WomanStats links the status of women and the fate of nations


Governments and scholars from all over the world can collect and analyze crucial data on the status of women through a database created and maintained at BYU.

The WomanStats Database is the largest collection of information about the status of women available in the world and was developed at BYU by Valerie M. Hudson, a former BYU professor. The unique database includes information on more than 360 variables in 175 countries which include family laws, the legal age of marriage and access to formal education.

Women in Indonesia harvest plants from muddy fields. [photo taken by BYU Professor Chad Emmett]
Women in Indonesia harvest plants from muddy fields. (Photo by Chad Emmett)
Together with Hudson, professors Donna Lee Bowen and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen have collaborated to create a clan-based governance scale or clannism index using variables surrounding marriage relationships. This may be the best scale yet to measure how clannish and, subsequently, how peaceful or violent a country is, according to Nielsen.

“For example, the family law scale ranges from zero to four. Low numbers usually mean equitable family laws regarding divorce and custody: Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada, are all countries rated zero, while countries rated four are the ones that are the worst,” Nielsen said.

Another example found on womanstats.org is the legal age of marriage for women variable for which each country can receive a rating of zero, one or two. A zero indicates that a country has strict barriers to underaged marriage or doesn’t accept it culturally. A one indicates low barriers and little to no cultural disapproval, and a two indicates that the practice is common. The scale used by WomanStats has been shown to be the best and most accurate of its kind because of its unique focus on variables relating to marriage.

“Our data has been used in empirical studies to show that the best predictor of a nation’s peacefulness is not the degree to which the country is democratic or rich or of a particular civilization, but rather the security of women within a society,” Hudson said.

Numerous scholars, organizations and governments have used the WomanStats database for various purposes. According to Hudson, the database is used because of the vast amount of qualitative and quantitative information included in it.

“For example, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee used our data to prepare background briefings for its members on the IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against War) Bill. The Supreme Court of British Columbia used our data in deciding that it was constitutional for Canada to ban polygyny,” Hudson said.

Nielsen explained how conclusions drawn from the project’s data can be used to better understand individual countries.

“If a country has a high level of violence against women, then that country is more likely to be violent itself and to be insecure,” Nielsen said.

Much of the work on this project takes place at BYU. Hudson started the WomanStats project at BYU, and now oversees it at Texas A&M University while professors Emmett, Bowen and Nielsen oversee the BYU side.

The status of women in India is better understood through the country's clannism index assigned by Hudson's patrilocality scale. [photo taken by Bethany Brady]
The status of women in India is better understood through the country’s clannism index assigned by Hudson’s patrilocality scale. (Photo by Bethany Brady)
One of BYU’s student coders, Morgan Wills, 23, feels fortunate to be able to work on the WomanStats project. Wills researches patrilocality, the phenomenon of a new couple living with the groom’s family after marriage. Wills has sharpened her research skills during her time working as a coder and will use them in her future career.

“We comb through it and look for the information that fits the variables. I was looking for information specifically about patrilocality; just looking all over, talking to scholars or trying to find reports online,” Wills said.

In addition to expanding the database, Hudson, Bowen and Nielsen are working toward multiple goals within the next few years. During the short-term, they hope to publish three or four articles about different variables relating to the project. The long-term plan is then to write a book about clan-based societies and their influence not only on the status of women but also on state security and stability, which Nielsen expects will take three or four years.

Hudson also has exciting work on the horizon with her co-authored book, “The Hillary Doctrine: How Women Came to Matter in American Foreign Policy,” expected to be published sometime close to the 2016 Presidential ElectionShe’s also working on a co-authored book with several former WomanStats coders, “Men and Women Working Towards Zion,” for the LDS community.

Project coders use their experience to become well qualified for future jobs. Many pursue post-graduate work in fields related to the project, and some even work for the U.N. and U.S. government.

The WomenStats project has been incredibly successful in determining the correlation between the status of women and the stability of a country. The database is expected to grow and will continue to illuminate important information about the world.

“In other words, we are shedding light on the relationship between the security of women and the security of the states in which they live,” Hudson said.

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