By Shalini Nataraj, Director of Advocacy and Partnerships
For women around the globe who have struggled for decades to live free from the violence of militarism, the UN General Assembly vote to approve the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) came as a victory of sorts.
While the treaty is not as comprehensive or concrete as human rights advocates would wish with regard to ending the scourge of arms and armaments freely flowing around the globe, it is a start. It is a beginning towards codifying, in international law, policies and mechanisms to afford some level of transparency and accountability to the peoples of the world. It is a beginning for the millions of women whose communities and countries are torn apart by conflict every day.
The ATT prohibits countries that export arms to sell weapons if they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law. Most importantly, the ATT is the first treaty that recognizes the link between gender-based violence and the international arms trade. The ATT specifically makes it illegal to export weapons to countries or parts of the world where there might be a risk that the weapons will make women, men and children vulnerable to sexual violence.
The women in conflict situations and militarized societies can testify that the prevalence of weapons increases the occurrence of gender-based violence, as armed factions target women to “dishonor” and shame the other side. Also, highly militarized societies restrict women’s mobility and their ability to participate in the social and political issues that impact their lives.
Women’s organizations from all parts of the world such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the North-east of India, Colombia and the Balkan states developed sophisticated strategies to track the flow of small arms, document, and speak out about sexual violence as a result of conflict. Their goals are disarmament and reintegration of former soldiers, and they pressure their governments to bring perpetrators to justice. They demand transparency and accountability in national budgeting processes that place a higher priority on building war machines than on ensuring every citizen has the resources - food, clothing, shelter, education and jobs - to realize their full potential and live with dignity.
Although lacking in enforcement, hopefully the Arms Trade Treaty will cause some governments to pause, even a little, before putting profit and political interests first – above the lives of countless children, women and men.