"If women around the world in the twenty-first century would get their act together they could, partnered with men of like mind, shift the direction of world history to create a future without war."
     Judith Hand
Author of
Women, Power, and
    the Biology of Peace

    Questpath Publishing, 2003
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Empower Women

The Historical Background

Thousands of years of human history demonstrate conclusively that complex, state-level societies governed by men alone are unable to avoid war as an instrument of policy. This is true no matter what the political organization. Why? A detailed, biologically-based explanation can be found in Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace.1 (www.jhand.com).

The framers of the American Constitution recognized how powerfully sovereigns or small groups of determined men could be tempted to unleash the dogs of war.

"In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man."
                                                   James Madison, 1793

History since Madison's time shows that, unfortunately, giving war-making decisions to the legislature could not prevent his country from going to war. Far from it. The United States has even evolved to the point of accepting a policy of preemptive war. There are many proximal causes of armed conflicts, but the root, or ultimate, cause lies in our biology (Differences Between Men and Women with Respect to Aggression and Social Stability).1 Two evolved traits in particular can be used to rouse men to take up arms.

  • A male proclivity for aggressive group bonding that includes conformity to and support of the group
  • The proclivity of males to seek dominance and authority through force

History demonstrates that when a ruling male or an alliance of ruling males decides upon a course of war and calls upon others to protect and defend the group, few men, even those who are at first reluctant, will vote against it.

Differences Between Men and Women With Respect to Physical Aggression

It's not that men don't long for an end to war. At a conscious level, most men would love to be free of this primitive remnant of our past. But because of their biological roots (Differences Between Men and Women with Respect of Aggression and Social Stability), they find the thrill of dangerous activity and male bonding to be compelling.2 These instincts served our primate ancestors in many ways. They facilitate hunting. They may also explain why competitive, contact team sports appeal to men. But that same attraction to aggressive male group bonding can also be used by ambitious leaders to build an army and lead it into war.1

Women, in contrast, are typically more inclined to avoid direct physical aggression in their dominance interactions and they also prefer to engage in negotiation, mediation, and compromise during conflicts.1,3,4  They have a strongly evolved preference to avoid war. The roots of these female preferences also lie in their biology, but in the case of women, the prevailing evolutionary pressure has been to dispose them to prefer social stability (see Differences Between Men and Women with Respect of Aggression and Social Stability).1

Why are women, in general, thus disposed? Women must bear, protect, and care for a child for a minimum of twelve to thirteen years before that child is capable of reproduction. In bearing, giving birth to, and rearing offspring, women risk and invest far more than men do. What this has meant, in women's evolutionary history, is that any serious turmoil—which certainly includes a war that might result in the woman's death or the death of her children before the children can reproduce—has been highly counterproductive for our female primate ancestors. Serious social turmoil, for our female ancestors and for modern women as well, is reproductively dangerous in a way that is not equally true for men.1

The willingness of men to use aggression to overturn the social order and thereby rise in rank is obvious. One biological explanation for this has been that this is a remnant inherited from male primate ancestors in our deep past that may have specialized more in gaining dominance within their group in order to mate with as many females as possible rather than investing heavily in one or a few offspring. Whatever the reason, men today still compete on a regular basis to overturn the social order and are much more inclined to use physical aggression to rise in rank. Unless restrained by police, strong social prohibitions, or both, male groups will readily use physical aggression to achieve dominance over other male groups. The overall result is that while social stability is a very high priority for women, it is not such a high priority for men.

The Effect of Male/Female Differences on Governing Bodies

Because of these differences in male and female biology, a congress with roughly 50% men and women would be much less likely to vote to go to war.* Historically, the generators of war have been almost entirely men, referred to here as hyper-alpha men: Alexander the Great, Caesar, Atilla the Hun, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon, Hitler, as well as modern hyper-alpha males (see Spread Democracy for definition of hyper-alpha male). Most men find war games or planning for war, even sometimes the fighting itself attractive (see Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution). But actual killing (at least close up) does not come naturally, and men who have witnessed war's devastations in person tend to loath war (see Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution). The majority of men who are happy with their lives are not easily persuaded to go to war (although they are more attracted to doing so than women)(see Differences Between Men and Women With Respect to Aggression and Social Stability).

