charged by extremists with violating the teachings of Islam. I had hoped those days were over. But surely the influx of more firearms into Iraq will only make it easier for sectarian groups to try to impose a strict interpretation of religious doctrine. Masculine ideology or anti-feminism is the dominant pattern.

So what can be done to reduce gun-violence committed against women, especially in these regions that have a deep-rooted connection between guns and masculinity? In 2006, The UN Special Rapporteur on small arms Professor Barbara Frey focused on the role of women in preventing conflict and urged initiatives to break this link.

In this context, there are several possible entry points:

* Investigating issues relating to young men. It is important to prevent young men’s risk for involvement in armed violence by providing individual programmes, alternative sources of admiration, safe and stable home environments and a range of economic options.

* Education about gender and peace. It is crucial to adopt awareness programmes about the real risks of having guns in homes. Education strategies to promote peace should consider all relations of dominance.

* Demilitarization of society must be the main goal. In other words, transformation of society from military logic to civil logic and from male masculinity to a multidimensional masculinity. Demilitarization involves questions of security and identity. Combatants who surrender their weapons may feel surrendering power and identity. By demanding considerable change of men’s practices and providing redefinition of male identity and alternative models of masculinity the perceived link between manliness and guns will break towards a new cultural gender balance.

* Building the capacity of the police and military personnel. By training them to protect all members of the community and applying international human rights principles on the use of force and firearms, so that citizens trust them and communities do not feel the need to arm themselves, as well as reducing the chance of impunity for human rights violations committed by officials. A “unisex” military and police will help to break the link between masculinity and power. Women must not dismiss enforcing the law as men’s business.

* Former combatants and former gang members can act most powerfully for change in challenging links between violent expressions of masculinity and the gun culture.

* The link between masculinity and crime has received limited attention in criminaljustice policy. By developing strategic approach, through working with offenders, this link can be investigated and possibly broken.

* Finally, the key step towards building a culture of peace lies in the question of equality between the sexes. Women should engage in the peace- and security studies and analysis of weapons at all levels, because there is a connection between guns, gender inequality and conflicts.

In conclusion, practice of masculinity as a dynamic concept is constantly evolving and changing. This gives reasons for hope, for more gender-friendly growth frameworks on post conflict reconstruction, peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Thank you for your attention.”

Dr. Widad

CSW, UN, NY, March 2008