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Speaking Life: From Victim to Victor

Lauren McGowan

“Fifteen years ago, the first United Nations Conference on Small Arms opened in this same conference room, on the 9th of July 2001. On the 8th of July, the day before that conference opened, I lost the father of my child to gun violence”.

Arlene Bailey, a representative of Kingston and Saint Andrew Action Forum in Jamaica and a member of the IANSA Women’s Network, was one of the speakers representing Civil Society at the Sixth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS6). The conference of Member States discussed the implementation of the UN Programme of Action (PoA) on combating the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons (SALW) around the world.

Overall, the BMS6 was considered a success, resulting in a relatively strong outcome document and compromise between nations. And yet, over the course of the week, Conference Room 4 of the UN became a bubble, isolated from the outside world. Debate on the floor was often mired by technicalities or clouded by acronyms. While diplomats worked tirelessly to manage SALW, in their speeches, there was little mention of victims, survivors or the fates of those directly impacted by gun violence.

On the 9th of June, the fourth and second-to-last day of proceedings, members of Civil Society were given the chance to deliver statements. Ms. Bailey was one of those who spoke on behalf of IANSA, the International Action Network on Small Arms.

Ms. Bailey’s speech was like a shockwave. Her voice was compelling, her grief was evident and her strength was admirable. Within moments, side chatter ceased as the palpable agony in her voice consumed the room. The woman in orange, dressed in honor of victims, recounted the story of her personal experience with gun violence. She described how her son, who was only four at the time, witnessed the murder of his father. She said, “We suffered. The pain was indescribable. Over the years, we have relived the pain many times, because each time someone else is shot, it evokes the memory”.

In an interview with Nonviolence International about her statement, Ms. Bailey said “the pain was raw, I felt overwhelmingly weak and sick but I knew I owed it to the world to share my story that resonates with so many other women from across the world”. In her statement, she talked about the “gender dimension of gun violence”. Although the majority of people who are shot are men and boys, “women are the first responders”. Although the majority of people who pull the trigger are men and boys, “[women] arrange the funerals. We pick up the pieces”.

​​ Ms. Bailey closed with, “Too many young men think guns represent power. But in reality, guns represent pain”. For Ms. Bailey, this statement had never felt more poignant. She delivered her statement shortly after she had arranged a funeral and wrote the tribute for a mother who lost her son to gun violence. Additionally, in her speech she mentioned three young men from her community who had all been killed within a ten-day span. In her interview, she said “the one that got killed on the 14th (of February) I had walked by less than ten minutes before his untimely passing”. She knew all the victims well.

Following her speech, the room applauded. After the NGO presentations concluded, friends, colleagues, strangers, and even the Chair gathered around Ms. Bailey to show support. Her words had been felt by everyone in the room, especially those who were also, whether directly or indirectly, victims of gun violence.

Among those who gathered in solidarity was another woman from the Caribbean Community of Civil Society. Through the tears, she remarked, “Everyone was speaking English, but you were speaking life”.

After days of acronym-filled debate, Ms. Bailey’s speech was raw and it was real. For Ms. Bailey and the millions of others impacted, gun violence is not solely a term. Rather, it carries momentous meaning. Gun violence changed her life.

At the end of the Conference, in his last speech, the Chair Ambassador Rattray of Jamaica recited parts of Ms. Bailey’s speech. After, he remarked, “we’re dealing with a lot of textual…and technical language and I sometimes just have to remind myself…what we are trying to do is to make the world safer”.

Ms. Bailey’s speech was that reminder. She exemplified the devastating reality of gun violence. Her statement illuminated the anguish that victims experience again and again. And, it illustrated the diplomats’ responsibility to end this continual cycle of suffering. In addition to bringing the focus back to the heart of the issue, Ms. Bailey explained why women are crucial in the solution. She describes her story as a transition “from victim to victor” as she was able to share her experience as a way of changing mentalities. Through her work in Jamaica, Ms. Bailey became part of the ongoing movement to view women as stakeholders. She earned her place at the helm and even at the United Nations. In her interview, Ms. Bailey said “it was explicit in my presentation that women play an integral role in picking up the pieces, keeping the family together, arranging the funerals with minimal resources. In that we are at the fore-front of the trauma and are trauma victims ourselves.”

She went on to say that “women need to sit with the policy makers. Research can never be 100% accurate. Engaging actual victims is. The rights of women can be further advanced when all begin to see women as equal- beings”.

In Jamaica, while working to end gun violence, Ms. Bailey simultaneously fights gender discrimination by serving her community. She has been working in Fletchers Land for fifteen years and has become an influential and important leader. She has spearheaded multiple initiatives to make the island safer, such as institutionalizing a 9 p.m. curfew, launching a Textbook Assistance Programme and creating a Parenting Association. Over the years, Ms. Bailey has gained international respect and recognition, as her work has taken her to Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, the United States, and more.

Ms. Bailey carries with her the memories and pain of those lost to gun violence. While progress on disarmament has been made, there is still a lot that needs to be done. When asked how the UN could better serve victims and survivors, Ms. Bailey said by “providing the platform for healing, the provision to re-group, (pick -up the pieces) and regain stability. Enabling us to be better able to assist others that have suffered the same fate, whilst we work together to arrest the issue of gun violence”.

Ms. Bailey was able to effectuate change with her single voice, but there are so many others who have not been heard. In conversations at the UN on gun violence, victims, survivors and women are the people who are most often forgotten. Ms. Bailey has shown why all three are critical in solving the problem. Her next project is to garner the funds to bring 10-15 women, from her local community, who lost a loved one to gun violence, to the BMS7 in 2018.

If you would like to help Ms. Bailey in her efforts, she can be reached at


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