Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Small Arms Survey 2014: Women and Guns, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 288 pp.

Reviewed by: Emah Saviour (University of Uyo, Nigeria)

The Small Arms Survey is an autonomous research project at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. The Institute monitors trends and presents authoritative information on virtually all aspects of armed violence and small arms proliferation, thereby serving as an information hub for national and international issues and policies on small arms.

Press Conference on Launch of Small Arms Survey 2012. photo credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

The relationship between the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and its effects on women has been grossly under-researched. The correlation between small arms and light weapons proliferation, on the one hand, and women, peace and security on the other hand is well-noted. Yet, the exact nature of this nexus is more problematic to map. The paucity of serious enquiry into this convergence is reasonably perilous to international security because small arms and light weapons are the most commonly used in many armed conflicts in the 21st century. Accordingly, the 2014 edition of the Small Arms Survey, dubbed Small Arms Survey 2014: Women and Guns highlights the nexus between the small arms agenda and the agenda on women, peace and security.

The Small Arms Survey is divided into two sections. The first thematic section of the book deals with the relationship between women and guns; while the second section focuses on recent developments in legal and illegal small arms markets.

Drawing from the experiences in Nepal and Liberia, authors examined the role of socio-cultural norms and gendered attitude towards firearms in engendering (sexual and domestic) violence against women and girls (VAWG) in conflict, post conflict, and non-conflict settings. Authors found that gendered idiosyncrasy in some societies actually condones VAWG, even though efforts are being made both globally and nationally to curtail those customs that justify violence against women and girls. In fact, as illustrated in chapter two, the UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) on women, peace, and security emerged as a strong international framework to rationalize the impact of armed violence on women and to standardize women’s role in peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding. The Small Arms Survey identifies a convergence between the mandate of the UNSCRs on women, peace, and security and the small arms agenda. The convergence exists in multiple spheres including, the protection of civilians; women’s participation in peace and security decision-making; support of local women’s peace and conflict resolution initiatives; and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. This linkage is yet to be fully instituted in the existing national action plans. The authors carried out a survey of first-hand testimonies provided by women employed as police officers, soldiers, rebels, and security guards. The results of this survey indicate that women are also owners and users of small arms and participate in the design and implementation of national gun control policies.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which covers a broad range of transfer-related terms and conditions, but lacks a unanimous definitional paradigm, actually amplifies the convergence between women, peace, security, and small arms. The provisions and prospects of the ATT, which applies to arms exporting and non-exporting states alike, is the crux of chapter three. As noted in the text, the ATT “makes a significant contribution to existing legal frameworks by introducing new standards for the international transfer of conventional arms” (p. 77). One shortcoming of the ATT is its failure to cover unauthorized arms transfer.

Art Exhibition “Crush the Illicit Trade in Small Arms”. photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

According to the updated data on official small arms transfers, presented in the Small Arms Survey, there has been an increase in legal transfers of small arms between 2001 and 2011. The book outlines the main actors and global trends in authorized small arms transfers along with supporting statistics. The authors of the Survey argue that we need the ATT, which will draw from various national and international arms transparency reports and instruments, to foster transparency in the arms trade. Another challenge that confronts the small arms venture, as expressed in the Small Arms Survey, is inadequate ammunition stockpile management. This, coupled with the unchecked expansion of the civilian population around an explosive storage area, was the root cause of the March 4, 2012, Mpila arms depot explosion in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo (DRC), which killed at least 300 people, injured more than 2,500, and displaced more than 120,000. Alas, several years later, not much attention has been given to stockpile management practices by the DRC’s authorities.

The Small Arms Survey also demonstrates that analysis of small-calibre ammunition in conflict and post-conflict zones can indicate the origins of illicit weapons in those territories, including Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria. The analysis reveals that stockpiles of Cold War era ammunition account for the greatest prevalence of illicit ammunition in these territories. Other sources of ammunition for these regions are Iran, China, and Sudan. However, the effort to trace ammunition is encumbered by the presence of different types of unmarked cartridges in most of these conflict zones. As a case study, the Small Arms Survey investigated the origins of weapons provided to armed groups in Sudan and South Sudan (chapter seven). This investigation revealed that factories run by the Sudanese government are the primary source of weapons to rebels in these two countries. The rebels may capture government’s armaments in the battlefield or may be deliberately armed by the factories. Other providers of armaments to rebels in this region are China and Iran.

Finally, the Small Arms Survey also found that, despite a ban on the importation of small arms from China to the United States, Chinese-made arms still account for a large proportion of illicit weapons seized from criminals in the United States. Hence, illicit firearms, which are mostly used by civilians, are becoming widespread in the United States.

Khartoum Regional Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons. photo credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

Although there are several national and international arms monitoring frameworks, its methodical acumen stands out in the Small Arms Survey project. In lexis, figures, and pictures, the Small Arms Survey brings together the past, the present, and the future dynamics of the relationship between small arms, women, peace, and security in a single volume. The volume successfully brought the issues of safe stockpiling, effective enforcement, and regulation of policies and practices that relate to the protection of women in non-conflict, conflict, and post-conflict situations to the attention of the international community

It is important to note that the solutions to the issues raised in the Small Arms Survey lie in the hands of policy makers.  To produce informed legislations on small arms, women, and security, policy makers at all levels of government need to resort to empirical manuals such as the Small Arms Survey 2014. Therefore, I recommend this book to all national and international policy makers that deal with issues of small arms and gender relations. I also recommend this book to all women who own or use small arms, and to any reader who is interested in a more stable international environment.