Political violence, conflict, and inequality are closely related, but not necessarily in the ways that people think. Countries in which there is great inequality between rich and poor do not experience more violent conflict than countries with less economic inequality. In contrast, inequalities between groups defined by religion, ethnicity, or regional identities are linked to a significantly higher risk of armed conflict. The good news is that while income inequality between individuals is increasing, identity group-based inequality seems to be decreasing. This could lead to less conflict in the future.
The simple answer is yes. Now, let’s discuss in more depth why gender equality is a key ally in the prevention of violent conflict.
Gender equality is an essential factor in a country’s security and stability. Excluding women from actively participating in society can increase the risk of instability. Gender equality is not only about doing what is right or about social justice; it is also an important element in economic development and a critical predictor of stability and security, which can inform and improve work on conflict prevention.
Risk management is a topic that conjures up mind-numbing images of log frames, badly rendered PowerPoint process diagrams, and “handbooks” that often run many hundreds of pages. Cast in this light, many tend to see risk management in narrow terms—as a box-checking exercise, a mere process to avoid a loss, or lowering the probability of a bad thing from occurring. A key takeaway from the recommendations of the UN-World Bank jointly published report, Pathways for Peace, is the urgent need to jettison this narrow managerial and technocratic view of risk management toward a more dynamic, sophisticated, and ambitious view of risk that ought to place it at the very core of how humanitarian and development practice can achieve better outcomes.
At least since Aristotle, theorists have believed that political discontent and its consequences—protests, instability, violence, revolution—depend not only on a society’s absolute level of economic well-being, but also on its distribution of wealth. However, many societies also experience low levels of conflict that continue to simmer without tipping over into the kind of outright violence that takes a heavy toll on lives, livelihoods, economic output, and stability for multiple generations.
Consider some figures: In 2016, the world spent almost US$1.7 trillion on military expenditures, a number that included not only weapons, but also pensions and salaries of personnel. By contrast, data from the OECD show that net official development assistance for the same year peaked at US$142 billion. In other words, countries spend over ten times more on war than aid in an era when about 2 billion people still live in places where violence is a threat to life.
Why pathways toward violence are hard to shift, and what we can do to help
Have you ever left your house in the morning for an early appointment—a doctor’s visit, say—and found yourself, 20 minutes later, outside your office building instead? You’ve made that commute so many times, your body just took you there without your brain really noticing.
We do this on a collective level, too. We develop rituals and continue doing them, sometimes long after they cease to make sense or bring us benefit.
When the report Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict was released, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “Preventing violent conflict is a universal concern. It is not only for those in a specific region or income bracket. We are all affected, and we must work together to end this scourge.” However, achieving the worthy goal of preventing violent conflict seems far away. In fact, recent years have experienced an increase in the number of ongoing conflicts.
Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” ~ Albert Einstein
Today, conflicts have become more complex and last longer. About 2 billion people —about a third of the world’s population —now live in countries affected by conflict. This conflict is often linked to global challenges from climate change to human trafficking. Violent conflicts are no longer defined by national borders. They cost about $13.6 trillion every year and pose a significant threat to the 2030 agenda, which is why governments around the world are interested in taking more effective measures to prevent them.