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Reaction to kidnapping of 300 girls may have caught militants off-guard

Valerie Hudson, a noted scholar of gender issues and of foreign policy, says she was not surprised to learn that the Islamic militant organization Boko Haram had kidnapped 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria but is of the opinion leaders of that group did not expect the worldwide reaction.

“Boko Haram was startled that anyone outside Nigeria cared about these girls, let alone that this action would create a worldwide storm,” states Hudson, a researcher at Texas A&M University who holds the George H.W. Bush Chair at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, and is an authority on international security and foreign policy analysis.

“Girls are regularly sold as brides by their fathers, and women are considered chattel in that society.  In practical terms, the subjugation of women in Nigeria fuels the creation of terrorist groups,” she adds.

Hudson’s extensive expertise in the relationship between the status of women and a nation’s security was recently underscored when she was selected to receive a $900,000 Minerva grant.  She will share the prestigious and highly competitive grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) with three colleagues — Donna Lee Bowen, and Pepetua Lynne Nelson from Brigham Young University and Rebecca Nielsen from Yale.

The Minerva Initiative, a university-based social science research initiative focusing on areas of strategic importance to US national security policy, was created to expand the US Department of Defense’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral and political forces at work in regions of strategic importance to the U.S.  DoD is also interested in gaining the knowledge it needs to help implement the National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security established in 2011.

Through this initiative, Hudson and her colleagues will study how gender, family, legal and related issues and the overall status of women affect political and economic organization, and inter- and intra-state sociopolitical conflicts.

“This research will heighten the DoD’s strategic forecasting ability and help them deal with terrorist threats like those posed by Boko Haram,” Hudson states.

Founded in 2002, Boko Haram opposes education for girls and seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, thereby braking what it deems Westernization.  In a widespread climate of repression, women in Africa (and other parts of the world) may be denied health care and education, as well as access to loans to help them create businesses and improve their status.  Polygyny—males having multiple female partners or wives—is rampant in northern Nigeria, facilitating terrorist recruitment, and domestic violence and subjugation of women are pandemic.

In a recent opinion piece, Hudson notes that since the literacy rate among women is only 50 percent in Nigeria, the girls at the Chibok boarding school were daughters of women who knew the importance of education and were willing to sacrifice for their girls’ future.  The kidnapping highlights the clash between two possible Nigerian futures.

She cites two visions — one in which everything is for men “… to take and use for private ends — power, wealth, women, girls — producing a land full of bloodshed and corruption and waste,” and another where men and women work together to ensure safety, health, progress, and prosperity for all.

“We know that women can only become active partners in building peace and preventing conflict when they are safe and able to express their experiences and make their voices heard,” Hudson says.  “Since women make up half the earth’s population, knowing what obstacles they face in various societies and communities is vital in developing international strategies to improve their status and assure peace,” she adds.

Thanks to Hudson, Texas A&M is now home to the largest and most comprehensive database on the status of women, ( which has generated both academic and policy interest worldwide.

“This resource has more information than the World Bank or the United Nations,” Hudson says.  She and her co-principal investigators of the WomenStats Project have published a wide variety of empirical work linking the security of women to the security of states which has appeared in such journals as International Security, the Journal of Peace ResearchPolitical Psychology, and Politics and Gender.

Bush School Dean Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador and career diplomat, notes that Hudson’s research is bringing a new and important perspective to how the United States deals with women’s rights in other countries as a national security issue in our country.

“Dr. Hudson and her colleagues are providing vital empirical evidence of the importance of women in bringing stability and peace to their nations,” Crocker says. “That is a critical interest of this country.  Her work and teaching enhance our scholarship as we educate future leaders and public servants.”

Hudson’s most recent book, forthcoming in late 2014, is The Hillary Doctrine: How Sex Came to Matter in American Foreign Policy.