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Gender in the Context of Women, Peace, and Security
U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament
May 23, 2023

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Turner’s Remarks to the Conference on Disarmament on Gender in the Context of Women, Peace and Security

Madame President,

Thank you for convening this plenary on Women, Peace and Security in the context of Disarmament. Thank you also to our distinguished panelists. Given this body’s complicated history of addressing gender issues, we greatly appreciate your leadership in keeping this issue on our agenda, even if, unfortunately, this plenary will be informal. We also had hoped it would be possible to have a frank discussion rather than deliver national statements, but I will follow the model provided and deliver a national statement then pose questions to the panelists.

This panel is an excellent opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves how the Conference on Disarmament could contribute to the broader discussion on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). Our expert panelists have provided valuable ideas and data to frame our considerations. Their remarks have clarified how our work here intersects with all four pillars of Women, Peace and Security as stated earlier – participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery.

When the United States became the first country comprehensively to integrate the United Nations Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security agenda into national law in 2017, it reflected our commitment to ensuring our diplomacy, policies, programs, and operations advance WPS globally. This commitment starts by looking inward and considering who is at the table doing this important work. We are guided by the principle that our diplomats should reflect the diverse voices that make up the United States, to include women. We do this by standardizing onboarding practices to eliminate deliberate or unconscious bias, and by taking a data-driven approach to remove barriers to recruiting, retaining, and promoting top talent.

Although we can welcome the trend toward more women entering the peace and security field, they continue to be underrepresented in peace and security bodies. Progress towards gender equality has been slower in disarmament fora than in other areas of multilateral diplomacy, the product of a decades-long tradition of majority male representation. In this context, we have now a unique opportunity to start a fresh page as we build new structures to address emerging security threats in areas like outer space and cyber. Member States should seek to integrate gender responsive policies into in the structures, policies, and workplaces of these organizations, potentially to include appointing gender specialists and providing adequate resources for gender considerations. We must carefully build gender diversity into the DNA of these new bodies from the start.

The U.S. National Space Council is an example of how the United States is doing precisely that. Chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, the Council comprises 19 space-related Departments, Agencies, and offices from across the government. This includes women leaders in the U.S. government, such as Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo; Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland; Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm; Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy Arati Prabhakar; and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young. The National Space Council staff that supports the Vice President in this role is also majority women.

This preponderance of women leaders is especially significant since men are not only disproportionately represented in security fora, but also fill an outsized proportion of leadership positions.  We don’t advocate for women in leadership simply for the sake of gender equity as a concept; we advocate for it because diverse decision-making bodies are best suited to develop effective policies, and because we know there is an abundance of talented women in this field to choose from. We must go beyond numbers and focus on promoting women’s full and meaningful participation in decision making.

There is a related need to reach young women, girls, and gender diverse persons at a younger age and earlier in the pipeline so they are prepared to serve in meaningful leadership positions. Programs such as those at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies Young Women in Nonproliferation Initiative, UNODA’s Women Scholarship for Peace, and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Program are central to this goal. We plan to discuss this topic further at the June plenary on Youth and Disarmament.

Madame President,

I would also once again continue to stress the necessity of updating the Conference’s rules of procedure to render them gender-neutral; at this point we all know that power, innovation, and leadership have no gender, so why do our rules of procedure? While we understand there may be some language challenges, the reality is that language has been fluid and changing since the dawn of time.

Improving gender diversity among practitioners in disarmament fora, however, is only one side of the coin. It is equally important to consider gender’s relevance to the substance of disarmament itself. There is a growing body of research revealing the intersection of gender with conventional, chemical, and biological weapons. The international community can draw upon this research to craft informed, gender responsive policies on these issues. For example, research shows that women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in peacekeeping operations leads to more effective community engagement and enhanced protection responses; it shows that the use of chemical weapons disproportionately affects women and children, with long-term communal and societal consequences; and we have all seen from the COVID-19 pandemic that gender roles can lead to different patterns of exposure to infectious disease, particularly when one gender shoulders most of the caregiving responsibilities for people who are ill. Additionally, the very concept of security is intersectional and one’s identity and situation in life can strongly shape a sense of security. Underrepresented communities may have different perceptions of security and how disarmament fits into it.

When it comes to our agenda items here in the CD, some delegations have argued that gender is not relevant to this body’s work. Given the robust evidence cited above on the gendered implications of other international security issues, it strikes us as naive to imagine there would be no similar connection between gender and nuclear disarmament or our other agenda items. In our view, the question is not whether gender intersects with CD issues, but how. If we wish to craft policies and instruments in this body that consider the needs of all those they affect, we need more research to inform our approach. In other words, we need to understand the details of how the Women, Peace and Security agenda intersects with the substance of disarmament, similar to what is already occurring within other regimes such as the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, as well as the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conferences.

Madame President,

One of the first things I did when I arrived in Geneva was become an International Gender Champion. I did so out of the dual convictions that women must have a seat at the table when consequential peace and security decisions are made, and consideration for the gendered impact of international security issues can help us form effective, well-reasoned approaches to disarmament. This is why I have been providing U.S. delegations to multilateral disarmament meetings in Geneva with tools – including the International Gender Champion’s gender in disarmament toolkit – to identify areas of potential gendered impact in negotiations and outcome documents, and encourage them to apply a gender lens to their work. It is my hope that these efforts will pave the way for 21st century disarmament policies that address the full range of experiences.

As for the questions that I would then direct to our distinguished panelists, I came up with three:

  • How could the CD contribute to the broader discussion on Women, Peace, and Security?
  • What is the best way to integrate WPS into the CD’s regular work? Essentially the inverse of my first question.
  • On what topics do we need additional research regarding the intersection of gender and disarmament? Here I would note the difference between participation and substantive issues – are we better served by addressing those together or addressing them separately?

Thank you, Madame President.