By Hallie Kay
A Northeastern University professor of sociology explored the connection between empowerment of women and militaristic tendencies in North African and Middle Eastern countries Wednesday at the Stamp Student Union.
Professor Valentine M. Moghadam focused on gender and inequality in connection with peace and security issues during her keynote speech at the two-day “The Future of Humanity: The Challenge of Global Peace and Security” conference.
The conference was hosted by the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace, and Moghadam was introduced by Dr. Hoda Mahmoudi, chair and research professor at this university.
Moghadam gave the third keynote speech of the conference, entitled, “Women, Peace and Security: What are the Connections? What are the Limitations?”
Moghadam is a professor of sociology and international affairs and director of the Middle East Studies program at Northeastern University.
“Women play important roles in peace movements, peace initiatives and post-conflict reconstruction…even though in many situations, women’s roles are defined by others and their voices are marginalized or relegated to the periphery,” Moghadam said.
She explored the roles of “militarism, masculinities and gender inequality” in the overall militaristic and war-related actions of North African and Middle Eastern countries.
She spoke about how many systems in these areas have inequality and complexities built into them that exacerbate inequalities that exist in the countries themselves, and how they lend themselves to increasing militarism and the use of violence over diplomacy.
Moghadam explored questions about ideas like patriarchy and gender equality, and how they help facilitate war and militarism.
A main question that she explored was, “What would a feminist peace look like?”
In her speech, she expanded on her own research and also talked about contributions made to the field by other feminist scholars.
She noted the serious lack of women in international relations and security positions, saying that women, for the most part, have been clearly excluded from most international decision-making.
She said that “women’s invisibility on theories of the interstate system and of international relations” was a very clear issue internationally.
“We now accept that gender cuts through world politics and state institutions,” Moghadam said.
She noted that the overall security of North African and Middle Eastern women in both times of war and peace should be put into question. She questioned whether or not the states in which these women live are protecting them to the extent that they should be.
She called it the “false idea that women are safe in times of peace.”
Moghadam also made the connection that the more a North African or Middle Eastern country spent on arms, the more gender inequality and mistreatment was present in the country.
Countries like Tunisia, Moghadam said, were prime examples of how other countries should be: not spending so much on military and instead spending money on protecting its people with women’s security and peace programs.
Empowering women, she said, is a massive step toward decreasing militaristic and violent tendencies of these governments.
She did this by giving examples of the correlation between military spending occupying a large amount of a country’s gross domestic product and the presence of gender inequality and mistreatment.
“Political empowerment is just the end of a longer process of ensuring that girls and women are elevated from poverty…guaranteed legal equality…and guaranteed bodily integrity and dignity,” she stated.
Mahmoudi said that “one of the challenges that women have is that historically they have come into a system of patriarchy,” on Moghadam’s speech, also describing it as one on “human nature and structural inequalities.”
Moghadam is the former director of the women’s studies program at Purdue University in Indiana. She was also a Senior Research Fellow at UNU-WIDER (The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research) in Helsinki, Finland and a section chief at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris.