Disarming Domestic Violence campaign

08 June 2009

The first international campaign to protect women from gun violence in the home. The main goal is to ensure that anyone with a history of domestic abuse is denied access to a firearm, or have their licenses revoked, in each of the 10 core participating countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Namibia, Nepal, Portugal, Serbia and Uganda.
Disarming Domestic Violence

The challenge

The home is traditionally considered to be a safe haven. Yet this space where women in many societies spend a great deal of their time exposes them to a particularly high risk of death when a gun is present.

For example: A 2003 study from the USA shows that the presence of a gun in the house triples the risk of a woman being murdered. Some 50 per cent of women murdered each year are killed by men known intimately to them — four women a day, or one every six hours.

In addition, the presence of a firearm, with its threat of lethality, reduces a woman’s capacity for resistance. The trauma of being threatened by a husband or partner is all the greater when he brandishes a gun and there is a very real danger of being killed.

It is estimated that civilians hold nearly 75 per cent (650 million) of the world’s small arms and light weapons. Most of these guns are in the hands of private individuals – mostly men. Gun violence can be part of the cycle of intimidation and aggression that many women experience from an intimate partner. For every woman killed or physically injured by firearms, many more are threatened. Patterns of attack are similar across cultures.

Despite the emphasis among law enforcement on illegal small arms and crime, and common perceptions held by the media and general public, most firearms used in domestic homicides in many countries are legal.

A weapon legally purchased for hunting purposes can be used to kill, threaten or intimidate an intimate partner. It is also important to consider the misuse of guns by the security sector including police officers and soldiers. A gun in the home is much more likely to be used to intimidate or physically injure family members than be used against an outside intruder.

For example, in South Africa, one murdered woman in five is killed with a legally owned gun. A 2001 Canadian study found that 80% of the women who are shot dead by their husbands were killed by guns bought legally.

Opportunities

There are encouraging signs of progress that give rise to some optimism:

  • At least four countries (Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago) have laws that contain provisions to separate perpetrators of domestic violence from guns. Their domestic violence laws include references to firearms possession, and their firearms legislation refers to domestic violence. This has resulted in a decline in the number of women killed by gunshot at the hands of their intimate partners. Other countries are starting to recognise that there is a problem to be addressed and are looking for guidance on how to do this;
  • A new law in Colombia may create a precedent for national action: it requires that individuals who have committed domestic violence will be unable to possess, carry and use guns, even if guns are required for their profession.
  • National media has recently featured several stories about the levels of women killed by guns in the home in most of the campaign target countries.
  • In her 2006 report, Professor Barbara Frey, UN Special Rapporteur, Small Arms & Human Rights, examined the use of guns by civilians and concluded, “The State has particularly acute obligations when it comes to protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, including victims of domestic violence, who are most at risk from misuse of a gun in the home. The presence of a gun in the home can easily turn domestic violence into domestic homicide.”
  • Multiple international commitments exist within the UN system that may be used as a basis for the campaign. These include, but are not limited to, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Beijing Platform for Action.