Small Arms Put Women at Risk in Their Own Homes

Photo from “Why Women? Effective engagement for small arms control”; IANSA Women’s Network, 2011

By Alice Dahle, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Today marks the beginning of the annual international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. Since 1991, over 3,700 organizations in at least 164 countries have participated in the campaign, which runs from November 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, through December 10, International Human Rights Day, to emphasize the connection between violence against women and the violation of women’s human rights.

The theme of the 2011 campaign is: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women! 

Amnesty International will be posting a series of four blogs outlining some broad issues, linked to daily blogs on the Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group’s Facebook page illustrating the intersection of violence against women and militarism in 16 countries around the world.  Visit our homepage frequently to take daily action!

Today’s blog focuses on small arms and violence against women.  Although the vast majority of those who make, sell, buy, own and use guns are men, large numbers of women and girls are affected directly and indirectly by armed violence in their homes, in their communities and during and after armed conflict.

Women around the world are at greatest risk of gun violence, not on the streets or in combat zones, but in their own homes. More than 75% of the nearly 900 million small arms in the world are owned by private individuals – mostly men – and kept in their homes. A gun in a home is much more likely to be used to intimidate or injure a family member than to be used against an intruder.  Family killings are the only type of homicide where women outnumber men as victims.  Guns are the weapons of choice in domestic violence, and when a woman is killed in her home, her partner or a male relative is most likely to be the murderer.  According to research in the USA, just having a gun in the house increases the risk of someone in the home being murdered by 41%, but for women in particular, the risk is nearly tripled with an increase of 272%.

Women also encounter gun violence in the community outside their homes at the hands of police, immigration and security officers, border guards, military and paramilitary personnel and criminal gangs.  Both security officials and armed criminals can use their guns to threaten, intimidate, rape or kill women and girls, especially in areas where law enforcement officers are poorly trained and equipped, where those responsible for gun violence are not brought to justice, and where there is a widespread lack of respect for the human rights of women.  When armed gangs are active in a community, women may fear going to work, collecting water or firewood and going about their daily lives.  In places where the criminal justice system is weak, corrupt, or simply does not take violence against women seriously, women are often afraid to even report violent abuse for fear of shaming their families or retribution from the perpetrators.

Because of easy access to small arms of all kinds, modern conflicts frequently target civilians for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and mass rape as a weapon of war.  As Annie Matundu Mbambi of the Democratic Republic of Congo said in a recent interview, “A guy with a machete in a village can rape one woman.  Two guys with a machine gun can rape the whole village.”  Such violent conflict forces women to flee, leaving their homes, livelihoods and communities behind.  Women are forced to become heads of their households caring for their children, the elderly and those with disabilities single handedly when their male relatives are involved in fighting, or when they are detained, injured or killed.  Those who become war widows may lose their land, family support, and status in the community.

Even when armed conflict is officially over, the brutalizing effects of war do not end.  When combatants return to their communities, many bring the trauma and violence of the fighting into their homes.  If men bring their weapons home with them, the women and girls who live with them are at high risk for threatening and violent treatment.

To reduce the availability of guns used to commit violence against women around the world, the Arms Trade Treaty currently under negotiation at the United Nations should require countries to prevent any international transfer of conventional arms when there is a substantial risk the arms are likely to be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. Such regulations could help ensure that human rights offenders— particularly, those who use small arms to commit egregious acts of violence against women—do not get their hands on the instruments of violence and repression. As the negotiations move forward, we must continue to hold governments responsible for protecting their citizens and upholding the human rights of women who live within their borders.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

15 thoughts on “Small Arms Put Women at Risk in Their Own Homes

  1. If my wife and I got into a fistfight, I'd have a 99% chance of winning.

    If my wife and I got into a gunfight, I'd have a 50% chance of winning. Women, in general, have smaller muscles than men. Getting rid of the firearms just renders them more defenseless. This is a bad idea. Teach women how to defend themselves. Teach them responsible gun ownership.

    • Daniel, please notice that your gunfight scenario is much more likely to result in the death of you, your wife, or both.

  2. If my wife and I got into a fistfight, I’d have a 99% chance of winning.

    If my wife and I got into a gunfight, I’d have a 50% chance of winning. Women, in general, have smaller muscles than men. Getting rid of the firearms just renders them more defenseless. This is a bad idea. Teach women how to defend themselves. Teach them responsible gun ownership.

  3. Overall, I have to gives your aerial an F. Please cite the research study used to come to the conclusion that women are at higher risk with a firearm in the home. Another thing, machine guns really aren't considered small arms, so they haver no relevance and shouldn't be mentioned. My guns are in the home, and my wife has the training and the skill to protect our home and our children while I'm at work. Being a former Police Officer, I can only speak from my experiences, and too often have seen women that have been victims of crime which might have been prevented had they been trained in the use of firearms and armed at the time of the criminal offense. A criminal that knows a person is armed is more likely to choose a different target than to risk endangering themselves.

  4. When you say "A guy with a machete in a village can rape one woman. Two guys with a machine gun can rape the whole village.” you're ignoring the fact that two guys with a machine gun can rape the whole (unarmed) village. Give one gal in that village a machine gun and your two would be rapists move along…..quickly.

  5. Overall, I have to gives your aerial an F. Please cite the research study used to come to the conclusion that women are at higher risk with a firearm in the home. Another thing, machine guns really aren’t considered small arms, so they haver no relevance and shouldn’t be mentioned. My guns are in the home, and my wife has the training and the skill to protect our home and our children while I’m at work. Being a former Police Officer, I can only speak from my experiences, and too often have seen women that have been victims of crime which might have been prevented had they been trained in the use of firearms and armed at the time of the criminal offense. A criminal that knows a person is armed is more likely to choose a different target than to risk endangering themselves.

