What sex means for world peace

Speaking at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference, Valerie Hudson argues that best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. Little analysed in international relations theory, state security and women’s security are inextricably linked.

Heather McRobie
29 May 2013

Valerie Hudson, one of the authors of ‘Sex and World Peace’, has made the compelling case that, just as state security impacts on women’s security, so women’s security significantly impacts on state security, something that has barely been discussed within the field of international relations.  In fact, she argues, the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its wealth, democracy or any of the other traditional factors highlighted in international relations theories, but how well women are treated in a state.  The greater the gap between the treatment of men and women in a state, the more likely it is that the state will be involved in intra- and interstate conflict.

This analysis turns traditional international relations theory on its head and demonstrates the centrality of gender violence to militarism, social inequalities and social injustice.  As well as the striking correlation between the treatment of women and a country’s likelihood of conflict, her analysis shows the gender dimensions of health, economic stability and levels of corruption.  For instance, the larger the gender gap, the higher the levels of both perceived and actual government corruption in a society.  There is also a direct correlation, she argues, between the size of the gender gap in a country and the GDP per capita of a nation and the rate of its national economic growth.

Her work raises the question of how to integrate gender equality into initiatives for peace.  As just one example, the necessity of women in peace negotiations becomes obvious in this larger context of the significance of gender-equality to peace: when women are represented in peace negotiations, participants are more satisfied with the outcome and the agreement is more durable.  Hudson discussed with panellists Madeleine Rees, Amina Mama and Helen Mack whether a ‘feminist state’ would have a standing army, given the interrelated nature of gender violence and conflict. Amina Mama, the Director of Women and Gender Studies at UC Davis, argued that a feminist state would not have a military, while Madeleine Rees of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, argued that, if a feminist state had been secured, we would have already defeated militarism and the militaristic mindset.

The methodology behind ‘Sex and World Peace’ is a significant contribution to the academic and research resources available for those researching gender – a decade’s worth of empirical research built the picture presented in the work, and produced the WomanStats Database, a free online hub of over 130,000 data points on gender and security.  It is reminiscent of Sylvia Walby’s comprehensive work on ‘gender mainstreaming’ as an effective tool to stitch women’s security into all levels of decision-making.

Hudson’s work can also be seen in light of recent analysis such as that of Kirthi Tayakumar, who has written about a ‘wartime-peacetime sexual violence continuum’, and shown that wartime gender-based violence is proof of a prevalent undercurrent of gender discrimination in peacetime.  While it has long been held true by sociologists that domestic violence increases during the crisis of war and recessions, this research highlights how the ‘peacetime’ treatment of women colours the severity of gender-based violence when a crisis hits. 

The link between patriarchy and militarism has been a recurrent topic of discussion amongst the speakers at the Nobel Women’s Initiative.  The apparent increase in violence against women worldwide shows the problematic false neutrality in arguments by those such as Steven Pinker who have recently argued that ‘violence’ is decreasing; Hudson’s analysis notes that there is no peace without the security of women, but ends on the positive note that, in light of this, changing the world is something over which we have control – it starts in our homes and in our streets, by working to end violence against women in our own lives.

Heather McRobie is reporting for openDemocracy 5050  from the Nobel Women's Initiative conference  Moving Beyond Militarism and War: Women-Driven Solutions for a Nonviolent World  May 28-31, Belfast, Northern Ireland.   Read 50.50's full coverage of the conference 


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