Misogynists at war?

Which factors might predict a country’s likelihood of going to war? Undemocratic government? Widespread poverty? Dare we ask — Islamic religious values?

According to a provocative new study from Valerie Hudson and WomanStats, there is another factor more closely correlated with national belligerence than any of the above: A country’s levels of violence against women. As summarized in the Deseret News:

Look closely at the way women are treated, says Valerie Hudson. Look at the nonchalance with which a nation’s men beat their wives, or the dismissive way a country condones genital mutilation. These are clues, she says, about that nation’s likelihood of waging war. . . .

It has been widely assumed that other factors are more predictive of whether a nation might be unstable or aggressive. The three most likely candidates were poverty levels, lack of democracy, and the nation’s adherence to Islamic values.

But the WomanStats project offers a fourth predictor of a nation’s instability. Violence against women (VAW, in the shorthand of WomanStats) trumps the other explanations, proving to be three times more predictive of a nation’s instability than whether a country is Islamic, and one-and-a-half times more predictive than whether a country is undemocratic, Hudson says.

I haven’t yet looked over the numbers; and I wonder how much this can show. On first glance, this seems to be an area where causation and correlation would be awfully hard to disentangle. Still, the underlying thesis — that violence is violence, and that cultures which condone violence against women are likely to be more aggressive on a large scale — makes some sense, intuitively. And Hudson’s study is intriguing. It’s on my list of things to look over in more detail once I’m done with summer school.

p.s. On a global misogyny scale of 1 to 5, Hudson’s team coded the United States as a 3.

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2 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Some clarification would be welcome: what’s “going to war”? A state against its own population? One country against another? Non-state actors within a country against other non-state actors? And if “violence is violence,” how predictive are murder rates, rates of gun-related crime, etc.?

    The Deseret News summary says, “Not surprisingly, a WomanStats map reveals highest levels of women’s physical insecurity in the Middle East, India, much of Africa, Brazil and Mexico.” Brazil scores 1.83 on Hudson’s scale, same as Japan, so I’m not sure why it’s in the D.N.’s list unless the database engine is a little flaky (cf. Afghanistan: 3.50 and Pakistan: 3.67). But even if the correct score for Brazil is a lot higher, how many wars have it, or Mexico (3.17), or for that matter Saudi Arabia (3.00) been involved in during the past 50 or 60 years, compared to, say, Israel (2.87) or the US? For the US to sit “smack dab in the middle” of the Violence Against Women scale, as the D.N. picturesquely puts it, suggests prima facie that the scale might be less predictive than alleged.

    BTW, your link to WomanStats leads, after some exploration, to a 2007 study from Hudson, not a new one…

  2. AYY says:

    This is not predictive at all. It purports to be historical, not predictive. Past performance may not reflect future results.

    But it doesn’t even seem to be historical. The data that is used is not only subjective, but is based on current conditions.