Small arms* deeply affect women because:

Women and children represent the majority of today's conflict casualties. They endure the effects of small arms and light weapons the most because they have been deliberately targeted by forces that abuse human rights. In wars and communities saturated with weapons, such arms are used to terrorize women and empower armed individuals and gangs to commit heinous crimes directed specifically at women.

Women are often forced to endure rape and other sexual abuse and violence, as well as abductions and forced slavery, including prostitution. From Sudan to Sierra Leone, women as young as 10 have been abducted at gunpoint from their homes. Women in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons are routinely gang raped and abused. Powerless in the face of armed soldiers, women must also endure the kidnaping and killing of their children, as they watch. In conflict zones today, women are no longer sheltered from torture and murder.

After a conflict, small arms may become instruments for other forms of violence, such as crime and banditry, disruption of economic or foreign aid, and interference with efforts to deliver food, medicine, and supplies to people in dire need of relief. Refugees are often afraid to return to their homes because of the large number of weapons still in the hands of the population. With the adult male population greatly diminished, women often become the main provider for their devastated families during and after a conflict. The presence of small arms makes this task increasingly difficult.

In post-conflict societies today, women are playing a greater role than ever before in the peacekeeping and peace-making process. For example, women are integral to reintegration and rehabilitation projects for former combatants. Women manage the consequences of small arms proliferation on a daily basis. Women must be included in all aspects of a society's post-conflict reconstruction process and their special needs - psychological, social, and economic - addressed.



*Small arms are weapons that can be carried and used by one or two people, including handguns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns and light mortars. Light weapons, ammunition, grenades, landmines, and explosives are also part of this category.

The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) is an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working together to promote change in U.S. policies on small arms. SAWG members believe that small arms proliferation must be countered by more responsible policies on legal sales and international cooperation to reduce illicit trafficking.