Dismantling Patriarchal Structures in Disarmament and Security

Ana Mafalda Guimarães

Operations Team, SCRAP Weapons

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.

(Rebecca Johnson, Exectutive Director @Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy quoting Audre Lorde on SCRAP Weapons first webinar on Feminist Leadership in Disarmament)

For decades, women have fought the hierarchy that characterizes patriarchy, which is maintained by obedient norms and structures. While obedience has been challenged in more or less overt ways, resistance to the patriarchal structure of society has been underway for a long time. Furthermore, while patriarchal structures seem to characterize most of the modern world, things have not always been  this  despicable everywhere. Looking back in time, we can  see examples of non-patriarchal societies, for example in pre-colonial countries in Asia and Africa, which were  dismantled by western colonial powers.

Ever since the Beijing Conference adopted the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in the year 2000, there has been an  ongoing concern over the inclusion of women and gender mainstreaming in matters of peace, conflict and security. However, the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has stated in regards to the  participation of women in positions of political power “On the current trajectory, we won’t see gender parity in the highest office before 2150”. Clearly, we are still behind the curve in  several ways and admitting them always leaves a bitter taste of injustice and frustration.  However, I have learned that injustice is also the  force towards  activism and proactivity towards a better, more equal and inclusive world. It is the motor that keeps us going, because we won’t stop. This drive is the reason why women have sat  around tables where they were not invited, and brought their chairs  along in case there was none to spare. This defiant action also  recently took place in Liberia, where women’s role in the peace process was considered vital to its successful outcome.

Thus, while Resolution 1325 has advocated for women’s role in conflict management and resolution, as well as in creating sustainable peace, and has seen some improvement, most of their participation in these fields is insufficient and dominated by patriarchal structures.

Another one of patriarchy’s arms is still entrenched in the notions of security and the ideology  which still perpetuates the belief that possessing weapons ⎼ especially nuclear weapons through the “logic” of deterrence ⎼ are necessary for a safer world. When reflecting on the deterrence  notion of security, we are not looking at human-centered security, it is instead state-centered security, where the defense of state sovereignty is prioritized. Therefore, the public is led to believe that the survival of the state is a priority, and that nuclear weapons are a way of keeping themselves and the state (the blurriness of the two is on purpose) “safe”.  This is a belief that has been created and perpetuated by the patriarchal military culture. For instance,  when we ask who makes decisions on matters of security – the answer is often a typical white male.  However, what does security really mean? Is it the state that must be kept secure above all? Is security a meaning that can only be valid if given by a male? What about the voices and opinions of women,  gender-non-conforming people, children, indigenous communities,  minority groups and the Global South?

We – all of us outside of the male dominated room ⎼ have been affected by violence, war and conflict in many ways. Only recently, with the arrival of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)  ⎼ a result of the hard work of civil society and of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), activists and feminist like-minded people ⎼  our perspectives and experiences have been accounted for and victims’ suffering stated worthy of rehabilitation  with age- and gender-sensitive assistance. The TPNW, which counters the realist conception of security, provides instead a conception of security that puts the human being  at the centre – individuals who are directly affected by the disastrous effects of nuclear weapons and are very much better off without them.

However,  this idea of security  that advances a  world free of weapons, is considered irrational, futile, unworthy of consideration to the patriarchy. The dismissal of the perspectives of everyone else has been a tool for the perpetuity of the patriarchal system. However, the 122 countries that adopted the treaty in 2017 think differently. These 122 countries believe that nuclear weapons are not necessary to guarantee security and that there is a much more secure path to pursue instead, which is that of disarmament.

A research conducted by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in 2019 found that the number of women participating in arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament diplomacy has grown steadily over the last four decades, with a higher number of First Committee resolutions advocating for equal inclusion of gender perspectives. However, women remain underrepresented, especially at the level of the First Committee on International Security and Disarmament, where women representation is the lowest. Positions of higher leadership, such as heads of delegations are almost always male, especially when countries send only one representative.

While inclusive gender perspectives and the goal of reaching nuclear disarmament is embedded in the TPNW and gender mainstreaming is growing in disarmament affairs, there are still obstacles. These include  a group of realist driven  countries who refuse to accept the possibility of a different world. And it is there that they have failed monstrously. Because they not only fail to accept the possibility of another world, but even to actually open their eyes to see that it already exists ⎼  a world that is growing, flourishing, moving, strong and gentle. While they continue to keep their eyes  shut,  while imagining the veracity of their logic of deterrence, they fail to see the same logic crumbling around them.

While they continue in their line of thinking, we will carry on smashing  the ideology and hierarchical categories – as Ray Acheson would probably put it ⎼   which they have used to perpetuate their seat at the table.

We will continue to dismantle the master’s house.

Attend our webinar on Patriarchal Structures in Disarmament on 17 March, 2021 at 14.00 GMT by registering here.

Ana Mafalda Guimarães

Ana is a member of the Operations team at SCRAP weapons