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Would the World Be More Peaceful If There Were More Women Leaders?
Men are barbarians, while women are civilizing. Or at least, that's how the stereotype goes.
During the opening months of the First World War, in the midst of the incendiary jingoism roiling Britain, the poet Dorothea Hollins of the Women’s Labour League proposed that an unarmed, 1,000-strong ‘Women’s Peace Expeditionary Force’ cross Europe ‘in the teeth of the guns’ and interpose itself between the warring armies in the trenches. Hollins’s grand scheme did not materialise, but neither did it emerge in a vacuum; it was nurtured by a century of activism largely grounded in maternal love. Or, as her fellow peace activist Helena Swanwick wrote: the shared fear that in war ‘women die, and see their babies die, but theirs is no glory; nothing but horror and shame unspeakable’.
Swanwick helped to found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an organisation dedicated to eliminating the causes of war. She hoped for ‘a world in the far-off future that will not contain one soldier’. Many activists believed that if women had political power, they would not pursue war. But how true is this? Do incidences of violent conflict alter when women become leaders, or when their share of parliamentary representation rises? In what sense do women mother wars?
If you ask this question out loud, not a minute will pass before someone says ‘Margaret Thatcher’, the British prime minister who waged a hugely popular war in the Falklands that led to her landslide 1983 election victory. Thatcher is hardly the only woman leader celebrated for her warmongering. Think of Boudicca, the woad-daubed Queen of the Iceni people of eastern England, who led a popular uprising against the Roman invaders; or Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi and a leader of the 1857-58 Indian Mutiny against the British; or even Emmeline Pankhurst, who led British suffragettes on a militant campaign of hunger strikes, arson and window-smashing, then, in 1914, became a vociferous supporter of Britain’s entry into the Great War.
But these examples are anecdotal because, throughout history, women leaders have been extremely rare. Between 1950 and 2004, according to data compiled by Katherine W Phillips, professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia Business School, just 48 national leaders across 188 countries – fewer than 4 per cent of all leaders – have been female. They included 18 presidents and 30 prime ministers. Two countries, Ecuador and Madagascar, had a woman leader, each of whom served for a mere two days before being replaced by a man.
Given the tiny sample size, does it even make sense to ask if, given power, women are more or less likely than men to wage wars? The medical anthropologist Catherine Panter-Brick, who directs the conflict, resilience and health programme at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, thinks not. ‘It stereotypes gender, and assumes leadership is uncomplicated,’ she told me. Perhaps she had thinkers such as Stephen Pinker in her sights. In The Better Angels of Our Nature(2011), his study of violence throughout history, Pinker wrote: ‘women have been, and will be, the pacifying force’. That assumption is not always grounded in reality, says Mary Caprioli, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Along with Mark A Boyer at the University of Connecticut, she counted10 military crises in the 20th century involving four female leaders (seven of which were handled by Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister from 1969 to 1974). To assess the behaviour of women leaders during crises, they say, one needs a large sample – ‘which history cannot provide’.
Oeindrila Dube, a professor of global conflict studies at the University of Chicago, and S P Harish at New York University – have studied four centuries of European kings and queens. In their as-yet-unpublished working paper, they examined the reigns of 193 monarchs in 18 European polities, or political entities, between the years 1480 to 1913. Although just 18 per cent of the monarchs were queens – making their analysis less statistically reliable – they found that polities ruled by queens were 27 per cent more likely than kings to participate in inter-state conflicts. Unmarried queens were more likely to engage in wars in which their state was attacked, perhaps because they were perceived as weak.
The fear of appearing weak affects modern women leaders too, according to Caprioli, perhaps causing them to over-compensate on issues of security and defence. She notes that women who emulate men, such as Thatcher, Meir and India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi (1980-84) – who claimed to be a ‘biform human being’, neither man nor woman – are more likely to succeed as political leaders. They must also contend with negative stereotypes from male opponents: for example, Yahya Khan, former president of Pakistan (1969-71), said that he would have responded less violently toward Indira Gandhi during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War if India had had a male leader. ‘If that woman [Gandhi] thinks she can cow me down, I refuse to take it,’ he said.
Dube and Harish found that women were more likely to aggress if they were sharing power with a spouse, as in the case of Isabella I and Ferdinand V, who co-ruled the Kingdoms of León and Castile between 1474 and 1504. A notable exception is Catherine the Great, who became Empress of Russia in 1762 following the assassination of her husband Peter III, and whose military campaigns extended the borders of Russia by 520,000 square km, incorporating Crimea and much of Poland.
For women to lead, they must often begin with political involvement – running for state or national parliaments, leading campaigns, organising women to run for office. In 2017, the worldwide average of women in parliament is only 23.3 per cent – a 6.5 per cent gain over the past decade. That gain is significant: Caprioli’s data shows that, as the number of women in parliament increases by 5 per cent, a state is five times less likely to use violence when confronted with an international crisis (perhaps because women are more likely to use a ‘collective or consensual approach’ to conflict resolution).
States are also more likely to achieve lasting peace post-conflict when women are invited to the negotiating table. Although the number of women included in peace talks is minuscule (a United Nations studyfound that just 2.4 per cent of mediators and 9 per cent of negotiators are women, and just 4 per cent of the signatories of 31 peace processes), the inclusion of women can make a profound difference. Peace is more likely to endure: an analysis by the US non-profit Inclusive Security of 182 signed peace agreements between 1989 and 2011 found that an agreement is 35 per cent more likely to last at least 15 years if women are included as negotiators, mediators and signatories.
Women succeed as mediators and negotiators because of qualities traditionally perceived as feminine and maternal. In Northern Ireland, Somalia and South Africa, female participants in peace processes earned a reputation for fostering dialogue and engaging all sides. They are also often seen as honest brokers, more trustworthy and less threatening, because they act outside formal power structures. Yet despite the perception of softness and malleability, their actions are often quite the opposite. In 2003, the Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee led a coalition of thousands of Muslim and Christian women in picketing, praying and fasting that helped to end the country’s brutal 14-year civil war. Dubbed ‘a warrior for peace’, Gbowee shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
Terms such as warrior, weapons and revolution are often used for groups that agitate for peace, among whom women continue to be ‘disproportionately highly represented’, according to the UN. In Israel, Women Wage Peace organises protests to pressure the government to work towards a viable peace agreement. In Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo ‘revolutionised’ motherhood by protesting the disappearance of their children during Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ from 1977 to 1983, transforming maternity from a passive role to one of public strength.
The ‘weaponising’ of traditional notions of femininity was also a strong component of the decade-long women’s peace camp at Greenham Common in the UK. Beginning in 1981 as a protest against the arrival of 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the US air base in Berkshire, the women surrounded and cut the fences of the air base, clambered over the barrier dressed as teddy bears, and pinned babies’ clothes, bottles, teething rings, diapers and family photos to the wires. Their battle was no less militant than Thatcher’s war in the Falklands, yet she dismissed the women as an ‘eccentricity’.
It seems that, no matter whether women are fighting for peace or for war, they must also battle against the assumption that they themselves are passive, weak or peculiar. History shows us that that isn’t true, and that, in the case of Isabella I and Ferdinand V, they could be relentlessly cruel: not only did the royal couple lead the Spanish conquest of the Islamic Kingdom of Granada in 1492, expelling both Jews and Muslims, they tortured those who remained and converted them to Christianity – in some cases burning them to death.
Nor are they always as peaceable as their personal history suggests: Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 ‘for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights’, has been widely condemned for failing to denounce the country’s military for its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the persecuted Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. According to Human Rights Watch, since 25 August 2017, more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled across the border to Bangladesh to escape the army’s barrage of arson, atrocities and rape.
As Caprioli notes: ‘Women leaders can indeed be forceful when confronted with violent, aggressive and dangerous international situations.’ But they can also be aggressive in the cause of peace. It is, indeed, a stereotype to dismiss women as inherently peaceable. As Swanwick wrote in The Future of the Women’s Movement (1913): ‘I wish to disclaim altogether the kind of assumption … in feminist talk of the present day.’ That is, ‘the assumption that men have been the barbarians who loved physical force, and that women alone were civilised and civilising. There are no signs of this in literature or history.’
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."