Skip to comments.What If Women Ran the World?
Posted on 04/15/2003 12:23:32 PM PDT by WaveThatFlag
When I look at the news these days, I can't help but wonder: Wouldn't we be a lot better off if women were in charge, given all the violence and atrocities perpetrated by men and male-run governments in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Iraq (news - web sites)? Would U.S. troops be in Iraq today if, say, Hillary Clinton (news - web sites) were President, and not George W. Bush?
Sure, woman leaders are sometimes as tough and warlike as any man. Britain's Margaret Thatcher comes to mind. But in my experience, women tend to pursue conciliation and cooperation long after men would have been at each other's throats. And, as the heroism of American women soldiers and pilots in Iraq has shown, when it's really necessary to fight, women hold their own.
Besides, once war ends, it's often women who step in first to help the orphans and other victims of battle. In Rwanda, for instance, 10% of the population was slaughtered in the 1994 genocide, mainly men. According to Elizabeth Powley in an article in the International Herald Tribune, about 70% of the population immediately after the genocide was female, so women set up numerous nongovernmental organizations to deal with the devastation. Today, some seats in Parliament and local councils in Rwanda are reserved only for women.
EUROPE'S LEAD. I suspect that the rising percentage of women in governments around the world is a very significant trend. It's a controversial notion, but some political scientists believe that when women [and other minorities] reach a "critical mass" of around 30% in an elected body, they often start to act together as a group outside party lines. And, in some governments around the world, the percentage of women has hit that threshold, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Geneva, Switzerland-based organization of Parliamentary governments that tracks the numbers [www.ipu.org].
Nordic countries lead the trend. Women hold 45.3% of the seats in Parliament in Sweden, 38% in Denmark, 37.5% in Finland, and 36.4% in Norway, according to the IPU. All told, the percentage now tops 30% in the Lower Houses of a dozen nations, including the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Argentina, and Mozambique.
At the low end are several countries in the Middle East: Iran, 4.1%; Egypt, 2.4%; Jordan, 1.3%; and Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at 0%. The U.S. ranks 59th, in the middle of the pack, with 13.6% of the seats in Congress and 14 of the Senate's 100 seats held by women. But, according to the Center for American Women & Politics at Rutgers University, women now hold 30% or more of the seats in six state legislatures: Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and California. Washington is tops, with 36.7%.
NO WIMP. I realize that the notion that the world would be more peaceful if women ran it is a hard one to test. But I checked in with Swanee Hunt, director of the Women & Public Policy Program at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. She's no wimp when it comes to war. As President Clinton (news - web sites)'s ambassador to Austria from 1993 to 1997, she pushed for a quicker intervention to stop the atrocities in neighboring Bosnia. Out of that experience, she has formed Women Waging Peace, a global initiative to get women involved in peace initiatives in conflict areas around the world.
Daughter of Texas billionaire H.L. Hunt, she has used her wealth to fund initiatives aimed at helping women and children. A mother of three, she has also found time to compose a classical piece called The Witness Cantata as a memorial to victims of war. Her husband, symphony conductor Charles Ansbacher, is scheduled to conduct the work on Good Friday, Apr. 18, at Boston's Arlington Street Church. Here are edited excerpts of our talk:
Q: What's the idea behind Women Waging Peace, and why should it be a goal to get women involved in the peace process in places like Iraq and Bosnia?
A: When I was the ambassador [to Austria], Bosnia was right next door, and there was a terrible refugee flood into Austria. What I noticed quickly was that the 60 people who were sent up from Croatia and Bosnia for the [peace] negotiations were all men -- even though there were more women PhDs per capita in the former Yugoslavia than in any country in Europe. It made me wonder why the warriors involved wanted to make sure there were no women.
That question stayed in the back of my mind. After I left the State Dept. and came to Harvard, I asked some people at the U.N. why there were no women on the negotiating team in the African conflicts. A U.N. official told me: "That's very clear. The warriors won't have them because they're afraid the women will compromise." I thought: "Bingo!" That is, after all, the whole point of negotiation. I wondered if there was something to that.
Q: Where did you go from there?
A: I brought, ultimately, women from 25 different conflicts to Harvard for a week or two, listening to them exchange their strategies. Some were pacifists, some not -- I certainly am not. There were lawyers, investigative reporters, members of parliament, the whole range.
What we found is that there were some extraordinary strengths among these women that would be very useful in trying to avert or stop violent conflicts. The women were bridging the divide. They tended to not see the person on the other side as the demon. They would often talk about how, "We're all mothers, and as mothers we understand each other." One of the sayings was, "As mothers, we cry the same tears."
Q: How is women's participation going in Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s new government?
A: Before the Taliban, women represented about 50% of the medical doctors and 40% of the government officials. So, [when] a meeting was set up of the warlords to determine who would be in the transitional government, there was lots of pressure from the [Bush] White House and the State Dept. to ensure that the U.N. would insist that there be lots of women. A U.N. official told me that eventually one of the warlords said, "All right. We'll have the same percentage of women as there are in the U.S. Congress."
Q: Which is about 14%. Is that good or bad?
A: Well, we wish he had said Sweden.
Q: Haven't women been marginalized since then?
A: I'm told that many of those women [in the Afghani National Assembly] have suffered. And the war in Iraq has intensified the pressure on [Muslim] women [generally]. This conflict has been painted as the West vs. Islam. The husbands and male leaders say to women, "Show us that you are a good Muslim woman, and don't have any of those Western ideas."
