Equality is not a Question of ‘Goodness’

There is little doubt that engaging religious worldviews in diplomacy has gained notable traction. It’s been three years since the US  Department of States’ Office of Religion and Global Affairs was established, and similar offices or positions have been promoted in many other countries.

The office held their first Religion and Diplomacy Conference #RaDC on September 26-27. Nearly 300 experts, academics, practitioners, diplomats and religious leaders spent the two days in multiple conversations ranging from right sizing religion in conflict analysis to religions roles in combating the Zika and Ebola Viruses.

One of the most interesting discussion of the Conference was a discussion on the gender dynamics of religion and diplomacy. The discussion itself illustrated the result of increased attention and therefore increased funding to verify “known truths” in the field. Two truths that rose above others were: Are women more religious than men and are they more prone to favor diplomacy over war?

Pew presented two pieces of research, one which reviewed data released in March 2016, finding that despite the “known truth” women are only slightly more religious across the world. They also found this was mostly only true in Christian communities, while for other regions and religions the difference between genders is negligible or reversed. The second piece of research, aimed to determine whether women are more prone to choose diplomacy over war. The findings here were also negligible.

In the hearing of this data a first response could be to become defensive and more strongly advocate for women’s inclusion in peace processes. To scramble for new data or to reiterate that despite the findings women are more prone to diplomacy. Yet I’m reminded of a favorite line from Little Women, when Jo is debating with a room full of men on whether women should be given the right to vote. The men go back and forth on the goodness and innocence of women as a barrier or reason they should vote. Her response; “I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.”

Relying on claims of goodness to include stakeholders does a disservice to the rights of every individual to be represented and adequately included in peace processes.