Women's Greater Role in Nation-Building Can Lead to Economic and Political Stability in Post-Conflict Countries

For Release

February 27, 2008

Women's participation in post-conflict nation-building is an important ingredient in achieving an equitable, peaceful and more prosperous society, according to a RAND Corporation study released today.

While many policymakers and development agencies fear that pursuing a stronger role for women in nation-building “too soon” will lead to instability, RAND researchers say that the available information suggest otherwise.

A society that shows greater concern for the rights of the weaker strata of its society — including women — will be less likely to initiate violence, while economic and social development are strongly elevated when women enter the marketplace, according to the report from the RAND National Security Research Division.

“Gender equity and women's inclusion play a central role both as a litmus test and as an active variable shaping a more democratic, stabilized and developed society,” said Cheryl Benard, the study's lead author and a senior political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Incorporating women in the nation-building process as early on as possible will help make these improvements happen sooner.”

The report, titled “Women and Nation-Building,” examines the role that women have played in the recent reconstruction activities in Afghanistan and its impact on the post-conflict nation.

Researchers concluded that when Afghanistan started to embrace a new and expanded public role for women in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban, that effort encountered less pushback than critics expected.

Women voted, signed petitions, ran for public office, were outspoken critics of corruption and the influence of warlords, served as provincial governors and ministers and joined the Afghan police force — even in highly conservative provinces.

Based on this case study and lessons from experiences in other regions, researchers concluded that the goal of establishing stability — defined as avoiding a renewed outbreak of hostilities — and the goal of establishing a more equitable society do not contradict one another, as is often feared.

Even in some of Afghanistan's most perilous locales — areas too dangerous for aid organizations to operate — reports suggest that there is a strong desire among the local population for socioeconomic advancement and improvements in daily life. That desire has led women and other civilians to cooperate with international security forces, at times providing information important to military endeavors.

“Policymakers and development agencies have in many cases been formulating their policy — that women's inclusion is risky and may have to be postponed — on suppositions rather than facts,” Benard said. “Survey research and opinion polls indicate that Afghans generally were supportive of women's social and economic participation, while statistical data show that gender parity and women's participation in public life are a significant contributor to stability, not a risk factor.”

According to the study, nation builders should work to reconcile traditional values with progressive ideas involving women's participation in society.

To enhance the results of nation-building, the study suggests that nations should place a greater emphasis on the broader concept of human security from the earliest phase of nation-building efforts. In addition, leaders should establish governance based on principles of equity and consistent rule of law, and should include women in the earliest economic reconstruction activities.

The study was sponsored by the government of Qatar and conducted within the Initiative for Middle Eastern Youth and the Center for Middle East Public Policy, both a part of the RAND National Security Research Division.

The report is available at www.rand.org. Other authors of the study are Seth G. Jones, Olga Oliker, Cathryn Quantic Thurston, Brooke K. Stearns and Kristen Cordell.

The RAND National Security Research Division conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the U.S. intelligence community, allied foreign governments and foundations.

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