Valerie Hudson is a Professor and the George H.W. Bush Chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. She is also co-author of the recent The Hillary Doctrine: Sex in American Foreign Policy.

Your book examines then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s approach to foreign policy—the so-called Hillary Doctrine—that purports that the subjugation of women worldwide is a threat to the common security of all nations. You ultimately support that idea. What evidence did you find in your research to back this up?

I’ve got lots of evidence, and most of the hard, academic evidence went into my first book, Sex and World Peace. This second book was intended to be more reader friendly and included qualitative data. My co-author Patricia Leidl traveled to Afghanistan, Yemen, Mexico, and Guatemala to get a sense of how these ideas are interlinked—how women are not the canaries in the coal mine. Male–female relations are the coal mine, and poverty, ill health, violence, and dysfunctional government are the canaries that tell the tale.

There’s also empirical work using statistical testing. So for example, Professor Mary Caprioli’s work shows that states with better levels of gender equality are less likely to have interstate and intrastate conflicts or use force first, that is, be the aggressors in a conflict. My own findings show how the level of physical security of women is correlated with the overall peacefulness of the nation and in particular its relations with its neighboring countries and its compliance with its own treaty obligations. Rose McDermott has done negotiation and war gaming simulations and has found that women are less likely to resort to force, which bolsters Caprioli’s argument. There is also a lot of psychological literature showing that boys that have been socialized in households with domestic violence are more likely to use violence to resolve interpersonal conflicts in their own lives.

Bring us up to speed on the Hillary Doctrine. Has Hillary the candidate mentioned it on her campaign?

No, she has talked in vague terms about the importance of women but I haven’t seen a foreign policy speech during the campaign seasons. Is that a strategic move on her part? Does she think talking about it won’t gain her voters? If that’s her judgment, that’s pretty sad.

How would Hillary Clinton as president be able to implement her strategy differently than when she was Secretary of State? What might we expect?


Columbia University Press

That’s a question that hung over our work because what we found was that while she took it very seriously and was willing to follow up with programming and resources, somewhere between Foggy Bottom and the Oval Office, its importance got dropped and there was not much will at the top to consider the impact of foreign policy moves on women.

In fact, we have that awful quote from an unnamed Obama official in 2011 describing US efforts to advance women [in Afghanistan] a “pet rock” that was “weighing down our rucksacks.” If that’s what Hillary was dealing with with her boss, then her ability to implement effectively was likely to have been seriously restrained. In Afghanistan, it wasn’t Clinton who dropped the ball—it was Obama who dropped the ball, and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker gave us a devastating interview in which he made that case in spades.

So this would be different with a Hillary administration?

Absolutely, no one in her inner circle would dare suggest gender was a “pet rock” that would be subordinated to more pressing issues. Just by the choice of staff—by the choice of cabinet heads, we would see much more than just the rhetorical tip of the hat. We’d see real commitment and you saw it in a more circumscribed way at State and USAID when she was Secretary of State. People paid attention. You need to do this gender stuff—people would say, “Teach me,” “Tell me what I’m looking for,” “What should I emphasize in requests for proposals?” There was an openness there that went away when she went away. Kerry mentioned women for the first few months and then really it’s become a nonissue for him. Cathy Russell, the current head of the Office of Global Women’s Issues (OGWI), doesn’t hold the same sort of relationship with Kerry that former OGWI head Melanne Verveer did with Hillary.

If Hillary were elected, all that groundwork she laid for women—including elevating the OGWI, creating nine gender indicators in the Master Indicator List, making sure the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was chock full of references to women, and creating the US National Action Plan—would still be there. If she came back as president, she could turn the light switch back on. And she’d be much further ahead than in 2009. She’d be so far ahead with people already there or willing to come back. We’d see a much more effective implementation of the Hillary Doctrine.

How does the example of Guatemala in your book demonstrate that empowering women would help stave off violent conflict and authoritarianism?


David Amsler
Guatemalan women walk in Comalapa. Guatemala is used as an example in support of the Hillary Doctrine, demonstrating that empowering women can prevent violent conflict.

Where does a culture of impunity come from—the kind you see in such a dysfunctional regime—and this template of pillaging and raping the state and its resources for its own benefit? It comes from the toleration of pillage and rape during the genocidal war against the Mayan and against intellectuals. There is a devastating new report about high levels of incest in Guatemala fueling the teen pregnancy rate there. This shows what you live by in the household, where males are completely dominant; there is an expectation to use violence and to live off of the labor of their wives and female kin. When they have impunity for committing crimes like incest, this spills over into the entire culture, the political culture of a country. Especially in a country like Guatemala with a history of a genocidal conflict. The war against the Maya kickstarted a dysfunctional state in Guatemala where Mayan women were targeted for horrendous atrocities and where it was recognized that to break the Mayans, you had to destroy their women. It was useful to kill the men, but you had to destroy the women, and it was an effective way to destroy and attack that community and force many to flee across the border.

Walk us through the role USAID has had in (inadvertently) setting back women’s rights?

USAID used to be a marvelous tool to advance foreign policy interests in tandem with interests of foreign countries, and that has been degraded over time.

It once employed engineers, agricultural specialists, sanitation engineers, and experts who went into the field. But over time, personnel got slashed even as the budget increased significantly. So USAID was forced to become just a matchmaker: matching huge American contractors with programs to be implemented on the ground, and so this, plus the vigorous accounting requirements, has done a double whammy on USAID. In fact, one of the things I discovered was that USAID doesn’t even do its own monitoring and evaluation of its own contractors—it relies on the contractors themselves to do it.

One of the reasons awards all go to these megacontractors is that the application process is absolutely arcane and complicated—you would need an immense staff to fill it out. And USAID doesn’t want to hear you need USD$20,000 in Mali. They want companies asking for USD$20 million. Plus everything has to be done in English. So these NGOS would just say, “We just can’t do it.” And then the folks who could make the most effective interventions would never get the money.

And these megacontractors are like a holding company and they hand off projects to subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, and finally when it gets to the Nepali or Indian worker on the ground implementing it, they couldn’t care less about things like women. Your gender-sensitive USAID program is being implemented by people who don’t care about gender, and they treat women in demeaning and humiliating ways, often using and running brothels on the side. The more we investigated the USAID angle, we were just stupefied by how this tool has been degraded to the point that it brings about the opposite of what it was intended to bring about.

Let’s envision a world in 50 years in which most of what you would like to see happen, has happened. How did we get there, and how does this world look better from today?

I’d like to see a world with lower violence against women and higher levels of gender equality. That’s vague, but the one thing I would do if I had a magic wand is eliminate child marriage from the face of the earth. There is no other social practice that mires society in utter dysfunction than the marriage of girls who are 8, 9, 10, 11, up to 14. This guarantees you have poor outcomes not only for the girls but for the children and society. If that one issue was solved it would solve so much.

Other issues, on the heels of that, are polygamy, which does the same—it mires future generations in poverty, levels of physical violence against women, and property rights for women. Before I get to the wage gap or labor participation for women or women in government, I would do these basics. If we had those things, everything would change. Rwanda for example has now 60 percent women, but for the life of a rural woman in Rwanda, not a heck of a lot has changed. It’s the household dynamics that needs to change. When the house changes, then interventions from the top bear fruit.


Christina Asquith

Christina Asquith joined Solutions in 2009 as one of the founding editors. She has been an investigative reporter, war reporter, and narrative nonfiction author; working both as a staff writer and freelancer...

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