Most women would require a higher level of perceived threat than would most men before consenting to war.1,# As a group, women would be inclined to negotiate longer.3,4 The majority of women would not be nearly so concerned about appearing weak in the eyes of their peers. Their chief concern would be defense: preserving the stability of the place where they are raising children and resisting the call to send their children into war.1

The votes of most women combined with the votes of the many men similarly inclined to favor nonviolent means to achieve security would create majority blocks with a different, more stability-seeking orientation about many issues of governance, including making war. The power of democracy to rein in hyper-alpha men would be greatly strengthened by the addition of women into the mix (see Spread Democracy).

To be clear, women are not less inclined to physical aggression because of any superiority in education, morality, social conscience, or religious conviction. Indeed, women provoked by urges for defense can and will fight and have done so historically; they can be fierce and even vicious fighters.1 Rather, they are reluctant to use physical force because of their biological priorities and innate preference for social stability. Because of these preferences, fully empowered women5 will be the catalyzing force in the campaign to end war (see The Secret Ingredient).

* The exact percentage of women required to reach a critical mass that tips the balance in decision-making bodies in favor of nonviolence is unknown. Research clearly reveals the effect of gender differences in other areas, however. In a cross-cultural study sponsored by the World Bank and reported in The Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, David Dollar, Raymond Fisman, and Roberta Gatti found that governments with more women in power had less corruption. Swedes, who have a legislature that is roughly 45% women, grant paternity leave for fathers and lead the world in fighting sex trafficking. Research could establish the actual proportion needed to bring nonviolence to international affairs. There may be cultural differences: a greater number of women might be required in societies that, for example, have historically been extremely aggressive. When the American Senate voted to support the second Iraq war, only thirteen percent of the Senate was female, and the Senate's response speaks for itself. It is reasonable to assume that when half the individuals in a governing body are female, the shift in preference favoring nonviolence and social stability would be pervasive in all aspects of decision-making, not just in decisions about war and peace.

# The word "most" is a significant qualifier. Women are fierce defenders and women heads of patriarchal societies have not hesitated to declare war when a threat is perceived (e.g., Golda Mier, Margaret Thatcher). But powerful women, historically, have not initiated wars of conquest to the same extent as powerful men. (for a detailed discussion, see #1 below - that book's section entitled "Women As Warriors").

Why We Need Male/Female Partnership

There is a flip-side to women's preference for avoiding conflict. Empowering women will be an enormous change, requiring that we turn the social order upside down, something women, in general, will prefer to avoid. Shifting our economies away from war (see Shift Our Economies) will be similarly wrenching. Women alone will not bring about a future without war. Willingness to embrace change, even if for a time it creates serious turmoil, is what men who share the desire for social stability will bring to the campaign.  

Some individuals will prefer to keep things as they have always been and preserve war as a legitimate option. They will fight back. Sometimes the engagement may turn violent. When Rosa Parks, an African-American woman in the segregated American south, refused to give up her seat in a public bus to a white man, the ensuing social disruption eventually cost lives, many lives, before segregation there was officially ended.  

Nor were the nonviolent campaigns of Gandhi and Martin Luther King free of bloodshed. Sadly, with the possible exception of the development of the Internet, not one of the steps that have prepared the ground for this promise of freedom from war was achieved without bloodshed, including beatings in some cultures if a woman practices birth control. (see How Far We Have Already Come). The drive and the willingness of men who have grasped the vision of ending war to rebel will be needed to push events forward. No compromise. Even if it means serious turmoil for a time, there has to be a willingness to embrace change. Full male/female partnership will be required if we are to create a warless future for posterity (see AFWW Logo).1

Women and Long-term Global Stability

Once our goal is achieved, it is also the preference of women, fully empowered, for social stability that will ensure that we maintain warlessness into the future. This is what will make our future different from past efforts to end war in former democracies and republics, that will achieve what the League of Nations and the United Nations have failed to achieve. We could justify empowering women because it's the morally right thing to do. A civilized thing to do. A humane thing to do. Part of human rights. From the practical view, however, it is the necessary thing to do. The important question is not what the global community can and should do for women, but what women will be able to do for the global community.


1 Hand, Judith L. 2003.  Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. San Diego, CA:
     Questpath Publishing. FREE download at www.jhand.com.
2 Hedges, Chris. 2002. War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. NY: Public Affairs.
     This book describes clearly the appeal of war to men.
3 Fisher, Helen. 1999. The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They
     Are Changing the World
. NY: Random House.
4 McDermott, R., and J. Cowden. 2001. "The Effects of Uncertainty and Sex in a Simulated
     Crisis Game." International Interactions 27: 353-380.
5 To be "fully empowered," women must have not only voting rights (and exercise them),
     they must be empowered educationally, legally, financially, and religiously.
     See Hand, 2003.

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