Statement at the Second Meeting of States Parties to the
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Implementing the gender provisions of the treaty
1 December 2023
For most of the atomic age, it was generally assumed that nuclear weapons had a uniformly indiscriminate impact on all victims exposed to their blast, heat and radiation effects. Recent newer scientific evidence has shown that this is not the case, and that the radiation effects of nuclear weapon detonations are, disproportionately affecting women and girls. This Treaty rightly recognizes this biological reality in its Preamble and calls for the provision of assistance to victims to be provided in a manner that takes into account the particular needs of each individual, whether male or female, adult or child, born or unborn.
It is now known that girls exposed to radiation between birth and the age of five are almost ten times more likely to develop cancer in their lifetime than the typical European male, a commonly used reference point. Such data raise serious concerns that current regulatory frameworks on radiation exposure in use worldwide are inadequately protecting women, children and the unborn to this day, increasing the risk of continued harm from sites contaminated by nuclear weapons
The Holy See notes the need of further study of the factors that cause the disproportionate impact of radiation on women and children, as well as on the intergenerational consequences of radiation exposure, in particular, for further research on the effects of radiation exposure on maternal and fetal health, which can lead to loss of fertility, miscarriages and birth defects, in order to ensure that women exposed to ionizing radiation receive adequate care to preserve their health and the health of their babies.
Without a sound scientific basis, States Parties will find it difficult to effectively implement the positive obligations of the Treaty, including those that specifically concern women and girls. Against this background, my Delegation cannot help but express serious concern about the contents of the Report of the Gender Focal Point and some of the informal briefings convened by the Focal Point during the intersessional period.
While the Report outlines some of the latest scientific findings on the disproportionate impact of ionizing radiation on women, girls and boys, it also contains highly problematic elements that depart from the original approach of the TPNW. These include undefined language on gender, the use of non-legal terms when referring to victims in the context of assistance, divisive language on medical care and vague reference to a non-negotiated text produced by the United Nations. Therefore, the Holy See cannot support the recommendations contained in the Report.
All references to “gender” found in the Treaty are understood by the Holy See in accordance with the ordinary, generally accepted usage and meaning of the word “gender”, based on the biological identity that is male and female. Attempts by some briefers during the intersessional period to reinterpret this term in a way that fails to recognize the biological basis of gender not only risks prejudicing the implementation of the Treaty but also diverts attention away from the real needs of women and girls who are exposed to radiation from nuclear weapon activities, thereby undermining efforts to assist them.
In light of these serious concerns, the Holy See considers that the inclusion of a Gender Focal Point in the intersessional structure of the Treaty may need to be reconsidered in the future, with the responsibility for guiding the implementation of the provision on “adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance” entrusted to the Co-Chairs of the Informal Working Group on Victim Assistance, Environmental Remediation, International Cooperation and Assistance.
Thank you, Mr. President.
 [For internal reference only: Cf. Mary Olson, “Human consequences of radiation: A gender factor in atomic harm”, in United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, “Civil Society and Disarmament 2016: Civil Society Engagement in Disarmament Processes: the Case for a Nuclear Weapons Ban”, 2016, 29-30.]
 See Interpretative statement of the delegation of the Holy See, First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 21 July 2022, TPNW/MSP/2022