IANSA Making gun control accessible to women

Women may be involved in development or other matters, but not necessarily aware of the impact of guns and small arms on their lives. They may be aware of the cost of gun violence on their communities and their personal lives, but may think it is not in their place to interfere. Lastly they may know all about gun violence, but may lack the confidence to become interlocutors with national or international organizations – that is where International Action Network on Small Arms, IANSA, women’s network comes in.

“Our goal is bring women from the women’s movement into the small arms movement and to get the small arms movement to think about women,” said Sarah Masters the coordinator of IANSA women’s network, a network that is present wherever women take the issue of gun violence to heart, creating platforms for women to connect to governments and international organizations, connecting grass roots initiatives and holding out the possibility of women-only forums where technical information can more easily flow and women’s voices be heard.

“In Burundi local women are participating in a disarmament movement, it can happen there, it can happen in the UK” said Masters, adding: “there is no inevitability in gun violence, by taking away the tools that facilitate violence against women, you do not end it, but it becomes less lethal.” More in this exclusive interview given to Comunidad Segura.

How do you get women involved in reducing gun violence?

A lot of women’s organizations do not focus on guns, it is just one aspect of their work, they might be working in human rights or democracy or women’s health but find that they are being affected negatively by guns and gun violence. At IANSA we provide them with opportunities for involvement in campaigns against small arms such as for example the global week of action against gun violence we hold every June

And locally?

Joining IANSA women’s network is also a way to acknowledge that there is a problem even, because in some places even when it is understood there is a problem it is difficult for women to take a stand. It may pose a threat to some of the men, and the men are often the ones to have the guns.

Can you give me an example?

Well I am thinking of Burundi, where local women’s disarmament initiatives Dagropass Amagaranikindi, led a community disarmament initiative in Bubanza province to encourage weapons collection and destruction. Weapons were collected and officially given to provincial authorities on 31 August 2007. The initiative raised awareness that 2 people are killed by guns every day in the province. It also highlighted the fact that weapons from Bubanza can circulate throughout Burundi. The women however are also being threatened by local men who are not their friends or relations. The question they ask is ‘why do you want to take our guns away from us’?

What do you do as network coordinator?

Part of my remit is to try to bring local initiatives such as these closer to people at the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, the department of Peacekeeping Operations, for example, the people who work with ddr (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). What I do is to ask them not just listen to these women, but to provide support. I have recently been informed, for example, that a group of local women took matters into their own hands and collected 17 guns. Now, it is significant, these are 17 guns taken away from people who might use them.

Your network is global, and gun violence covers a wide range of situations. What role does gun control play for women in Africa especially?

The Democratic Republic of Congo has unparalleled levels of sexual violence and a lot of that sexual violence is being facilitated by guns. I met an amazing doctor from Panzi hospital, he fixes women whose vaginas have been destroyed. Dr Mukwege from the DR Congo, told me that some armed groups actually shoot women after raping them, so as to mark them and send a message. Dr Mukwege believes it is a specific tactic designed to break down the community structure, one that we had not been aware of. This is to say that there are ways in which guns contribute to violence against women that need to be brought to light, and of course, eliminated.

How do you connect people in grass roots organizations to Iansa women’s network?

It is about making the particular connection between violence and guns. Dr Mukwege has been involved with violence against women for some time, but he was not really thinking about the guns. This often happens to Iansa members, suddenly the light bulb goes on and you realize the role that guns play, in events and in the communities.

Of course this is just as true for the DR Congo as it is for the UK. You imagine the inevitability of guns, but of course that does not need to happen, it can be changed. You can remove the instruments of violence, and while it does not do away with violence altogether, it reduces the threat of lethal violence. We also we know that knives and machetes do facilitate violence, but not quite the same way as a gun.

Isn’t the gun control challenge facing women in Africa too great?

The good news is that it is not impossible, because we have many many members doing things on different levels. There are women working in community engagements, others are taking it to the next level, sitting in commissions, in national commissions on small arms, in the judiciary, in the military. There is an effort underway to have women included at various levels.

Do you train women, raise awareness? Instruct and educate?

We tend to have really active members in the countries, and they will contact new groups and show materials that we created. The secretariat may have materials in English and Spanish, now in Portuguese. We like to provide support to people who are already involved. In Kenya there is KANSA the Kenya action network for small arms, there is the Swedish one, SANSA, IANSA members have created their own national networks. They are autonomous, they can do so.