Q: What's the potential for women playing a role in peacemaking in Iraq?
A: It's very important that Iraqi women be perceived as major untapped resources. They can play a key role as planners, leaders, and organizers of the reconstruction. That includes the transitional justice [system] that must be established. My experience with women in postconflict situations is that they very much have their fingers on the pulse of the community.
I've talked to maybe 500 women from conflict situations around the world [about] difference between men and women. Mary Okumu, who has worked on the conflict in the Sudan for years, once told me: "What men and women want in these situations is very different. The men want a whole state. The women want a safe place for their families." Maybe that's because of social roles, maybe it's because we're hardwired differently. But they all say, "We approach it differently."
Now, I'm very aware that many of the great peacemakers in the world are men -- Nelson Mandela in South Africa, for instance. We're not talking about all-men-this and all-women-that. It's just that the Bell curves are in different places.
Q: Do you think that the rising number in parliaments around the world will mean that it will become less likely that countries will go to war in various situations?
A: My educated guess is, yes. [Among] American men and women, there was a very significant gender gap [on going to war in Iraq] -- as much as 15%, depending on the question asked -- before the war. [But] if you convince women that it's about protection- -- such as [asserting a] September 11 connection [with] Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) -- then those numbers start eroding.
Q: Would it make a difference in voting patterns if 30% or 40% of the U.S. Congress were women?
A: I can't give you the numbers. But my experience in interviewing women over the years is that women tend to think of themselves as less competent than they actually are, [while] men tend to think of themselves as more competent than they actually are. Women are helped, therefore, when they have a larger group with which to identify. It connects to how good women are at relationship-building, collaboration.
Q: If I said what you're saying, many women would call me sexist.
A: Exactly. It's classic. Most of these stereotypes about men and women are grounded in reality. It's just that they are abused, used in ways that hurt men or hurt women. That's why we hate stereotypes.
Q: The other striking thing we see in the news these days is some very brave women soldiers in combat.
A: I've done some studying of women in combat -- not of Americans but of guerrilla fighters. For instance, I had [South Africa's] Thandi Modisi in my home for dinner, and I said, "Thandi, tell me, what did you do before you were in Parliament?" She said, "I was a [guerrilla] fighter."
I [also] spent a day interviewing an Eritrean woman who lead her platoon into battle several times. A very, very gutsy woman. She said she was particularly effective because the men would have been mortified to have not followed her into battle, even when they were petrified. She said the Ethiopians had a saying: "Oh, please God, don't let me be captured by an Eritrean woman." So there are other sides to this.
I don't think that looking for peaceful solutions is the job of cowards. There's tremendous damage anytime you drop the bombs. And I say that having implored [General] Wesley Clark to start the bombing in Kosovo sooner than he did. Military intervention is a tragic choice -- though sometimes the less violent of all of the choices.
Q: Why did you implore General Clark to drop the bombs earlier?
A: I had watched the genocide in Bosnia, and I was convinced that Slobodan Milosevic (news - web sites) would respond to military force and [nothing] else.
Q: Any further thoughts?
A: The interesting question is whether the women warriors have the same motivation as the men warriors.
Q: What's your answer?
A: I don't have an answer. I only have a niggling thought that there may not be the same kind of enjoyment of aggression that I see on the playground with my son and his friends. I'm convinced that boys and girls are different.
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I mean crying by people who aren't French.
If women ran the world, weapons wouldn't kill you, they'd just make you feel bad for a while.
Well, the author certainly hasn't met many of the women in my life...
"What we found is that there were some extraordinary strengths among these women that would be very useful in trying to avert or stop violent conflicts. The women were bridging the divide. They tended to not see the person on the other side as the demon. They would often talk about how, "We're all mothers, and as mothers we understand each other." One of the sayings was, "As mothers, we cry the same tears." Boy...that would have really helped and worked with Saddam and his sons, wouldn't it?
By the way, where did these Hunt's get there money? (silver?)
A Woman's Work
By Peter Landesman (NYT) 8611 words
Late Edition - Final , Section 6 , Page 82 , Column 1
ABSTRACT - Peter Landesman article on Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, one of first Rwandan women to rise to level of prominence in Rwanda, serving as Rwanda's minister for women's affairs at time of 1994 war, and now first woman ever on trial for genocide; she is accused of inciting Hutus to rape thousands of female Tutsi refugees, goading Hutu marauders by saying, 'before you kill the women, you need to rape them';.
Slaughter, and then worse, came to Butare, a sleepy, sun-bleached Rwandan town, in the spring of 1994. Hutu death squads armed with machetes and nail-studded clubs had deployed throughout the countryside, killing, looting and burning. Roadblocks had been set up to cull fleeing Tutsis. By the third week of April, as the Rwanda genocide was reaching its peak intensity, tens of thousands of corpses were rotting in the streets of Kigali, the country's capital. Butare, a stronghold of Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus that had resisted the government's orders for genocide, was the next target. Its residents could hear gunfire from the hills in the west; at night they watched the firelight of torched nearby villages. Armed Hutus soon gathered on the edges of town, but Butare's panicked citizens defended its borders.
Enraged by Butare's revolt, Rwanda's interim government dispatched Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the national minister of family and women's affairs, from Kigali on a mission. Before becoming one of the most powerful women in Rwanda's government, Pauline -- as everyone, enemy and ally alike, called her -- had grown up on a small farming commune just outside Butare. She was a local success story, known to some as Butare's favorite daughter. Her return would have a persuasive resonance there.
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