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Missing Links: Understanding Sex- and Gender-Related Impacts of Chemical and Biological Weapons

Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, James Revill, Alastair Hay, Nancy Connell
Date posted:
December 03, 2019
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In recent years, interest has grown in gender as a useful analytical perspective to examine the impact of particular means and methods of warfare. Multilateral debates on chemical and biological weapons, however, have not systematically considered the relevance of sex- and age-disaggregated data on the effects of these weapons, nor knowledge of gender dynamics, in the implementation of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions (BWC and CWC, respectively). Such information and perspectives, however, can contribute to States’ preparedness and enhance the effectiveness of assistance under CWC article X and BWC article VII. Moreover, it could help to increase resilience and to aid recovery from chemical or biological incidents. Ultimately, a gender-responsive approach can help States to enhance the security and well-being of all their citizens.

The main findings of this paper are summarized below.

  • There are indications of variation in levels of susceptibility between men and women to toxic agents and disease, as well as sexspecific problems in reproductive health and obstetric difficulties. Awareness of sexspecific differences can help to optimize public health responses to chemical or biological weapons.
  • Age-specific variation may result in children being at greater risk of exposure than adults to toxic effects of chemical weapons. Age-specific differences may require adjustments in various response measures, ranging from specific triage and decontamination facilities for families with children, to medical treatment tailored to infants.
  • Gender roles may result in different levels of exposure between men and women, especially when one gender is primarily responsible for caring for the sick or performing burial practices. Understanding these gendered dynamics can help to inform targeted response and assistance strategies to minimize the spread of infection.
  • Gender roles can determine opportunities for formal education and, thus, result in uneven access to information. This requires consideration of how potential gendered communication barriers can be broken down and how key actors, such as primary caregivers, can be effectively engaged.
  • Gender roles may result in distinct experiences of social stigma for individuals exposed to chemical or biological weapons. The threat of stigmatization can dissuade people from seeking medical assistance and reporting cases. Means of countering and minimizing stigmatization need to be considered, including in public messaging.
  • In order to promote a genderresponsive approach to assistance, States could mainstream gender in public health systems, ensuring the collection of sexand gender-disaggregated data.
  • At the multilateral level, States Parties to the BWC and the CWC could further discuss gender perspectives and support research on the differentiated impacts of diseases and chemical contamination among women, men, boys and girls.



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