Those with experience in gun collection drives worry that guns once collected become a burden, they need to be stored in a safe place, deactivated, registered..

Yes that is true, I hear, get an email from groups that they say we’ve connected 17 guns and a few grenades and etc. I worry, because they say, we’ve given them to the police, and there is always the concern that these weapons may make their way back into circulation. This is a concern I have raised with the UN department of disarmament affairs, although we do not have funding to support all of these initiatives.

Has IANSA developed procedures addressing this?

We have multiple roles in our network, it is not our purpose to create things that some of our members are creating. We have members who may be focusing on disarmament processes and procedures, it is their job. It is our job to find out about what our members are involved in and promote it rather than doing it ourselves.

So IANSA Women’s network is more of a forum?

That too, a forum but also an opportunity to get women involved, mobilizing women in the women’s movement There is the need for women only spaces in the small arms movement, I feel. It is seen as very technical, it is male dominated, a lot of it is linked to military security. We need to take it back, think about human security, the community, the home, not because of some stereotypical vision of women, but because that is where they are most in danger. We will launch in June a Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign to raise awareness, we are going to start in 10 countries to begin with. We want to raise awareness of policies and laws that can be implemented, and the training that is needed to be able to implement it, to separate perpetrators from guns in a domestic setting.

You agree that women are more indirectly affected by gun violence than men?

Where statistics are available men are 80 to 90% of men are the ones more directly affected by gun violence, in terms of deaths. The women are affected in a more indirect manner that ranges from gun possession in the home used for intimidation, to armed conflict facilitating violence and sexual aggression. Women are often needed as caregivers for those disabled by gun violence, they can be forced into becoming the main economic provider. Some women are involved in armed gangs and conflict but in the main it is the men. Women have a huge burden when you consider how relatively few of them are using or carrying of weapons.

What of the role of women engaging in a culture of gun violence?

There is some research coming out on that in Brazil, we are not right now involved in that. Iansa does have a youth network, with a potential to address gender perspectives with younger people.

How does the network provide support for women’s organizations in concrete terms?
The facilitation of information flow, finding out that something is happening, sharing that with someone else, using this as a model for other members in the network. The issue of solidarity is a huge one, particularly because women are facing huge pressures and problems, to feel they are part of something bigger gives them strength to carry on, the opportunity to participate in formal meetings, national, regional, international meetings. This is an important role in the women’s network, to bring women from the women’s movement into the small arms movement and to get the small arms movement to think about women.

You mentioned the need for women-only meetings, could you explain that a little further?

We tend to have different experiences to men, and our ways of sharing experiences and strategies are different. Women-only events provide an important safe space for women who may find that the small arms movement is a quite inaccessible. There needs to be some kind of entry point, at the women’s network they get to go to these fora, to know what is happening.

At the UN meeting last year we had our own women’s only meetings, as well as side events with a mixed public and all women speakers. One interesting result was that our discussions resulted in for the Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign, something that perhaps would not have emerged otherwise.

Have you taken this idea to local chapters too?

A lot of the women tend to do that anyway, although the network does also include men, it engages and acknowledges men, it is a fundamental space that we can provide so that we can hear each others voices.

The next step?

Women-only training in small arms that includes gun technology, policy, laws, the UN process, disarmament to name a few aspects. Training also allows women who have the knowledge but not the confidence, to reassert themselves as experts, so they are able to talk to the government, or to go to the UN and speak to a member state as a delegate. It is about empowerment, it is about creating opportunities, and allowing them to think that it may be their place to do so. We have to do a lot more capacity building.


Read Further: IANSA the International Action Network on Small Arms

See also:
* The Peace Studies Group and the Observatory on Gender and Armed Violence (OGVA) are joining with others around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, which took place on Sunday 24 May, 2009, and acknowledge some of our achievements and activism from the past 12 months.
* IFOR’s Women Peacemakers Programme has developed an Action Pack to mark 24 May which highlights challenges that women activists face in both the Balkans and the Caucasus and elaborates on the strategies these women apply to deal with the challenges. It contains reflections on the peace processes and women activism in Kovoso/a, and humanitarian interventions in Georgia and Kosovo/a. The Global Fund for Women contributed with an article reflecting on gatherings they organized in both the Balkans and the Caucasus. The role that music can play in reconciling people is discussed by Musicians without Borders. The Action Pack is complemented by interviews with Women in Black, Kvinna till Kvinna and the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia. (pdf file)

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