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Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Bypasses Gender Parity


By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS. 9 August 2023 (IDN) — The United Nations has been a vociferous and longstanding advocate of gender empowerment in its political, social and economic agenda characterized by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including poverty and hunger eradication, quality education, human rights and climate change.

But it has remained relatively silent on the yawning gender disparity on the campaign for nuclear disarmament, which has been overwhelmingly dominated by men.  (P14) JAPANESE | THAI | TURKISH

In her 23 July presentation, titled Gender inclusivity and approaches to enhance the NPT Review Process, Vanessa Lanteigne, a Rotary Peace Fellow and representative of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), pointed out that in 2019, 76% of heads of delegations to the NPT were men, and that since 2000, all of the Presidents/Chairs of the NPT Prep-Coms have been male and only one President of an NPT Review Conference has been a woman.

She proposed that NPT institute targets for gender inclusion in State Parties’ delegations, with sanctions for imbalanced delegations similar to those applied by Inter-Parliamentary Union for its assemblies.

Lanteigne also noted that a fully-realized gender equality requires that issues, views, and approaches relating to characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity are both fully represented in security frameworks.

She cited the assessment by Ireland in its working paper Gender in the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the NPT Review process has traditionally taken a ‘one -dimensional security approach to addressing nuclear weapons, in terms of the issues which are prioritised’.

She proposed that the NPT establish a subsidiary body to explore nuclear non-proliferation, risk-reduction and disarmament issues in a broader security framework of common and human security incorporating gender, peace, diplomacy, conflict resolution and international law.

Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director at Western States Legal Foundation, told IDN it is completely obvious that women and gender non-conforming people are grossly under-represented in the NPT process.

“And it’s a matter of common sense that people of all genders should be equal partners in making decisions as consequential as the future of nuclear weapons”, she said.

It is also possible that establishing policies like the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s targets for gender balance in States Parties’ delegations to the NPT—enforced, if necessary, by voting sanctions, could help lead the way to improvements in gender equity in delegations’ home countries, said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

However, when talking about how to challenge the seemingly intractable centrality of nuclear threats as an instrument of global domination, she argued, having equal participation in the discussion by all genders will not solve the problem.

“What is needed is a fundamental transformation in the mindset, values, and practices of the institutions that continue to place the construct of “national security” above the increasingly pressing need for universal “human security,” declared Cabasso.

Shampa Biswas, Judge & Mrs. Timothy A. Paul Chair of Political Science and Professor of Politics at Whitman College, Washington told IDN “It is appalling that we are still talking about gender parity in 2023!”.

“If there is one takeaway from Christopher Nolan’s recent film “Oppenheimer,” it is that the nuclear field has been male-dominated from the very start,” she pointed out.

However, although many fields have made great strides toward gender inclusivity, the nuclear policy-making field still remains woefully behind, said Biswas, is an international relations theorist specializing in postcolonial theory and nuclear politics.

“If we are serious about nuclear disarmament, it is imperative that we diversify the field in substantial ways to include voices that can draw attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons from a variety of perspectives and help redefine the meaning of security away from its masculinist, militarist connotations”.

Women’s voices, she said, are critical to that endeavor.

“I support the idea of instituting targets for more gender-inclusive delegations but wish there was a way to do this via incentives rather than penalties,” declared Biswas.

In her 23 July presentation on further strengthening the review process of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Lanteigne said the NPT Review process would be enriched, strengthened and made more effective by elevating gender inclusivity and approaches because we could then access a full range of security approaches to our global challenges. 

Gender inclusivity and approaches mean firstly that different sexes (male, female and nondeterminate) are included equitably in decision-making processes and leadership positions within the security sector.

And secondly, that diverse gender perspectives, issues and approaches to peace and security are meaningfully incorporated in order to utilize a more diverse, comprehensive and holistic security framework. Integrating these two principles that will support Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which, “stressed the importance of ‘equal participation and full involvement’ of women and the need to increase [women’s] role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution”.

Meanwhile, Sustainable Development Goal 5 focuses on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. 

There are indicators that state parties are not only aware and willing to work towards gender equity and inclusion but are actively referencing and promoting it on their own.

At the 2019 PrepCom more than 20 statements were made on behalf of over 60 State Parties addressing the importance of gender perspectives to the NPT, Lanteigne said.

Three papers were submitted directly related to nuclear issues and gender, and eight working papers included references to the links.

Reviewing policies to support equal access to participation is important because it is correlated with improved organizational efficiency and innovative capacity by including more diverse expertise resulting in creative solutions and sustainable developments.

But a gender-inclusive approach should be supplemented by gender-diverse analyses as well. Gender equality requires that issues, views, and approaches relating to characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity are both fully represented in security frameworks.

Research reports that participants in nuclear negotiations perceive that the field has rewarded characteristics, expertise and experiences that are more commonly associated with men, such as toughness, seriousness, risk-taking and military-training.

Such negotiations would be enhanced, and have more possibility for success, if they broadened the ‘diplomatic tool-box’ to also include ‘feminine’ approaches of flexibility, compromise, multi-faceted problem solving, compassion and human interaction (focusing on the people involved and not just the topics), she argued.  

An example of a gender-inclusive approach which could hold lessons for the NPT Review Process comes from the Inter-Parliamentary Union Gender Partnership Group which was instituted to ensure that gender-diverse perspectives were incorporated and that the inclusion of women was not just a numerical representation but holistic in terms of representing security approaches more often associated with women.

Other examples of gender-inclusive principles and approaches can be found in the feminist foreign policies adopted by Canada, Germany, Ireland and Sweden among others.

These political steps forward, though, remain at risk of being rolled back like in the case of Sweden by succeeding governments highlighting the need to institutionalize the importance of gender in international organizations and procedures.  

“We propose that the NPT establishes a subsidiary body to explore nuclear non-proliferation, risk reduction and disarmament issues in a broader security framework of common and human security incorporating gender, peace, diplomacy, conflict resolution and international law.”

“This broader framework of common and human security will be beneficial to giving gender-diverse perspectives opportunities to participate in conflict resolution and security fields to ensure that inclusivity is fully and substantively implemented and symbolic tokenism is avoided.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Vanessa Lanteigne, Program Officer at Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), presenting proposals on Gender Inclusivity at the NPT Working Group at the UN on 23 July.

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