On March 11th, at the Armenian Convention Center, one of our volunteer staff members Rachel Clark attended a UN CSW58 Parallel event, “Gender Perspective on Nuclear Weapons: challenges to the millennium development goals for women and girls” hosted by IANSA Women Network Nigeria, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Nigeria, Women’s Right to Education Program. Despite its early schedule, at 8:30am, very enthusiastic women from all over the world gathered and listened to distinctive speakers.
The conference addressed how nuclear disarmament plays a crucial role in achieving several of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to women.
Millennium Development Goal #1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Nuclear runoff causes an environmental effect known as the “nuclear winter”, which tremendously inhibits the growth of agriculture leading to the infertility of the land and, in dire cases, famine.
Millennium Development Goal #3 – Promote gender equality and empower women
Due to the sensitive nature of women’s bodies, disasters tend to affect women more. Radiation attacks growing cells and reproductive organs. Pregnant women, fetus, babies and children are the most vulnerable. It is heavy burden for women to take care of children with disability and her own health issues.
Millennium Development Goal #4 – Reduce child mortality
Radiation has enormous effects on the health of those exposed to it, especially the fetus of a pregnant mother. Prenatal exposure to radiation can cause low weight children, still births, deformities, and miscarriages and sterility.
Millennium Development Goal #5 – Improve maternal health
As primary care givers, women spend more time on care giving and they have less time on productive activities.
Promoting a nuclear free Africa was a large topic of conversation during this conference. The speakers posed the question: how can women in Africa take up the challenge to garner support for a ban on nuclear weapons?
The following were some answers that were discussed during the conference:
1) People can engage national governments, parliamentarians, and civil society organizations, running campaigns advocating for the issues. These campaigns must achieve a certain level of visibility and momentum in order for them to be effective.
2) Engage youth organizations. Since most youth have no concept of nuclear weapons, it is important to educate the youth with accurate information on the subject.
3) Achieving cooperation around a global ban of nuclear weapons at a local, national, sub-regional, regional, and global level is extremely essential.
4) Organizations and advocacy groups must share resources in order to be successful.
The last speaker, Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, gave a very uplifting and compelling talk. Ray is well known in the nuclear disarmament field and just returned from the Humanitarian Conference on Disarmament held in Mexico. She shared what she had gained from the discussions on global level.
Ray explained that nuclear weapons were first discussed on the governmental level. As no ban could be established, and people started to witness the devastating effects of nuclear weapons, a sense of urgency emerged among ordinary people that lead to political advocacy around the issue, which is a new discourse of nuclear weapons historically.
“Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) has been reinforced since 1970s,” said Ray. Whereas chemical and biological weapons are illegal, it is questionable why nuclear weapons are treated differently. Since people are becoming more aware of the toxicity of nuclear weapons, the major nuclear-armed states are growing defensive. Ray explained that we are developing a good momentum with this growing awareness, and more young people are getting involved in nuclear disarmament issues.
Certainly the majority of the audience who came to listen to this event seemed to be in their 20s and 30s.
Finally, during Q & A session, Ms. Emiko Hirano, International Section Chief of New Japan Women’s Association passionately explained Japan’s nuclear issues including incompetent government and on-going Fukushima nuclear disaster’s ramifications.