Interview with UNIDIR

Applying a gender lens across all areas of arms control and disarmament

UNIDIR joined UN-SWAP in 2022, as the 73rd participating entity. With a warm welcome to our new member, we are very happy to introduce the wonderful work that has been done in UNIDIR regarding gender and disarmament, a field that triggers many people's interest. In this interview, you will have a look at the multi-sectoral approach UNIDIR applies in promoting gender equality internally and externally, as well as their thoughts about the UN-SWAP community. 

by Mohammed Maged, Associate Monitoring & Oversight Specialist, UN-SWAP/Gender Focal point & Dr. Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, Head of the Gender and Disarmament Programme, UNIDIR

The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) is a voluntarily funded, autonomous institute within the United Nations. One of the few policy institutes worldwide focusing on disarmament, UNIDIR generates knowledge and promotes dialogue and action on disarmament and security.

Based in Geneva, UNIDIR assists the international community to develop the practical, innovative ideas needed to find solutions to critical security problems.

Can you briefly introduce UNIDIR's Gender and Disarmament programme? 

The Gender and Disarmament Programme is a unique initiative that allows UNIDIR to support member states and disarmament stakeholders in achieving gender equality and applying a gender lens across all areas of arms control and disarmament. Through expert analyses and practical tools, such as factsheets and resource packs, the Programme enhances synergies in the multilateral space, contributing to the implementation of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Agenda for Disarmament, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

What is the major focus of promoting gender equality in UNIDIR / Gender and Disarmament Programme? 

UNIDIR’s Gender and Disarmament Programme focuses on three main areas of work:

•    Gender Equality
We build awareness and generate data on gender equality, identifying patterns, analyzing trends and offering ideas that can improve women’s participation in international security. 
The field of arms control and disarmament is marked by a pronounced gender imbalance, as men outnumber women 2 to 1 in diplomatic forums. Challenges are even greater at the leadership level, with men outnumbering women 4 to 1 among heads of delegations to arms control and disarmament negotiations. Creating a level playing field is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing, as more diversity in arms control can strengthen its effectiveness.

•    Gender Analysis
A gender analysis applied to international security helps to understand how gender norms shape the role of weapons in societies, as well as the impacts of weapons and violence. Our research considers how the attributes, opportunities and relationships associated with a gender identity affect issues such as exposure to risk; the likelihood of becoming a victim or survivor of violence; the ability to access medical attention in the aftermath of conflict; and the long-lasting biological and physiological impacts of weapons on individuals. Based on research findings, we offer ideas to inform gender-responsive measures in all areas of arms control and disarmament. 

•    Connecting Agendas
Our research explores how initiatives in the field of arms control and disarmament can help to operationalize multilateral agendas related to conflict prevention, sustainable development and gender equality. In particular, we work to integrate weapons governance and security-related technology into the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Pursuing a systematic integration of gender equality, sustainable development and disarmament frameworks can optimize resource use and ensure that relevant treaties and conventions deliver for all.

Any emerging topics and key issues that you would like to share with peers in the network?

Interest in gender perspectives has opened the door to a number of new research areas. In the past five years, UNIDIR has produced analysis regarding the differentiated impact of weapons on various groups of society, from small arms and light weapons to weapons of mass destruction. We have launched new studies about the relationship between gender and access to technical training in the arms control field, as well as participation in disarmament diplomacy. Another avenue of research has explored the synergies between the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and arms control and disarmament. 

As part of our work on gender equality, we assist States and multilateral stakeholders by developing innovative approaches to international security challenges. We have explored, for example, what a feminist approach to arms control would look like, identifying the key normative and operational components. At a minimum, applying a feminist lens means interrogating "who is negotiating and implementing arms control?" and "with whose interests in mind?". These two simple questions can go a long way towards improving policies and building a more secure world, especially when political commitment is backed by financial and human resources.

It’s often said that gender is a cross-cutting issue, how does this translate into practice in UNIDIR internally? 

UNIDIR pursues a Gender and Diversity Policy and has in place a Gender and Diversity Action Plan, which is reviewed on an annual basis:

Gender and Diversity Policy: The purpose of the policy is to improve the way in which gender and diversity considerations are integrated in all aspects of the Institute’s work. This concerns internal matters (composition of staff and working methods), external working practices (aspects of collaboration with external partners, composition of speakers at events that we organize or in which we participate), as well as substantive elements of UNIDIR’s research.

Gender and Diversity Action Plan (2023-2024): This Action Plan is a tool to help all UNIDIR staff, visiting fellows, and interns implement the UNIDIR Gender and Diversity Policy by specifying clear goals and identifying concrete actions in three areas:

  • Capacity Development
  • Balanced and Diverse Representation
  • Outreach and Communication 

UNIDIR Director Dr. Robin Geiss is also an International Gender Champion, and he works to ensure that gender equality is a part of our daily reality and of our work with partners in the wider international arena. As Dr. Geiss has stated in the past, "We must go beyond ‘gender’ as a buzzword and effectively ensure that gender equality considerations are at the core of all we do at the Institute. At UNIDIR, we will use gender as a lens that amplifies the effectiveness of our mission, working towards a more sustainable and peaceful world". 

As a gender champion, Dr. Geiss has made two specific commitments for 2023: 1) to produce research on the links between weapons proliferation and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) with a view to improving efforts to prevent CRSV; and 2) to convene at least two high-level events dedicated to exploring feminist approaches for international security. 

Finally, UNIDIR co-chairs the International Gender Champions Disarmament Impact Group, which supports the disarmament community in translating gender awareness into practical action across a range of multilateral disarmament processes and activities.  

Why do you think the UN-SWAP is important for the UN system or for UNIDIR? What do you wish to bring to and seek from the UN-SWAP community, in terms of inter-agency collaboration, peer learning? 

This is our first time being involved in UN-SWAP, and we are extremely pleased to participate. We believe the tool’s use of benchmarking towards a common action plan represents a powerful means of accelerating the mainstreaming of gender equality and the empowerment of women across the UN System, particularly because it creates real and measurable accountability for organizations and their leaders.

Joining the UN-SWAP network allows us to showcase the difference that a relatively small organization like UNIDIR, properly backed by commitments and resources, can make in the field of gender equality. We are also interested in reaching out beyond the field of disarmament, connecting with experts in other areas of peace and security, to leverage shared experiences around gender parity compliance and tracking, gender equality research and financial allocation. We especially look forward to learning from colleagues on organizational practices like capacity assessment.