#16 Women and Girls: Agents of Social Transformation (April 2010)
"Activist women--the suffragists--of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the men who supported them worked to give women the vote. Activist women of the mid-1900s and the men who supported them worked to give women equal legal protections and access to jobs and educational opportunities. For this generation of activist women and the men who support them, their task, their challenge, could be to abolish war." ~ Judith Hand, La Jolla Rotary, June 2008
This newsletter highlights the role of women and girls as agents of positive social transformation. The women involved are progressives. They don't want things to remain the same, or to go back to some imagined past where men ruled, women knew their place, and things over all were "much much better."
These individuals see the possibility of an actually better future for themselves, their children, their and grandchildren. Indeed, they envision an altered paradigm of how we live as citizens of a more egalitarian and less violent culture that will shape human lives and societies into the far distant future. And they are willing to work and sacrifice to bring those changes into existence.
First, however, we need to consider why not all women are progressives. Many are not, and will not be. Reasons why are explored by AFWW Founder, Judith Hand, from several perspectives: biological, sociological, and psychological.
Sarah Palin, Conservatives, and Progressives
"So how do you explain Sarah Palin?" The founder of AFWW, Dr. Judith Hand, is often asked that question or some variant of it by skeptics. Hand argues that we could abolish war if our desire to do it is strong enough, and that one of the critical necessary requirements of doing so would be the empowerment of women. She argues that nature endowed women with traits that make them the natural allies of nonviolent conflict resolution, and that if more women served in government at all levels, if we had true parity governments, we'd be well on our way to ending war. Skeptics see women like Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of England who took England into war over the Falklands, and the feisty, gun-toting Sarah Palin as examples that refute Hand's arguments.
Dr. Hand answers the skeptics about this seeming contradiction in a blog essay, "Sarah Palin and why all women are not progressives." Women are fundamentally conservative, eager to facilitate social stability rather than change, but they are also fierce fighters in defense of their children. There is no real paradox. See the essay: "Sarah Palin and Why All Women are Not Progressives"
Women's Groups, Projects, and Movements-All Part of Creating a Positive Paradigm Shift
It's estimated that only 1% of the United States population was actually involved in working to pass the amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote. Other estimates are that something like a mere 15% of any society, if it is a determined and persistent minority, can become a critical mass sufficient to cause a profound shift in behavior of the entire society.
So it won't be necessary to recruit all women to the cause of ending war. Most women, when they see what the goal is - a less violent, more peaceful future - and that things are in fact shifting that direction, most women will climb on board the ending-war bandwagon. But initially the leadership of this campaign of change will come from progressive women.
A Useful Bibliography
Fisher, Helen. 1999. The First Sex - the Natural Talents of Women and How They are Changing the World. NY: Random House. This anthropologist, now at Rutgers University, was one of the first to write extensively on how women and men differ in critical traits affecting their lives and their actions as leaders, and consequently their influence on society.
Hand, Judith L. 2003. Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. San Diego, CA: Questpath Publishing. This evolutionary biologist proposed that women have been selected to prefer social stability far more strongly than men, and as a consequence, women are the natural allies of nonviolent methods of conflict resolution rather than fighting. Their participation in leadership is essential to ending war and perhaps even more critically, to maintaining that state once achieved. See also her project, www.AFutureWithoutWar.org.
Wilson, Marie. 2004. Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World. NY: Viking. An advocate of women's issues for more than 30 years, Marie C. Wilson is founder and President of The White House Project and co-creator of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. In 1998, Wilson founded The White House Project in recognition of the need to build a truly representative democracy - one where women lead alongside men in all spheres. See: www.thewhitehouseproject.org.
Mortenson, Greg & Relin, David O. 2006. Three Cups of Tea. One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time. NY: Viking Press. Mortenson's adventures among remote Afghan villagers led him to conclude that the most direct and powerful means to transform a village or a town in ways that would avoid fighting and war was to educate the girls. He has gone on to build schools with a focus on education for girls. See the website of the Central Asia Institute: www.ikat.org.
Myers, Dee Dee. 2008. Why Women Should Rule the World. NY: Harper Collins. Former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers argues, and provides insider and often humorous illustrations showing, that if women governed, politics would be more collegial, businesses would be more productive, and communities would be healthier. Empowering women would make the world a better place-not because women are the same as men, but precisely because they are women. For an AFWW review of Myers's book and how it relates to war, see: http://afww.org/WhyWomen.html.
Kristoff, Nicholas & WuDunn, Sheryl. 2009. Half the Sky. Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. NY: Knopf. New York Times reporters Kristoff and WuDunn have traveled the world and detected a clear pattern: when women are empowered with a little bit of money or opportunity, they change not only their family's fortune, but that of their community. For Kristoff and WuDunn, women are not the world's problem when it comes to poverty, they are the solution, and their book provides compelling argument and examples to make their case. See also their N.Y. Times Magazine Article "Saving the World's Women".
In the extremely short time span covered by just this tiny selection of six books, from 1999 to 2009, there has been an enormous revolution in the way women and women's issues are perceived throughout the world. There are hundreds more books and essays and projects and studies pointing to the same inescapable fact: to leave girls uneducated and women out of the mainstream of our social, economic, and political affairs is a tremendous mistake that needs to be corrected ASAP.
"There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole - women and men alike - than the one which involves women as central players ."
- Kofi Annan
Two Good Movies
Iron Jawed Angels
starring Hillary Swank: dramatizes how suffragists changed the U.S. Constitution to give women the vote.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
starring the women of Liberia: shows real women demanding and getting peace. Use this link to see a blog post. See also this AFWW blog post. If we want a model and example of how women can mobilize and persist over a long period, we need look no further than the suffragists. If we want a model for how women supported by men can bring an end to war, we need to study "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."