Why We Need to Engage Women in Issues of War, Hunger, Environment

The Obama administration reportedly says we can no longer make women's rights a priority in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, former President George W. Bush says we have to stay and fight in Afghanistan to help women gain rights.

While the fighting over the fighting in Afghanistan continues, it's time we looked at prioritizing "women's rights" around the world, both, as Kathleen Parker recently wrote, in our moral interest and in our strategic interest. Even more, it's worth remembering that empowering women can not only help peace take root but also help it grow. Giving at least 50 percent of the world's people at least 50 percent of the power to make smart choices leads to dramatically improved results and insane return on investment whether you are talking about national security, economic well-being, corporate success, or as in the case of my industry, environmental stewardship.

Women are responsible for as much as 80 percent of food security and nearly all of the water security for rural households worldwide. They are also most frequently charged with health security in both the developed and the developing worlds. They are, essentially, the potential guardians of the very limited and very necessary basics of survival. When those fundamental needs aren't met, regions destabilize.

Conversely, when natural resources are secured, regions stabilize. Consider post-invasion Iraq: after the initial invasions, women worked together in southern Iraq to return clean water to communities for drinking and irrigation. Their efforts, though, yielded far more. It turns out that when folks have safe drinking water and are able to grow food, they make for terrible insurgents because they would rather stay home and work the land, raise their families, and play with their children. Efforts to normalize ecosystem services were so successful in Iraq that Minister of Environment Mishkat Moumin was one of the first government officials targeted by suicide bombers who wanted progress to fail. Happy, healthy people make for terrible rebels and insurgent leaders know it.

As a society we often fail to engage women, to the detriment of everyone's bottom line, in almost any sector you can think of. Women have ended wars (think Liberia) and women have been instrumental in fighting wars (think WWII female Russian fighter pilots). Given the right tools and training and power to make basic changes with water and land, women can prevent wars. Many, perhaps most, of the future wars will be fought over the growing scarcity of natural resources. Even some of our current wars are fought over a diminished natural resource base, such as in Sudan. As water resources dry up, forests disappear, and farmland turns to desert, battles will ensue. Who are the folks who can manage those resources? Who is missing in the equation? Women.

While an ounce of water may not seem like much, an ounce of prevention, as we all know, is worth that proverbial pound of cure. We need to take a new course to invest in that ounce, first by empowering women to more effectively manage their natural resources. Yes, they will need education, health services, and economic opportunities; but it is all doable and cost-effective because women provide such a high return on investment, reinvesting 90 percent of their income into improving communities, as opposed to just 30 percent for men.

Changing the course of a life -- preventing war, creating job opportunities and building a stronger environment -- can truly grow from just a few more powerful drops in her bucket.

Visit www.anewcourse.org for more information.