by Mia Gandenburger
To mark the International Day of Peace and the UN International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the WILPF UK Scottish branch, with the support of Scottish CND, ICAN UK and other members of the Scrap Trident Coalition, organised an event at the Scottish parliament on 23 September. It was hosted by MSP Bill Kidd, co-chair of the Nuclear Disarmament Cross Party Group. The event followed a debate on the Marshall Islands lawsuit against the nine nuclear-armed states in the Scottish parliament.
The event highlighted the many negative impacts of nuclear weapons policies on women, regardless of their use, and to identify the ways in which gender structures stand in the way of disarmament. WILPF Scotland’s nuclear disarmament campaigners see a special relevance for Scotland because there has been a significant increase in political activism by women across the political spectrum during and since the referendum for Scottish independence.
After some words of welcome by Bill Kidd, Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs contributed introductory remarks.
Ambassador Alexander Kmentt of Austria highlighted the most recent developments on nuclear disarmament, in particular on the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons that challenges existing paradigms and structures of the international disarmament framework. Ambassador Kmentt had been instrumental in convening the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the resulting Humanitarian Pledge, which now has 117 supporters. The pledge highlights the lessons learned from the series of conferences and calls on states to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Nuclear-armed states must listen to voices from the majority of countries in the world calling for this, he said.
Dr. Claire Duncanson, Lecturer in International Relations University of Edinburgh, gave an introduction to nuclear weapons and gender theory. Gender refers to socially constructed ideas that attribute meaning to and differentiate between the sexes. Building on Carol Cohn’s work on the subject, she highlighted how in international security debates certain dichotomies prevail, with the masculine associated side of terms usually being valued higher. Questioning these dichotomies and changing the attributions of value for certain means of problem solving will be crucial for progress on nuclear disarmament. As an example, she challenged the UK’s use of gendered language in its self-portrayal as a ‘responsible’ (=not irrational or emotional) nuclear-armed state.
Building on Dr. Duncanson’s introduction to gender and nuclear weapons, Mia Gandenberger of WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will, highlighted the gendered aspects of the nuclear disarmament debate and military spending, with a special focus on the potential Trident renewal. Gender runs deep into our understanding of roles, values, and the structures that we live in. Often enough we can see how proponents of nuclear weapons accuse those advocating for nuclear disarmament of being naïve, weak, and emotional (all more attributed to feminine behaviour) in an attempt to discredit them. Another example of how deep gender stereotypes are entrenched in society is state spending and military spending in particular. Here, “national” security is prioritised over “human” security, which results in vast sums on projects like the Trident renewal, despite wide gaps in the social system. One way to address these issues would be to 1) have a gendered approach to disarmament and 2) practice gender budgeting that allows all members of society’s needs to be taken into consideration.
Bringing the debate back to Scotland, Rebecca Sharkey of ICAN UK highlighted the various ways in which Scottish civil society and parliament are already engaging on nuclear disarmament, through various activities and awareness raising on the humanitarian consequences of UK nuclear weapons, including the risks of accident at a base or on a convoy. Among other thing she also highlighted the divestment campaign against nuclear weapons producers ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’, before stressing the need for a nuclear weapons ban treaty even if the UK and other nuclear armed states didn’t join.