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Report: Women Suffer Greatly From Gun Violence

Human rights groups say women suffer disproportionately from the global trade in small arms, considering that they are generally not the ones who buy and use guns. That's according to a report issued ahead of International Women's Day Tuesday.

The stories are uniformly horrifying, and they come from all over the world. A 19-year-old Iraqi woman is shot in the legs by her husband after she tried to escape their abusive relationship. A woman in the Solomon Islands is raped at gunpoint by a police commander. A schoolgirl in Brazil ends up in a wheelchair, after being caught in crossfire during an armed robbery.

A report sponsored by a number of human rights groups examines two disturbing global trends and how they relate to each other - violence against women, and the international trade in small arms.

Among the groups that sponsored the study are Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms.

Amnesty International senior campaign director Denise Searle acknowledges that most victims of gun violence are men, and young men at that. But she also says most of the 650 million small arms in the world today are in the hands of men.

"The point is that women suffer disproportionally from gun violence, given that they are almost never the buyers, owners or users of firearms," she said.

Here in South Africa, for example, Ms. Searle says, a woman is shot dead by her partner or former partner every 18 minutes. According to the report, in South Africa and France one-third of the women killed by their husbands are shot. In the United States, it is two-thirds.

"But gun violence is not just about death," she said. "There is the threat of death from the sheer lethality of guns that leads to intimidation, violence, rape and sexual assault in the home and in the wider community. And the fear of such attacks severely restricts women's daily lives in many countries, preventing them leaving the home to work, to go to school, and other essential activities."

The report recommends that individual countries tighten gun-control laws and demand licenses for anyone who wants to own a gun. It also recommends training police and other law enforcement officials to better understand and respect women's situation when it comes to gun-related violence.

"The criminal justice system is probably the most important key in a solution to reduce gun violence against women. And that also shows that, if governments are serious, that will show within the criminal justice system," said Judy Bassingthwaite, who heads a group, called Gun Free South Africa, part of the International Action Network on Small Arms.

The report also calls for an international treaty to regulate the global trade in small arms, banning their sale in areas where they are likely to be used to commit crimes against humanity.

But Amnesty International's chief researcher into the arms trade, Brian Wood, says global regulation faces some major challenges.

"There are at least 40 countries that need much more stringent controls and they need to be operating from a level playing field because its a competitive market. So, unless they actually agree on an international instrument, we're never going to see the tough arms controls that are necessary to ensure security and safety," he said.

Mr. Wood says the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - also are the world's largest producers of conventional arms. He says there is an inherent contradiction in expecting them to regulate themselves.

So, the authors of the report are also urging grassroots activism on both fronts - the battle against the international arms trade, and the campaign to end violence against women.