Greatest risk of violence against women from guns at home in climate of fear & insecurity

WILPF speakers connect domestic violence, availability of small arms & patriarchal values

August 4, 2011

By Margaret Thompson


Women are three times more likely to die violently if there is a gun in the house, said Sarah Masters of IANSA (International Network of Action on Small Arms) UK, presenting a greater risk to women than guns in the streets or battlefield.  And many more women are sexually abused, physically injured or threatened by guns, most often by an intimate partner, as part of a cycle of intimidation and aggression.

Masters described the Disarm Domestic Violence Campaign by IANSA in her presentation for the opening panel of the WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom) Conference in Costa Rica entitled, “Women, Peace & Security: Transforming the Agenda.”  About 175 women from several countries attended the conference August 1-5, 2011, traveling from Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Israel, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Great Britain, Germany, France, and the United States, among others.

Called the silent global epidemic, violence against women threatens 1 of every 3 women worldwide, ranging from 20 to 70% of women in different countries, said Masters. But in a climate where fear and violence have become normalized, the ever more popular solution is to purchase or otherwise acquire guns for the “protection” of families, but few realize the connection between gun availability and violence against women. 
The main goal of the IANSA campaign is to ensure that anyone with a history of domestic abuse is denied access to a firearm, and has their license revoked.

Attitudes that embrace guns for “security” are reinforced through deeply rooted patriarchal values toward masculinity, said Anna Arroba, which is equated with violence and aggression, and rejection of the feminine within men.  Arroba, an anthropologist (British-Bolivian living in Costa Rica) whose work focuses on gender & body politics was also a speaker at the WILPF conference. 

“Being a man means not being a woman,” noted Arroba.  “Men are so violent toward each other and also women, needing to destroy that which is feminine, even within themselves,” because it is weak, less valued and even hated through misogyny. 

And values underlying violent masculinity are constantly reinforced in popular culture worldwide including music, music videos and movies that glamorize guns as tools for men to acquire economic and social power, sexual prowess and respect.1 

Patriarchy is often assumed to have always existed, but this is not the case, according to Arroba.  For 40,000 years, communities were matriarchal, worshipping female deities, with a holistic view of humans as part of nature, not destined to conquer nature.  The earth was viewed as a living organism, and societies venerated life with women at the center as giving birth to life.

However, as patriarchy developed about 7,000 years ago, women came to be defined as inferior to men, and their bodies and sexuality were viewed as dirty and shameful, said Arroba.  Women were assumed to belong to men, needing their protection, and marriage and monogamy for women was viewed as a means to guarantee that men‘s children were indeed theirs as a means of controlling life. 

Arroba described how the culture became focused on the domination of nature and the elimination of life, with the use of war and the military bearing arms as a means to control societies.  Masculinity is viewed as uncontrollable, equated with violence and aggression.  Women’s bodies are viewed as dirty and shameful, and women are raped, trafficked and forced into prostitution, primarily by men.  The laws in patriarchy have excluded women from the public sphere of political, economic, religious and social life, and they are condemned to the sidelines and not to be listened to. 

“Today, this powerful cultural conditioning equates masculinity with owning and using a gun,” said Masters.   Gun lobbyists encourage this view of men as the protector of women and their families, which in turn is often perpetuated by women who encourage men to fight and own guns, or purchase guns themselves.  “But all too often women are then abused as a result,” she noted.

Masters said that most guns are owned by men in state structures such as police or military, or as part of non-state armed groups, gangs and militias, and for leisure for sporting activities and for self defense.  Although most are purchased legally, many end up used in criminal activities.

Over 1,000 people are killed everyday worldwide with small arms, which includes 560 homicides, 250 deaths in war, 140 suicides and 50 accidental deaths, noted Masters.  Everyday 3,000 additional people are injured or permanently disabled due to gun violence.  “This has a huge impact on lives and communities,” she said.

Masters noted that in recognition of the link between domestic violence and gun laws, a number of countries enacted gun control between 1995 and 2003, including Canada, Australia and Trinidad and Tobago, among others.  During that time in Canada, the overall gun murders of women dropped 40%, with a 30% drop in all homicides with guns.

“We as women are very tired of fighting against violence, against the damage done to women but also to men,” said Arroba.  Terror and violence have become normalized, creating a “democracy of fear” that is shared worldwide. 

“Women’s peace movements such as WILPF recognize that to build a true sustainable peace, women must be included,” noted Amparo Guerrero of WILPF-Colombia.  “Their needs and concerns must be taken into account as part of a gendered perspective.   We must consider the different impact that arms and arms control may have on women and men.”



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