Gender Equity: A Path to Peace

Recent terrorist attacks in Paris have resulted in shock and sadness among millions, making some question what, if anything, can be done to make a positive impact on the state of affairs that contributed to the violence. In others, it has generated a sense of urgency to do something, to make a difference.

This quote comes from a friend who posted her thoughts on Facebook: “So many things swirling in my mind this afternoon. Things about how enormous the problems and injustices in the world are, and how insignificant any one person’s efforts seem in the face of such immense wrong.” Another friend was so moved to take action that she decided to write a letter to a nonprofit she’s involved with, suggesting the creation of a program to bring women of the U.S. together with women in developing countries as a way to foster deeper knowledge of others, to break down barriers that keep us from seeing one another’s common humanity.

There has been a sense of despair, frustration, and helplessness in the face of brutality and disregard for human life displayed by the orchestrated attack by ISIS on Nov. 13th. Is there anything we can do? The answer is yes. We can promote gender equity to increase peace!

According to Sex and World Peace, “Our world is bleeding girls and women, literally. A 2007 UNFPA report estimated that there are 163 million missing women that should be here: they are missing because of egregious maternal mortality rates, sex selection, high suicide rates, childhood mortality, and violence against women.” (28)

Here are some of the issues women face:

  • A BBC report estimates that globally more than 20,000 women are victims of “honor” killings each year.
  • A female in India is 5 times more likely to die before her 5th birthday than a male, due to male preference.
  • The United Nations Population Fund estimates that, over the next 10 years, 140 million girls will get married or be forced into marriage before their 18th birthdays.
  • Maternal death (529,000 per year).
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • Rape as a weapon of war.
  • Basic bodily needs – eating and eliminating are harder for women. Girl children are fed last and least, and women are restricted to field latrines at dawn and dusk; girls are without access to toilets for school.

Foreign policy and development experts have recognized for decades — starting with the Carter administration’s signing of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of violence Against Women (CEDAW), to the initiatives Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made to ensure that American foreign policy focuses on women and girls — that equity for women is crucial to the health, development, and economic welfare of states. Secretary Clinton’s assertion that “the subjugation of women and girls is a direct threat to the security of the United States” (qtd. in Hudson & Leidl 278) should be a central focus of our foreign policy. Programming based on that doctrine has been huge. President Obama’s National Security Strategy recognizes that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded equal rights and opportunity.” (qtd. in Hudson & Leidl 2)

Now, in the nascent field of feminist security studies, evidence reveals a strong and significant relationship between the status and the physical security of women and the levels of states’ peacefulness. Findings of Mary Caprioli, Director of International Studies at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and pioneer of a new line of scholarly inquiry between security of women and the national and international behavior of states, demonstrate a statistically significant correlation between gender inequality and higher levels of state conflict and security.

Another of Caprioli’s findings shows that “states with higher levels of gender equality were less likely to rely on military force to settle disputes.” (Hudson et al. 337)

Further, researchers Peter Trumbore and Caprioli reveal that states displaying gender and ethnic inequality through higher rates of human rights abuses “are more likely to be the aggressors and to use force first when involved in international disputes.” (qtd. in Hudson & Leidl 339)

Finally, aggregated data gathered between 1954 and 1994 show a “statistically significant relationship between levels of violence during a crisis and the percentage of female leaders.” The higher the number of female leaders, the lower the level of violence. (qtd. in Hudson & Leidl 338)

Studies support the concept of a “tipping point” for the number of women representatives in leadership: the Inter-Parliamentary Union announced last year that women hold 21% of seats in parliaments, up from 11.3 in 1995, yet still below the 30% recognized as the critical mass needed to advance a gender equality agenda.

In order to create substantive, systemic change, we need to work at the grassroots level as we do now, protecting the physical security of women and girls, increasing access to girls’ education, developing women’s leadership capabilities and awareness of basic human rights, and offering economic opportunity and advancement. While grassroots efforts are crucial, we must also work from the top down, at the policy level, to ensure that laws are equitable for women.

As outlined in DFW’s 2020 Vision, our planned advocacy program will give us the opportunity to learn more about ways we can influence U.S. policy while offering additional education and engagement opportunities for our members. For an in-depth look at how U.S. policy impacts women globally, I highly recommend Ritu Sharma’s book Teach a Woman to Fish. I blogged about Ritu’s book last year.

While data correlating gender equity and peacefulness of states mounts, we must continue to push with a greater sense of urgency than ever before to realize the vision of DFW: the vision of a world where, instead of being seen as someone’s property to be betrothed, raped, abused, and sold–with no power over her own destiny–a girl is healthy, safe, educated, and empowered–capable of agency, autonomy, and leadership.

Thankfully, I can share with my friend that there IS something we can do to create a safer world for all of us. We must increase our numbers, grow our impact, create a tidal wave of change. We must change the way the world works for women, because–as the evidence shows–when we increase gender equity, we increase peace globally.


Hudson, Valarie, and Patricia Leidl. The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy. New York: Columbia UP, 2015. Print.

Hudson, Valarie M., Bonnie Ballif-Spanville, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett. Sex and World Peace. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Print.