Two Cornerstones for Economic Development, Justice, and Peace
Riane Eisler's Arab American Summit Plenary Session, September 30, 2003.
Youth Development & Women Empowerment: The Future Equation
Women’s empowerment and youth development are essential foundations for building a healthy, innovative economy as well as a more just and peaceful world.
Because these are emotionally charged subjects surrounded by many fears and misconceptions, I want to start with two important points.
The first is that empowering women does not mean disempowering men. On the contrary, empowering women is of enormous benefit to men as well as to children and youth of both genders. The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy. It is a partnership society where, beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species – that between the female and male halves of humanity – difference is not automatically equated with superiority and inferiority, with dominating or being dominated.
The second point is that although issues directly affecting the majority of humanity – women, children, and youth – are still generally considered peripheral or secondary issues, these issues are actually central to social, economic, and human development and a better general quality of life for all.
This has been thoroughly verified by a growing body of empirical studies, including the excellent 2002 Arab Human Development Report sponsored by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, which concluded that raising the status of women is essential for both economic and human development.
This too is a key finding from my research over three decades looking at both the so-called developed and developing world, including a statistical study conducted under the auspices of the Center for Partnership Studies, published in 1995 under the title Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life in time for the Beijing UN Women’s conference.
We compared two clusters of statistics collected by national an international agencies. One consisted of measures of quality of life, ranging from infant and adult mortality rates to levels of education and GDP. The other consisted of measures of the status of women, ranging from the literacy gap between males and females to rates of political participation and contraceptive availability.
One of our main findings may surprise some people: that in significant respects the status of women can be a better predictor of the general quality of life than GDP, the conventional measure of national productivity and wealth. For example, at the time of our study the GDP of Finland and Singapore, which was enjoying a period of economic prosperity, were virtually identical. The same was true for France and Kuwait. But the status of women, as measured for example by the percentage of women in legislatures was much higher in Finland and France – and so also was the general quality of life, as measured by such fundamental indicators as infant and maternal mortality rates – which were twice as high in Singapore and Kuwait, even though, as I said the GDPs were almost the same.
Similarly, the 2000 World Values Survey of the University of Michigan, measuring the correlations between values, cultural attitudes, economic prosperity, human rights, and democracy indicators, showed that movement away from gender roles and relations based on male control over women was a key element in economic development, more democracy, and greater respect for human rights.
Now you may ask why is this? There are many reasons.
Obviously, when the female half of the population receives better health care, nutrition, and education, this directly impacts not only a nation’s economic capacity and productivity but its quality of human capital – that is, child and youth development since women play such a huge role in caring for children and youth. It also directly impacts population growth. Study after study shows that the only way to stem the global population explosion and all its negative economic, environmental, and social effects, including increased rates of violence both intranationally and internationally, is by empowering women.
But there are, in addition, less immediately visible critical indirect effects. As the status of women rises, so also does the cultural value and fiscal priority given to what have traditionally been considered stereotypically feminine traits and activities, such as nurturance, caregiving, and nonviolence– whether they reside in women or men. As a result, universal health care, universal childcare, paid parental leave and other caring and caregiving activities receive more social priority and funding. This in turn leads to human development, and with it, high quality human capital, as we see in Nordic nations such as Finland, Sweden, and Norway, which were very poor nations before these policies were instituted.
I want to emphasize that what we are dealing with is not a matter of anything inherent in women or men, but of a traditional construction of gender roles which defines masculinity as not being like a woman – and which at the same time devalues women and anything stereotypically considered feminine. So what happens as women are less subordinate and devalued, is that men feel more comfortable embracing these values and activities. As a result, human development – better care and education for young people and children, as well as the fuller inclusion of women in governance – receive more cultural value and funding. And “softer” more stereotypically feminine nonviolent means of conflict resolution are also more valued, as reflected in the fact that the first peace academies came out of the Nordic world.
I want to add that the Nordic nations, where the status of women is higher than in any other world region, and childcare, healthcare, and education – essential for youth empowerment – are top fiscal priorities, always rank very high in the UN Human Development Reports. Not only that, last year Finland ranked second only to the immeasurable richer and more powerful United States in the World Economic and Technological Competitiveness Ratings.
These are interactive, integrative systemic changes in which raising the status of women is integral to a higher general quality of life and the development economic capacity – of that high quality human capital so needed for the industrial and particularly postindustrial world. Conversely, and this too can be seen in both so-called developed and developing nations, in times and places where there is a backlash against women’s empowerment, against expanding women’s rights, capacities, and opportunities, we see a contraction in funding for health, education, and welfare – policies that have extremely negative long-term effect on the development of human capacity and the high quality human capital needed in our globalized postindustrial world.
While what I have briefly documented are not the only factors needed to move toward a more equitable, prosperous, and peaceful world, without the empowerment of women and without its corollary of youth development, we lack two of the cornerstones on which a better future can rest.
It is my hope, not only as an investigator of leverage points – key intervention points that can help us move to a better tomorrow – but as a mother and grandmother, that one of the outcomes of this conference with be an active commitment in reality not just rhetoric to raising the status of women and, with this, the development of youth.
What we urgently need at all levels of society is a full partnership between women and men to these ends because the empowerment of women and youth development are essential cornerstones for the more equitable, abundant, sustainable, and peaceful future we all want and need for ourselves, our children, and generations still to come.
Riane Eisler is internationally recognized for her pioneering work in human rights, peace studies, and a new economics of partnership. She has taught at UCLA, consults for business and government on the partnership model introduced in her work, and keynotes conferences worldwide. Dr. Eisler is best known for her international bestseller The Chalice and The Blade, translated into 19 languages, and the award-winning The Power of Partnership, a guide to personal and cultural transformation. Her books also include Tomorrow’s Children, applying her interdisciplinary research to education which as just translated into Urdu for use in Pakistan, and Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life, which statistically documents the link between the status of women and a nation’s general quality of life. Dr. Eisler is co-founder of the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SAIV) as a critical step toward peace and development, and president of the Center for Partnership Studies, www.partnershipway.org.