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Peace on Earth, Good Will to Women

5/22/2008 --

New research shows that gender equality is linked to peace and stability.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Countries with greater equality between women and men are more economically stable and peaceful, says a University of Michigan researcher.

While no country has achieved total gender equity, those that are closest to the standard tend to be less violent, says Cindy Schipani, professor of business law at Michigan's Ross School of Business.

"Evidence suggests that empowering women within the workplace and society may lead to a reduction in poverty and greater social stability," Schipani said. "We take this proposition a step further and surmise that with stability may come less violent conflict.

In a new study in the American Business Law Journal, Schipani and colleague Terry Morehead Dworkin of Indiana University compare data on 140 countries from the United Nations' Gender Development Index (which measures the life expectancy, literacy rates, education and income of males and females) with the Heidelberg Institute's measure of violent resolution of conflicts.

The researchers divided the countries into five groups of 25 and a sixth group of 15. They found that the 15 countries with the lowest gender-development index scores resolved conflicts violently 50 percent of the time, compared with 18 percent for the top 25 countries.

In addition, the number of violent conflicts per group consistently rose as their gender-development index scores decreased.

At the top of the index are countries such as Norway, Australia, Iceland, Sweden and Canada and at the bottom are Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Niger. Most of the countries in the bottom third of the gender development index are African nations, while 16 of the top 20 are European countries. The United States ranks eighth.

"Many of the countries that rank low on gender development also rank low on human development, which may in turn lead to a lower likelihood of nonviolent, diplomatic conflict resolution," Schipani said. "Nevertheless, it is worth noting that these figures seem to continue to run in tandem."

The researchers say that business and society can play a significant role in promoting gender equality by integrating women into the work force as wage earners, especially in developing countries. Methods include the passage and enforcement of nondiscrimination laws in hiring and advancement and regarding motherhood, pregnancy and child care, as well as policies banning harassment and guaranteeing equal pay and comparable worth.

But the potentially most effective and least costly way for multinational corporations to help level the playing field for women is to provide cross-cultural mentoring, the researchers say.

"Often when a nontraditional group enters the workplace, the members tend to be clustered in certain lower-level jobs and career opportunities are limited," Schipani said. "Mentoring helps them rise in an organization and is particularly useful in breaking through the glass ceiling that exists in many developed countries."

In addition to mentoring, microlending is another way to support the economic development of women, the researchers say. Through these small loans and the income they produce (from business ventures financed by the loans), women are able to contribute to family well-being, as well as community and national development, they say.

"The independent sources of income produced through the loans, plus the exposure to new ideas, values and social support, make them more assertive of their rights," Schipani said.

"To the extent that business and society can play a role in empowering women in the workplace through microlending and mentoring, they may be able to also impact a more peaceful society. This seems a laudable goal."

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847, bernied@umich.edu