Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - For a safer world, put people before runaway military spending

For a safer world, put people before runaway military spending

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Weapons have only sown distrust, eroded relations between countries, and increased global tensions. AFP

For a safer world, put people before runaway military spending

For all of us, but especially women, the pandemic is a reminder that traditional notions of “security” that fuel the weapons industry cannot protect us from dangers and challenges we routinely face.

Before the pandemic, women were already over-represented in vulnerable economic sectors and bore the brunt of unpaid care and domestic work. When Covid-19 hit, the women who make up 70 per cent of the global healthcare workforce found themselves on the frontlines of the response – even as countless other women lost their livelihoods and took on greater household burdens.

The pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls into extreme poverty. Rates of intimate partner violence – mainly perpetrated by men against women – have skyrocketed, in a horrifying “shadow pandemic” of all forms of violence against women and girls. Millions of women now face greater risks of female genital mutilation, child marriage or preventable maternal death.

In short, the virus revealed that gender divides not only persist but are worsening, threatening decades of progress, especially if women continue to be excluded from shaping the response to the pandemic.

Recovering from the pandemic must mean strengthening women’s socioeconomic security, including through stronger investments in health, education, and social protection systems that advance gender equality.

But the safety and wellbeing of everyday people has historically taken a backseat to a narrower and militarised idea of “security”, one that still leads decision-makers to spend vast amounts of money to build overflowing arsenals of weapons. The UN secretary-general called for a global ceasefire at the beginning of the pandemic, but most conflict parties kept fighting, and the international arms trade remained as active as at almost any point since the cold war.

Yet, all these weapons have not brought us closer to peace. They have only sown distrust, eroded relations between countries, and increased global tensions.

Moving forward will require embracing a broader vision of security – one that reduces reliance on military armaments, accounts for our common humanity and recognises women’s empowerment as a critical driver of sustainable peace and development.

These ideas are not new. For instance, the UN has made reducing military budgets a core objective since its founding.

Nonetheless, attention to the problem has dwindled in recent decades. Bloated military budgets held the global spotlight throughout much of the cold war. But in the years since, relatively few voiced alarm as military outlays more than doubled. Military expenditures in 2020 reached $1.981 tillion, which translates to approximately $252 per person in one year. In comparison, only $115.95 per person was spent on bilateral aid on average in 2018, out of which a meagre 0.2 per cent went directly to women’s rights organisations – a percentage that has not changed in a decade.

The pandemic has offered us a rare chance to “reset” our approach to security in a way that also advances gender equality. As two UN leaders working for disarmament and gender equality, we believe three things need to happen.

First, we must refuse to shy away from hard questions. Whose security is protected by modernising or expanding weapons, like nuclear bombs, that would result in a human catastrophe, with disproportionate impact on women and girls, if used? To end our global arms addiction, decision-makers need to take a more human-centred approach to security, recognising how countries have pursued disarmament for centuries as a way to protect themselves, look out for each other and prevent needless human suffering. This will require political will and a revitalisation of diplomacy over investment in huge militaries.

Second, the voices calling for an end to rampant militarisation need to be taken seriously. Many women’s organisations have been pushing back against runaway military spending for more than a century, while
feminist movements have been key to critically examining whether our governments’ investments in strengthening security have actually had the opposite effect. They are part of a multi-generational, multi-sectoral drive for change. We must hear these messages loud and clear, and create conditions to include them in policy-making.

Third, we need action by our elected officials to stop spending so much money on weapons. If our leaders instead prioritise investments in social protections, like equal access to quality health care and education for all, they can bring us closer to achieving Global Goals, including on gender equality. Such investments must be seen for what they are: down payments to make our societies more resilient, equal and secure.

From April 10 to May 17, we will mark the 10th annual Global Days of Action on Military Spending. To seize this moment, our governments should take a stand by sharing concrete commitments to begin redirecting resources towards a more peaceful and secure future that benefits us all. This is not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity.



  • Municipal hall releases map detailing colour coded Covid risks by commune

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng released an official map detailing the red, yellow and dark yellow zones within the city under the new lockdown orders for Phnom Penh announced on April 26. The designation of red, dark yellow and yellow corresponds to areas with high,

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Tottenham Hotspur to wear ISF Cambodia logo on jerseys in match against Sheffield United

    Last year, the Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) – an NGO providing education to underprivileged children in Cambodia – made global headlines with its “socially distanced” football initiative. This year, a world-class football club – Tottenham Hotspur FC – will wear special edition jerseys to show their support for ISF