  6. When you say “A guy with a machete in a village can rape one woman. Two guys with a machine gun can rape the whole village.” you’re ignoring the fact that two guys with a machine gun can rape the whole (unarmed) village. Give one gal in that village a machine gun and your two would be rapists move along…..quickly.

  7. I think this implies more along the lines of international grounds, around the world, where countries host nothing but a weak and hindered government; In America, maybe a family has a hand gun locked away where said spouse #1 has the key, and knows how to use this gun, maybe said spouse #2 has this access and ability to use this gun just as well.

    Who is "buying" the gun may not necessarily be the only one using it, aware of its presence in the household, and therefor, could be rendered as a weapon of protection.

    Reality is, as long as there is a single gun out there, one must consider the usage of at least *having* a gun to better gain a sense of confidence when alone at home, or if you are the sole protector of the household, to further ensure your loved ones' lives. It can go both ways.

    Now let's put into perspective the idea of guns being used outside of a moralistic providence, here you have large groups of men in African villages, stalking on African girls, women & Mothers, as these women leave the home to fulfill the duties of the Dad — This being said, they get gang-raped, lucky if they were to have survived the brutal beatings or if they weren't shot, then most likely contracted with the HIV virus where there is little to no assistance for these women.

    Where can we draw the line on gun violence in other countries and how can laws be executed by authorities across the board? How can guns be less accessible to the men that misuse them?

    The gun may have very well been the worst invention to date.

  8. I think this implies more along the lines of international grounds, around the world, where countries host nothing but a weak and hindered government; In America, maybe a family has a hand gun locked away where said spouse #1 has the key, and knows how to use this gun, maybe said spouse #2 has this access and ability to use this gun just as well.

    Who is “buying” the gun may not necessarily be the only one using it, aware of its presence in the household, and therefor, could be rendered as a weapon of protection.

    Reality is, as long as there is a single gun out there, one must consider the usage of at least *having* a gun to better gain a sense of confidence when alone at home, or if you are the sole protector of the household, to further ensure your loved ones’ lives. It can go both ways.

    Now let’s put into perspective the idea of guns being used outside of a moralistic providence, here you have large groups of men in African villages, stalking on African girls, women & Mothers, as these women leave the home to fulfill the duties of the Dad — This being said, they get gang-raped, lucky if they were to have survived the brutal beatings or if they weren’t shot, then most likely contracted with the HIV virus where there is little to no assistance for these women.

    Where can we draw the line on gun violence in other countries and how can laws be executed by authorities across the board? How can guns be less accessible to the men that misuse them?

    The gun may have very well been the worst invention to date.

  9. This article is just plain illogical. The gun is one of the few tools that actually makes men and women equals. Its ironic that the very thing that the article is tirading about has made more women equal to men than anything Amneysty International has done. A man with a machine gun probably is not going to rape any women in a village that also gives the women a machine gun. Being armed gives a women a lot more tactical options than an unarmed woman. The article also gives me insight on how the gun control crowd views the average person. They view the average person as an incompetant victim who has to depend on others to manage their affairs in their home and to handle dangerous tools. Whereas supporters of allowing to the public to keep and bear arms views the individual as self-reliant and responsible. A car in the home has probably killed thousands of more women than firearms, does one feel somehow morally superior when they rant against gun violence and accidents than motor vehicle accidents? Does it make any difference to the dead?

  10. This article is just plain illogical. The gun is one of the few tools that actually makes men and women equals. Its ironic that the very thing that the article is tirading about has made more women equal to men than anything Amneysty International has done. A man with a machine gun probably is not going to rape any women in a village that also gives the women a machine gun. Being armed gives a women a lot more tactical options than an unarmed woman. The article also gives me insight on how the gun control crowd views the average person. They view the average person as an incompetant victim who has to depend on others to manage their affairs in their home and to handle dangerous tools. Whereas supporters of allowing to the public to keep and bear arms views the individual as self-reliant and responsible. A car in the home has probably killed thousands of more women than firearms, does one feel somehow morally superior when they rant against gun violence and accidents than motor vehicle accidents? Does it make any difference to the dead?

  11. This article is full of half facts, and bias. They fail to understand the value of the right to keep and bear arms. An armed man is a citizen, an unarmed man is a subject. The reason more men have weapons than women is because men are the head of the household and are responsible for protecting their wives and children. These statistics are also inaccurate because men usually buy the weapons, but their wives certainly have access to them for protection at home. These statistics are doctored to push the anti-gun point(as are most statistics). Stay with the facts.

  12. This article is full of half facts, and bias. They fail to understand the value of the right to keep and bear arms. An armed man is a citizen, an unarmed man is a subject. The reason more men have weapons than women is because men are the head of the household and are responsible for protecting their wives and children. These statistics are also inaccurate because men usually buy the weapons, but their wives certainly have access to them for protection at home. These statistics are doctored to push the anti-gun point(as are most statistics). Stay with the facts.

  13. I am a 5th garder and i think some one should do somthing fast. Because that is how people keep dying and it is hard for people to find them. But the article is very good.

  14. Alice, you say that the fact of having a gun in the home increases the risk of someone being murdered by 41%, and that the risk of a woman being so murdered is "almost tripled . . . 272%". I don't grasp your math here. 3 x 41 = 123. Can you clarify?