Nuclear Disarmament: Why a Gender Perspective Matters

"the future discourse of nuclear disarmament policies should particularly focus on the ones who are most impacted by the use of nuclear weapons: women"

13.400. That is the number of nuclear weapons existing in the world in 2020. These are possessed by nine major countries which are in fact the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.^1 Nuclear weapons could not only kill millions of people but they are also disastrous in terms of ionizing radiation that can have serious implications for the people and the environments that are exposed to it.^2 Despite the fact that they are mass destruction weapons and could accordingly create enormous harm, the possession of nuclear weapons is still justified in the international community.

One reason for that is that international security politics is characterized by the idea that the continuous threat of violence is stabilizing the international community and hence maintaining peace. Therefore, the possession of nuclear weapons rather prevents war than facilitates it.^3 Yet, there are counting scholars, movements, and organizations that question and challenge these established security theories.^4 Among others, a gender perspective contributes to a new security policy perspective on the issue.

So why does a gender perspective matter when we talk about nuclear disarmament? A gender perspective creates new points of view on the possession of nuclear weapons as a means of maintaining international peace. A study of the United Nation Institute for Disarmament Research outlines three crucial reasons why a gender perspective matters^5:

First, in the case of the detonation of nuclear weapons, women would be affected differently than men. In fact, women are more affected when it comes to psychological health, discrimination, or social stigma as an implication of a nuclear weapon detonation. After Chernobyl for example women reported experiencing more stress than men did.

Second, a gender perspective reveals to what extent the discourse and policies concerning nuclear weapons are gendered. It is implied that nuclear weapons are associated with masculinity and therefore valued higher than the disarmament of nuclear weapons, which is perceived as feminine and hence weak. Diversifying the debate about nuclear weapons by using a gender perspective is highly necessary as it can contribute to challenging established security policies and power relations.

Third, women are underrepresented in multilateral disarmament forums and therefore often not part of the decision-making when it concerns the topic of nuclear disarmament. Men are usually overrepresented in important forums where nuclear disarmament and international security are discussed. This is despite the knowledge that women are pivotal when it comes to negotiations of peace and security.^6

These reasons show that a gender perspective matters when it comes to nuclear disarmament. Even though we could observe positive developments such as the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in the last years, we can only see incremental change. This might be related to the fact that there is a deficiency of women involved in this process. Therefore, the future discourse of nuclear disarmament policies should particularly focus on the ones who are most impacted by the use of nuclear weapons: women.

1: outlook-arms-control-bleak-new-sipri-yearbook-out-now