This post was written by Sylvia Mishra, a Herbert Scoville Jr. Fellow working with NTI’s Global Nuclear Policy Program. Previously, Mishra was a visiting fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), in Monterey, Calif. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Hindu College, University of Delhi, a Master of Science in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Master of Arts in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies from Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Over the last two decades, international organizations increasingly have focused on the importance of the full, participation of women in discussions and work around nuclear policy, nonproliferation, disarmament, and related issues. It is now widely accepted that gender parity is critical to maintaining international peace and security—but that acceptance doesn’t always translate into practice.
integration of women was enhanced in 2001 when the United Nations Office for
Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) began mainstreaming gender perspective into its work through
a set of briefing notes on Gender Perspectives on Disarmament. Nine years
later, in 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution
on ‘Women, disarmament proliferation and arms control’ to address the impact of
disarmament and arms control on human rights from a gender perspective.
Subsequent resolutions – 67/48 (2012), 68/33 (2013), and 69/61 (2014) – have
further called for strengthened participation of women and the promotion of equal
opportunities for the representation of women in all decision-making processes
related to non-proliferation and disarmament.
In January 2018, the UN achieved a major milestone when it became clear that 23 out of the 44 most senior positions, excluding the UN Secretary General, were held by women. This gender parity in the top echelons of the United Nations serves as a significant marker for organizations working to global peace and stability.
Unfortunately, despite the importance that is attached to women’s equal participation in policymaking on WMD, women’s voices globally remain under-represented in a number of key arenas. For instance, at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 2015, 901 of the 1226 registered diplomats were men (73.5%) and 325 were women (26.5%). Imbalances in gender representation also were visible at the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty negotiations in 2017. Although the negotiations were led by Costa Rican Ambassador Elaine Whyte Gomez, only 31% of registered delegates were women and 29% of women delivered country statements.
It also is important to emphasize that increasing the number of women’s voices on nuclear weapons issues isn’t the only imperative. It also is important to strengthen those voices. As Ambassador Susan Burk recently noted, “One of the biggest challenge women face working on hard security issues has been building a reputation as a serious and credible expert and strategic thinker on issues that historically have been the purview of men.”
One of the first steps toward creating gender-equitable space in the field is to promote women into leadership positions. At the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), women hold key decision-making positions and lead by example. Among them: Amb. Laura Holgate, vice president of NTI’s Materials Risk Management program, and Corey Hinderstein, vice president of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Strategies. Both have held key positions at the government working on nuclear security and nonproliferation issues, and both have also held leadership roles in organizations like Women in International Security (WIIS).
NTI experts Samantha Pitts-Kiefer and Lynn Rusten work on a variety of national and global security issues, including US-Russia nuclear risk reduction and the evolving challenges of cyber security as they relate to nuclear weapons. Dr. Elizabeth Cameron heads up NTI’s expanding biosecurity team, and Joan Rohlfing and Deborah Rosenblum lead the staff as president and executive vice president respectively.
It is also essential that the next generation is equipped to understand complex nuclear issues. NTI takes mentoring and educating the next generation seriously. Amid challenges to the NPT regime, Rohlfing emphasizes the importance of nonproliferation and disarmament education. At a recent panel discussion on the Nonproliferation Treaty at Fifty, hosted by the Stimson Center, she highlighted the urgent need to inform the public on the risks and effects of nuclear war and the dangers of nuclear weapons use. Rofhling also is promoter of diversity and empowering young women professionals to join the field of nonproliferation and disarmament. At a CRDF Global event last summer, she referred to a method used by women at the White House to amplify each other’s voices in meetings when a female colleague’s point of view was not receiving deserved attention.
As someone who has worked in India and the United States, I have come to realize that there are entrenched gender biases in almost all societies. However, I believe there is a growing recognition that in 2018, there is no place for orthodox views on ‘masculinity and strength’ in arms control. As Ploughshares Fund President Joseph Cirincione wrote in an article titled, Ending Gender Shunning gender discrimination is a pervasive issue that cannot be solved with good intentions alone. It will take all of us to shun this problem.