Women, Peace and Equality

Peace is a multifaceted concept, and while people often understand what it is, understanding what creates it is elusive. International Women’s day is an opportunity to highlight one key ingredients to peace: gender equality.

The Institute for Economics and Peace has developed research that identifies the eight key attitudes, institutions and structures which underpin peaceful societies: the Pillars of Peace. One of the most powerful messages from that framework is the close link between the gender equality and broader societal peacefulness.

While short term attempts to create peace may depend on rule of law reform such as security sector reform or disarmament, long term efforts around addressing the inequalities that exist in the institutions, social structures, and even attitudes related to gender disparities are equally critical.

Gender equality is one critical long term driver of peace and this is readily demonstrated in a variety of areas. The empirical relationship can be demonstrated when the Global Peace Index (GPI) is compared with the United Nations Development Programmes’ (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index (GII).

This shows that countries with the highest levels of peace also tend to have the highest levels of gender equality, and conversely, those with poor equality tend to be among the most conflict and violence ridden. This can be seen in the chart below:

Countries which have more equality between men and women tend on average to be more peaceful.

The Gender Inequality Index, while not measuring the informal and domestic work undertaken by women around the globe, provides the most detailed measurement of gender disparity by country. The index aggregates scores relating to standards of reproductive health, political and social empowerment, and labour force participation to better understand the inequalities women face in their day to day lives. While these factors overlap with ethnic, religious and economic factors, gender norms are one critical element.

A more causal relationship on gender equality leading to peace was established by Professor Valerie Hudson, the George H.W. Bush Chair at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, whose book ‘Sex and World Peace’ charted the empirical connections between gender inequality and warfare. Her work concluded that the larger the gender gap between women and men in a society, the more likely it is to go to war, be the aggressor in inter-state disputes, and suffer from authoritarian rule.

While the traditional approach has been to ask how security within a state affects women, the work of Hudson, the Institute for Economics and Peace, and many others in the field of development is questioning how the treatment of women can affect a state’s security. For instance, there is a demonstrated correlation between laws that discriminate against women and broader human rights standards imposed by authoritarian regimes leading to state sponsored violence. We know from IEP’s recent research on terrorism that state violence is a key driver of growing extremism and terrorist violence.

Importantly, the effects of gender inequality not only affect peace, International Women’s day also highlights the broad effects of gender inequality on other domains of broader societal wellbeing and progress. We know that states with low levels of gender equality also stand to suffer financially, with low GDP per capita and lower development correlated to high rates of gender inequality. So not only is gender equality associated with more peace for both men and women but also more prosperous societies as well.

And finally, this is relevant not just for the lower income countries the focus of many in the development community - as the Gender Inequality Index shows, no country in the world scores perfectly on gender equality. As the struggle for peace with justice is universal, so is one of its key drivers - gender equality. 

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