Are women being heard in the nuclear disarmament debate? via World Economic Forum

This year marks seven decades since the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Commemorating this devastating event raises critical questions about efforts to eliminate and curb the spread of nuclear weapons. Among the many debates, there is, however, one pertinent question that is often overlooked: where are all the women?


An analysis of the UN Programme of Fellowships on Disarmament, which provides training for young government officials from UN member states, could provide insight. It provides a foundation for young diplomats to ‘participate more effectively in international disarmament deliberating and negotiating fora’. The programme was selected for the analysis since it has global reach and in 2000, for the first time, the report of the Secretary-General explicitly encouraged member states to consider gender equality when they nominate candidates to the programme.

The graph below shows women and men represented in the UN Programme of Fellowships on Disarmament between 1994 and 2014.


Overall, women have been better represented in the fellowship programme than in the NPT conferences. Of the 158 countries that have nominated candidates, 106 have sent at least one woman. Of these countries, 46 have had at least equal participation between men and women. The participation of women and men among African countries varied, as with other regions. Fellows consisted of women only; men only; more women than men and vice versa; or equal representation.

Though better represented in this platform, women are still underrepresented in 71% of countries that have sent participants to the fellowship. Efforts towards gender equality in the programme are commendable, however, and raise hope for greater gender equality in multilateral platforms such as the NPT Review Conferences.

These analyses make it clear that women and men are differently involved in initiatives, discussions and negotiations in arenas for curbing and eliminating nuclear weapons. There are other factors that might explain the underrepresentation of women, intended or unintended, in nuclear weapons platforms that merit further investigation. Which factors, for example, might dissuade women from considering a career in a field related to disarmament and arms control? Is there a marked shortfall of women with the relevant expertise, and if so, why?

Discussions on creating gender-equitable spaces might remain just that unless institutions and structures effectively implement policies to this end.

This calls for greater investment in resources to empower women through institutions and structures at the international, regional and national levels. It also requires policies that contribute to women’s education in peace and security; building women’s capacities in technical and male-dominated positions; and developing women as arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation experts.

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