The multi-billion dollar trade that puts women in the firing line

Published: 1 November 2005

Women are paying an increasingly heavy price for the dangerously unregulated multi-billion-dollar trade in small arms according to a new report issued today on the eve of International Women's Day.

New report from the Stop Violence Against Women campaign and the Control Arms campaign: Amnesty International, Oxfam, and IANSA

Women are paying an increasingly heavy price for the dangerously unregulated multi-billion-dollar trade in small arms according to a new report issued today on the eve of International Women's Day.

There are now estimated to be almost 650 million small arms in the world

today, mostly in the hands of men and nearly 60 percent of them in the

hands of private individuals. Women and girls suffer directly and

indirectly from armed violence:

  • An attack with a gun is 12 times more likely to end in death than an
    attack with any other weapon;
  • In South Africa, a woman is shot dead by a current or former partner
    every 18 hours;
  • In the USA, a gun in the home increases the risk that someone in the
    household will be murdered by 41%; but increases the risk for women by
  • In France and South Africa, one in three women killed by their
    husbands are shot; in the USA this rises to two in three;
  • Family killings are one category of homicides where women outnumber
    men as victims with her partner or male relative the most likely

"Women are particularly at risk of certain crimes because of their gender -- crimes such as family violence and rape. Given that women are almost never the buyers, owners or users of small arms, they also suffer completely disproportionately from armed violence. It is often claimed that guns are needed to protect women and their families but the reality is totally opposite. Women want guns out of their lives" said Denise Searle, Amnesty International's Senior Director of Communications and Campaigning.

Delegates from the Control Arms and Stop Violence Against Women campaigns presented the main findings of their report at a news conference today in Johannesburg.

The Impact of Guns on Women's Lives report spells out the circumstances in the home, in communities and during and after conflict where women are most at risk from armed violence. The report also examines a wide range of gun control measures adopted by states around the world usually as a result of the campaigns women are spearheading against gun violence.

  • Between 1995, when Canada tightened its gun laws, and 2003 the gun murder rate for women dropped by 40%;
  • Five years after the gun laws in Australia were overhauled in 1996, the gun murder rate for female victims had dropped by half;
  • Brazil has recently banned access to ownership of weapons before the age of 25 because young men and boys mostly perpetrate the massive level of gun violence.

"Rape has become a weapon of war. The reality for women and girls is that they are targeted in their homes, their fields, and their schools because of their gender. Without women's active involvement in any peace and reconstruction process there can be no security, no justice and no peace," said Anna MacDonald, Director of Campaigns and Communications at Oxfam Great Britain.

Based on examples of best-practice, the report makes a series of recommendations including:

  • Compulsory national gun licences for anyone wanting to own a gun in accordance with strict criteria that exclude all those with a history of family violence;
  • The prohibition of violence against women in national law as a criminal offence with the laws fully implemented and effective penalties for perpetrators and remedies for survivors;
  • The specific training of law enforcement organizations to ensure that they respect women's human rights and that those who do not are brought to justice;
  • The equal participation of women in all peace processes as well as in demobilisation, reintegration and disarmament programs to ensure the effective collection and destruction of surplus and illegal weapons;
  • The establishment of an Arms Trade Treaty which would prohibit arms exports to those likely to use them for violence against women and other human rights violations;
  • The banning of private individuals from owning military specification assault weapons, other than in the most exceptional circumstances consistent with respect for human rights.

"There is a clear need to develop sustainable livelihoods which are not based on a culture of violence. This means alternative role models that do not equate masculinity with armed violence, and femininity with passivity are needed," said Judy Bassingthwaite, Director of Gun Free South Africa, representing the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).


The Control Arms campaign was launched by Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) in October 2003. It aims to reduce arms proliferation and misuse and to convince governments to introduce a binding arms trade treaty.

The Stop Violence Against Women campaign was launched by Amnesty International in March 2004. It aims to secure the adoption of laws, policies and practices that stop discrimination and violence against women.

Contact Information

Amnesty International: James Dyson on 44 (0)7795628367 (UK mobile) or
27 (0)76 142 0060 (S.Africa mobile)
Oxfam: Kate Bishop on mobile 44 7773 785993 (UK mobile) or 27 11 403
4590 (S.Africa Office Tel.)
IANSA: Joseph Dube 27 114034590 (S.Africa Office) or 27 83 588 8765
(S.Africa mobile)
Download the report: The Impact of Guns on Women''s Lives
report (pdf 1.5MB - please note: large file)