Many Americans believe that in their lifetime they will live to see a female commander-in-chief. It’s possible that one will be elected in the 2016 presidential elections. The fact remains, however, that most populations around the world have not witnessed a powerful female head of state. Most citizens arguably want the same thing: a government that works for them. New research from the political science department shows that gender roles significantly matter. It also shows how gender-based treatment makes a difference.
An August 2015 study published in the American Political Science Review by Donna Lee Bowen and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen showed a distinct correlation between poor government and poor treatment of women. The professors explored the “micro-level processes that link clan predominance with dysfunctional syndromes of state behavior. Clans typically…are characterized by extreme subordination of women effected through marriage practices.” In addition, the researchers noted that “particular types of marriage practices give rise to particular types of political orders and may be fiercely guarded for just this reason.”
Professors Bowen and Nielsen’s research demonstrates that the stability of governments is tied to the autonomy of women in marital unions. Their study, titled Clan Governance and State Stability: The Relationship Between Female Subordination and Political Order, concludes that the existence of powerful clans tend to undermine the possibility of a functional, capable state.
“Clan governance is a useful predictor of indicators of state stability and security, and we probe the value added by its inclusion with other conventional explanatory variables often linked to state stability and security,” according to the researchers’ abstract report.
The study also found that one can predict the effectiveness of government based on the extent of oppression women experienced in marriage. “These findings suggest it may be difficult to construct a more egalitarian—or more secure—society where households are profoundly inegalitarian between the sexes,” state the authors. “We [can] elicit much through the lens of gender, not just about women as such, but about attitudes towards civic tolerance and governance more broadly”
What does this suggest, then, for governments looking to improve their strength and cohesion? More than the dissolution of the power of agnatic, or male-only, lineages, or the promotion of literacy and education, the provision of free health care, an emphasis on industrial production or on a more equitable distribution of wealth, the improvement of the situation of women as a whole in marriage relationships is what is most likely to improve governmental quality.