Promoting women’s education and rights in the developing world may be one of the most effective ways for the United States to ensure its national security, said Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Coleman spoke Thursday in Linsly-Chittenden about her research on the role of women in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Coming to Yale on an invitation from the Women Faculty Forum and Theodore Bromund, the associate director of International Security Studies, Coleman spoke about a correlation she has discovered between gender empowerment and economic development. Gender equality, Coleman said, tempers radical fundamentalism, promotes democracy and helps a nation transition into the modern age.
Coleman cited three examples in her research. She spoke about the specific developmental struggles Egypt, Qatar and Pakistan face and how the United States is helping these nations.
“I think the Bush administration in particular is interested in girls’ education as a lever [for development],” Coleman said.
Data supports educating women as a means of conducting effective foreign policy, she said. An increase of one year in the average education of a nation’s women corresponds to a 5 to 10 percent decrease in that country’s child mortality rates. In addition, she said educating female farmers has proven to be the most effective way to raise a country’s agricultural production, overshadowing other methods, such as increasing land plots or fertilizer usage.
Microfinance, or “putting money in women’s hands,” may make a difference to a country’s development as well, she said. Coleman referred to a study that showed while women spend 90 percent of their income on their family, men put only 30 to 40 percent of their earnings toward theirs. When women earn money, she said, they use it to benefit the community.
Political corruption also has a tight relationship to gender equality, Coleman said.
“Corruption falls as the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women rises,” Coleman said. “I don’t think it’s that women are any less corrupt than men. It’s just that they are new to power — and use it differently.”
Coleman acknowledged that there is a tension over working for women’s rights in Islamic areas.
“Gender issues cannot be sidelined due to religious or cultural sensitivities,” Coleman said. “It’s no longer just an equity issue.”
Director of International Security Studies Paul Kennedy, who introduced Coleman, said he was particularly concerned about Pakistan’s development. He said the nation’s population is expected to rise so dramatically that it could likely become a security threat for the United States.
Sara Enders ’06 said while she felt Coleman’s proposals for empowering women abroad did not lack merit, they may be difficult goals to accomplish.
“It seems like a lot of what she’s talking about is absolutely impossible without the support of the government [of a developing nation],” Enders said.
Enders said it was the first time she had heard that working for women’s rights could promote U.S. interests in foreign affairs.
Kennedy closed the talk with an invitation for Coleman to return in several years to speak on the progress of this nascent movement in foreign policy.