5 Reasons Why Feminists Should Care About Disarmament

Image credit: WILPF

By WILPF International Secretariat

On International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament 2023, WILPF shares five key reasons why feminists should care about disarmament and demilitarization. What are the key links between disarmament and working towards gender equality, economic justice, addressing the ecological crisis, promoting peace and security, and the transformative power of feminist activism in driving meaningful change?

Nearly four decades ago, in the early 1980s, women activists and peacemakers came together to forge a significant milestone making 24 May the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. Ever since, this day has become a powerful rallying point in the ongoing pursuit for a more peaceful and equitable world.

Throughout our history, WILPF has fearlessly confronted the destructive forces of war and violence, advocating tirelessly for a world free from the shackles of militaristic dominance. We have also worked to illuminate the intricate connections between weapons and gender, which are important to understand in order to achieve demilitarisation. 

Reason 1: Disarmament Is Essential to Achieving Gender Equality

Can we break the cycle? The detrimental link between militarism and gender-based violence cannot be ignored. Within conflict zones and in times of “peace”, militarism perpetuates the horrifying cycle of gender-based violence, exacerbating the existing inequalities between men and women. Women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately subjected to sexual violence at the hands of military forces, while the presence of weapons also facilitates such violence within their own homes and communities. 

By reducing the prevalence of weapons in society, disarmament can help prevent gender-based violence.

Moreover, the reallocation of resources from bloated military spending to vital social services, such as healthcare and education, can create a ripple effect of empowerment. Access to comprehensive healthcare and quality education not only improves women’s and LGBTQ+ peoples’ well-being, but also enhances their opportunities, equipping them with the tools they need to thrive and contribute to society.

In embracing disarmament as an integral part of the feminist movement, we actively work towards dismantling the structures that perpetuate gender inequality and gender-based violence. By striving for a world free from the grip of militarism, we empower marginalised people and foster a future where gender equality thrives.

Reason 2: Disarmament Can Lead to Economic Justice

Have you ever wondered about the true cost of militarism? In 2022 world military expenditure reached a new record of $2240 billion. Excessive military spending not only drains valuable resources, but it also widens the chasm of economic inequality. Vital funds that could be invested in social services and economic development are diverted, perpetuating poverty and deepening the disparities that plague our society. 

Additionally, the culture of fear and insecurity fostered by militarism disproportionately impacts women and marginalised communities, hindering their economic empowerment. By dismantling this culture through disarmament, we can create a more inclusive and economically just society, where women and LGBTQ+ people have equal access to economic opportunities and can contribute to sustainable development.

Disarmament holds the potential to be a catalyst for transformative change, paving the way towards economic justice. Through the redirection of resources, we have the power to uplift and empower women and marginalised communities. Education, healthcare, and poverty reduction programs form the bedrock of empowerment, and through disarmament, we can channel resources into these critical areas. Let’s seize this opportunity to reshape our world, where economic justice thrives hand in hand with disarmament.

Reason 3: Disarmament Plays a Key Role in Addressing the Ecological Crisis

Have you ever considered the environmental toll of military operations and weapons production? These activities contribute to the degradation of the planet, fueling air, soil, and water pollution, deforestation, and exacerbating the climate crisis. For example, the US military alone surpasses the pollution output of approximately 140 countries. Consuming vast amounts of liquid fuels and emitting substantial climate-changing gases, it ranks among the largest polluters in history, exacerbating our global environmental challenges.

Disarmament can be a powerful solution to address the climate crisis and promote sustainable development.

By ending or reducing the scale of military operations and weapons production, we can significantly decrease carbon emissions and minimise the environmental impact of these activities. This shift towards a more sustainable approach not only benefits the planet but also has tangible benefits for women and marginalised communities. As they often bear the brunt of environmental degradation and are disproportionately affected by its consequences.

Through disarmament, we can forge a path towards a greener future, where the health of the planet is safeguarded, and the well-being of all communities, especially those most vulnerable, is prioritised. Disarmament, and the abolition of war, is a vital step towards building a sustainable and equitable world for generations to come.

Reason 4: Disarmament is a Catalyst for Peace and Security

Are you sure militarism is an indispensable prerequisite for maintaining peace? Militarism not only contributes to the escalation and perpetuation of conflicts worldwide, but it also fuels arms races and amplifies the proliferation of weapons.

By reducing the availability of weapons and dismantling the pervasive culture of fear and insecurity that nurtures violence, disarmament significantly lowers the probability of conflicts erupting. It creates a path towards embracing diplomatic solutions, urging nations to unite in cooperation rather than succumbing to confrontations. Through disarmament, we can pave the way for a world where dialogue, understanding, and collaboration prevail over hostility and strife.

As feminists, embracing disarmament is not merely a symbolic gesture, but a powerful and transformative step towards forging a world of peace and security for all. By dismantling the structures that perpetuate militarism, we can create an environment where conflicts are averted, lives are spared, and the foundations for sustainable peace are laid. Together, we must stand in solidarity and champion disarmament as a fundamental pillar of lasting peace, justice, and global harmony.

Reason 5: Feminist Activism is a Driving Force in Promoting Disarmament

Feminist activism has played a pivotal role in driving the agenda for disarmament and advocating for peace and security. Across the globe, courageous feminists have spearheaded powerful campaigns and advocacy efforts, leaving an indelible mark on the disarmament movement. Notable examples include the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will (RCW), and the inspiring Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in the UK.

What sets feminist activism apart is its unwavering commitment to peace, justice, and human security.

Feminist perspectives bring to the forefront the disproportionate impact of militarism on women and marginalised communities. By incorporating these perspectives into disarmament initiatives, we can forge more inclusive and effective solutions that prioritise the needs and rights of all individuals. 

Feminists have also highlighted the ways in which discourse and policymaking about weapons is dominated by gender norms, in particular by “militarised masculinities” that see violence as strength and weapons as security. The feminist and queer theory brings forward alternative perspectives, language, and approaches that see real strength in disarmament, negotiation, and collective peace rather than war and bloodshed.

The active engagement of feminists in the disarmament movement is crucial, as it ensures that the voices of those most affected by militarism are heard and that the pursuit of peace encompasses the pursuit of gender equality and social justice. Together, feminists can continue to be powerful agents of change, advancing disarmament and paving the way for a future of peace, equality, and collective well-being. Are you joining us

Expand Your Knowledge: Recommendations for Deepening Your Understanding of Disarmament and Feminism

If you’re enthusiastic about delving deeper into the subject of disarmament and its pivotal role in fostering peace and security, explore the following recommendations to broaden your understanding:

Listen to Think & Resist: What about WPS and Disarmament? and learn more about the intersection between the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and disarmament. 

Read Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy by Ray Acheson, and explore how dismantling nuclear weapons and challenging patriarchal structures go hand in hand.

Watch How gender relates to arms control and disarmament and dive into the gender (im)balance in arms control and disarmament, as well as the relevance of gender as an analytical perspective in international security discussions. 

Watch Patriarchal Structures in Disarmament and investigate the rhetoric and power structures that underpin the disarmament discourse.