In an interview with an Amnesty International researcher last year, a female survivor of armed violence in the Cote d’Ivoire told her story.
“On Saturday [18 December 2010] they took me and five other women into a room. It was in the morning. There were three of them. They told us to undress. I refused. One of them hit me with his knife. I told him it was not human. He said: ‘We will see about that’. He took his gun out and I was obliged to yield.”
The threat from a knife might have been challenged, but the use of a firearm made the situation non-negotiable and prevented five women from protecting themselves.
Tragically, this is not an isolated case. It could also be taking place in Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the great majority of gun owners around the world are men, women and girls are disproportionately affected by gun violence. All too often, having a gun empowers and emboldens the individual holding the weapon to take advantage of those perceived as easy targets. Discrimination against women and girls, and their unequal status and power in many societies, make them more vulnerable and easy targets for an armed aggressor. Even when armed conflict is officially over, the culture of violence and the presence of surplus guns result in continued gender-based violence in homes and communities.
Each year from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) through December 10 (International Human Rights Day), non-governmental organizations around the world, including Amnesty International, participate in a 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. This year’s theme is: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against
Women! A major factor in the commission of gender-based violence is the proliferation and lack of effective oversight and regulation of the international arms trade and the resulting easy access to guns and ammunition.
About 60% of human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International involve the use of small arms and light weapons. The irresponsible transfer of weapons, ammunition and military equipment across international borders has contributed to the loss of millions of lives and the perpetration of gender-based violence globally.
As the largest arms exporter in the world, the United States has not just an opportunity, but an obligation, to do something to reduce this violence. Just the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are responsible for 88% of the global trade in small arms: the United States, Russia, the UK, China, and France. The US is responsible for over 1/3 of the trade.
In March 2013, negotiations will reopen to set limits on the transfer of small arms and light weapons across international borders. Amnesty International is calling for a robust Arms Trade Treaty that will explicitly prohibit arms transfers, which could be used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence.