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The Strategist Six: Valerie M. Hudson

Posted By on June 8, 2017 @ 06:00

Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature which provides a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

1. What were your aims and objectives going into The WomanStats Project, and what do your findings indicate?

The Womanstats [1] Project is an overarching project with a series of subcomponents. The broader theme of our research has always been how the situation, security and status of women affects the stability, resilience and security of the nation states in which they live. We know that this is a two-way street. However, we argue that only one direction has been examined: how instability and insecurity of the state affects women. We would like to see how women’s experiences across the world are actually helping to stabilise or destabilise their societies.

2. What are the main challenges to achieving gender equality, and do they differ between nations?

Throughout most of human history, states haven’t been the main provider of security for individuals—kin groups have. The majority of those groups are organised around males who are bonded together, usually through kinship ties, which increases the level of trust and cooperation between them. To create a male-bonded group, it’s necessary to subordinate women. Societies that still rely upon ancient systems of male-bonded groups for security act very differently from societies where the state is more of an arbiter of security. We usually find that weak states or states that don’t care about individual security—that is, where kin groups are still the guarantor of security for the individual—tend to be the cause of security concerns for the international system. That includes non-traditional security threats like food security, demographic problems, poor governance, ill health and even greater levels of state conflict.

3. The practice of ‘bride price’ has been relevant to your research. How does that practice assist terrorism and terrorist recruitment?

‘Bride price’ is a phenomenon that’s well known within affected societies but is largely overlooked in western security analysis. Bride price societies usually have a standard price for the entire group, which acts as a universal flat tax on the young men of the society. When there’s an economic downturn, young men who wish to get married find it difficult to raise appropriate sums for the bride price. At that point, terrorist organisations or rebel groups offer to help young men get married. Boko Haram is a prime example. In northern Nigeria in the early 2000s, bride price inflation was astronomical. Boko Haram recruitment focused on marginalised young men who couldn’t raise the bride price to marry, and that pressure became an easy way of recruiting disaffected young men in those societies. Around then, we began to see a wave of young girls being kidnapped; what’s underreported is that when that happened, Boko Haram members would actually leave a token bride price on the floor of the home in order to ‘legitimate’ the marriage.

4. What are your thoughts on including counterterrorism and countering violent extremism into National Action Plans on WPS?

I see the opportunities, but I also see the pitfalls. I think that it’s vital to include women in security discussions because they become instrumental to that dialogue, particularly as mothers of potentially radicalised children. But if we see only the tactical or instrumental advantage of including women, and we don’t see the larger issues of how the character of male/female relations in society affect all dimensions of national security, I don’t think we’re really taking advantage of the new set of lenses that Women, Peace and Security could offer.

5. To what extent is the Trump administration committed to addressing gender-based inequalities that lead to instability and insecurity?

Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has previously talked about how important women are to stability and peacebuilding, we’re yet to see any evidence that the Trump administration has considered women to be an important focus of American foreign and security policy. We know that in the first proposed budget that funding for the Office of Global Women’s Issues, as well as gender initiatives by USAID, were zeroed out. The second iteration restores OGWI’s funding, but states the office may be eliminated through a larger restructuring of the State Department. There’s also been no appointment for the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Those are troubling signs. We know that the Secretary of State isn’t a stranger to WPS issues, yet at this point in time it’s hard not to be somewhat discouraged.

6. What is the biggest threat to global security?

One of the more foundational threats is the issue of the character of male-female relations within a society. How a society chooses to structure those relations will have far reaching consequences for security, stability and peace. We shouldn’t be surprised when societies where all decision-making is done by men, where men feel justified in violently coercing women, where men feel justified in exploiting women’s labour and reproductive capacity, and where assets remain with men and women are structurally poorer than men become dysfunctional, poor, insecure and violent. There’s a continuum from the household, to the community, to the nation-state level, and male–female relations within a ‘normal household’ will have cascading effects on every other aspect of societal behaviour, including national security. That’s why then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ‘the subjugation of women is a threat to the security of the United States and the security of the international system.’ And I think the evidence base shows that she’s right on that matter.

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[1] Womanstats: http://www.womanstats.org/

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