This means we need to examine the things that constrain women in their homes, in their personal lives — high levels of violence against women and impunity for their assailants, lack of property and inheritance rights, laws that favor men in divorce and child custody cases, polygyny, bride prices, dowries. These practices constitute the first political order of any society. The structure of the relationship between the two halves of humanity is the basis for the political order of every nation, and if that order allows autocracy, violence and extortion, a nation will arc in those directions as well.
This is not philosophical, this is practical. Studies have shown that men who hold that women are inferiors are much more likely to engage in political violence. They are also much more likely to be hostile to minorities and foreigners. If household governance is by male fiat, no wonder government winds up autocratic, ineffective and corrupt. The household is the training ground: Men are trained in the practices they will use when they gain societal power.
Societies that subordinate women also find themselves saddled with chronic destabilization caused by the practices that produce that subordination. If sex-selective abortion has culled 12 percent of 15 percent of the females in a society, as has happened in China and India, national instability follows. When bride prices go through the roof, terrorist groups discover they can gain recruits by promising money for bride prices and even brides to young men.
In sum, the law of the first political order is this: What you do to your women, you do to your nation.
Examining 122 outcome variables capturing nine dimensions of national security including governance, conflict, economic performance, health and environmental preservation, my co-authors and I have found that the first political order is both highly significant and displays the largest or second-largest explanatory power for outcomes.
So, yes, by all means create an Office of Global Women’s Empowerment in the State Department, as recent legislation has done. But there is much more to do, and it starts at home. The to-do list includes refusing to erode women’s hard-won reproductive rights, and ensuring women can combine reproduction and production. It also means refusing to redefine household-level subordinative practices, such as polygamy, as just another lifestyle choice, as well as understanding domestic violence for what it really is — a form of terrorism which must be treated as such under the law.
Curse your women, and you curse your nation. And you curse our world with all the instability caused as a result.
Valerie M. Hudson, a professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University, is, with Donna Lee Bowen and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen, an author of “The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide.”
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