From Bonobos and Chimps to (Human) Gender and Development

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:10
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Rae Lesser BLUMBERG, University of Virginia, USA
In this paper, I first consider gender stratification among humans, bonobos and chimps, with whom we share 98-99% of DNA. Then I use the three principal variables that emerged in the bonobo-chimp-human comparisons to examine gender and development from a new perspective.  First, among bonobos, females (especially older matriarchs) invariably rule. Why? I argue that it’s because (1) they’re more organized than males, and this helps them (2) control the food supply – the bonobo equivalent of female economic power, which my theories of gender stratification and gender and development posit to be the most important (though not the only) variable affecting relative male/female equality.  Additionally, (3) they use non-violent means (sexual touching/sex) to defuse conflict within the group as well as to promote intergroup harmony.  Second, among chimps, males are the more organized sex - but they're less organized than bonobo females.  Nor do chimp males control the food supply. Though there are checks and balances on violence, male chimps resolve sexual issues with power; in contrast, bonobos resolve power issues with sex. Chimp males relate to other groups with conflict, vs. bonobo harmony; humans used peaceful intergroup trade long before organized conflict emerged. Moreover, my theories posit female organization as one way that they can turn their contributions to key subsistence activities into power.  How does this relate to development, including gender and development? In the remainder of the paper, I argue that economic power (measured by control of economic resources, e.g., income, credit, property/ land) is not only the strongest variable affecting gender equality for women but also the strongest gender variable affecting development. Then I consider all three variables to examine differential development by region. Currently, male conflict is highest where women's economic position is lowest. But worldwide, more women are earning and - at least partially - controlling income, while women's organizations also are rising. Overall, both female trends have a broader impact on development than current male conflict.