Women: Key to Ending Poverty…and War!

March 17, 2011


Women and the Earth

Empowered women, it turns out, are the catalysts for abolishing poverty and spurring a community’s or nation’s economic development.


Kristoff and Wu Dunn

The inspiring book, Half the Sky, by NY Times Reporter Nicholas Kristoff and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn tells stories from around that world that unequivocally lays out examples and data to compellingly support the truth of this powerful “woman effect.”


While others have attempted to make the same point, that women given education and some financial resources can be economic powerhouses, this husband and wife team have gathered so many statistics and personal stories into one place that it makes an especially compelling case.


Think also of the work of the Heifer Foundation. The Foundation gives income-producing livestock like a cow or a hive of honey bees, to people in poverty. The idea is that when the animals produce offspring, the recipient must pass the gift along to a neighbor. Heifer Foundation was among the first to discover and confess openly that they got the best results when they gave the gift to a woman.  She was more likely to use it in a way that benefited her family, and also her community.

Consider as well the micro-loan system developed by Economics Nobel Prize Winner, Muhammad Yunis, in which roughly 96% of loans were made to women. After some experience, Yunus also discovered that women were far more likely to spend the money successfully in creating a business, and were better than men at loan repayment. Men tended to spend on items or activities that increased their social status…if you will, things like paying for all the drinks at the coffee house or buying a flashy car. 


Each of these projects found that giving small aid to women tends to have positive financial outcome for the recipient’s family, and even their community. Reduced to simplest terms, AFWW argues that creating social stability in their community is a strong, biologically built-in motivator for women in general, and women spend and use their resources accordingly. Hence the conclusion that empowered women—with some education and financial resources—are the key to ending poverty.

But empowering women isn’t only good for ending poverty and improving the economic conditions of developing nations. One of AFWW’s major efforts is to convince a critical mass of the earth’s citizens that empowering women so that they become full partners with men in our governing bodies is also the key catalyst to abolishing war.

Why should that be so?

Well researched and carefully interpreted studies enable a firm assessment with respect to war: as groups, men differ significantly from women in their greater proclivity to use violence in many contexts, including war (Daly and Wilson, 1988; Campbell, 2005; Hand, 2003; Potts and Hayden, 2008).

Judith Hand

“Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace” by Judith Hand puts forward a “social stability” hypothesis to explain this sexual difference (details also on a web essay). Much simplified, the argument is as follows: Women invest more reproductive effort and risk in assuring the well-being and survival of their offspring than do men. Women carry an offspring to term, nourishing it within their body. They endure the risks of childbirth. They must provide milk from their bodies for many months. Then they must care for, protect, and support a child for years before it is old enough to reproduce…they key to the survival of the species. Because of this huge investment in their offspring, women, in general when compared to groups of men, are more inclined by evolved, built-in proclivities to use many behaviors that function to create a socially stable, secure community in which to raise very helpless, slow-maturing offspring to reproductive age and beyond.

Sarah Hrdy

A fine book by the anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, Mothers and Others: on the Origins of Mutual Understanding, outlines the extraordinary cooperation and effort required to rear human children to maturity. If during a violent conflict a woman looses a baby or child, she will experience far more difficulty in bearing and caring for a replacement than a man would experience in fathering one. If a woman should die in such a conflict, her still helpless young will lose their primary caregiver, a possibly fatal loss for a child. These are realities that make social stability a much higher priority for women than it is for men.

It’s this built-in female preference for fostering social stability, including working to provide a safe and healthy community in which to raise children,  that makes the participation of women as full partners with men a critically necessary component of any campaign to prevent war, maintain a truce once achieved, and ultimately render war obsolete. Ending war is in the best interests of both men and women to be sure, but it is profoundly in the reproductive best interests of women.

Thus it is that empowering women is not only a key to ending poverty, empowered women are also a key to ending war.

%d bloggers like this: