Nobel Peace Prize 2014 Highly Relevant in Light of Research

10 October 2014

The Nobel peace prize this year goes to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay ‘for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education’.

‘It is a good choice’, says Magnus Öberg Head of the Department of peace and Conflict Research. ‘The connection to a more peaceful world was questioned at the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s press conference and perhaps the connection is not obvious. But as a matter of fact the laureates’ work is highly relevant to a more peaceful world.’

Research done at the Department of peace and Conflict Research, among other places, shows that the degree of equality between men and women in a society is strongly associated with peace, both within a country and in relation to other countries.

‘Among individuals you find that those who have the most positive attitudes towards equality between the sexes in society are also less inclined to use violence, as well as less prone to support warlike foreign policies, torture of suspected terrorists, and similar policies. These are very strong associations and they are robust even when we take into account alternative explanations such as economic wellbeing, education level, religion, and so on,’ says Professor Erik Melander who does research in these topics.

There are several explanations for why gender equality is associated with peace and less violence more generally. Gender equality emerges in societies when traditional repressive gender roles that privilege men and glorifies violence weaken. Oppression of women begins within the family and teaches children from an early age that human beings are not of equal worth and that some groups dominate at the expense of other groups – often through violence or the threat of violence. More equal societies therefore become more tolerant because children do not in the same way learn that oppression is normal. The norms that all humans have equal rights and that violence is a last resort rather than something honorable and a natural way of settling differences are critical to how peaceful a society becomes, and these norms change in a peaceful direction as a consequence of improved gender equality. Therefore, the fight for gender equality and Malala Yousafzay’s work for girls’ right to education is also a fight for a more peaceful world.

‘The same argument can be made about how children’s rights are viewed. When children are treated as slaves without rights, and when violence is considered a natural part of raising children, a hard and violent society follow. The work for children’s rights and Kailash Satyarthi’s fight against harmful child labor helps us see the equal value of all human beings, and that it is wrong that stronger individuals use violence and coercion against the weak and defenseless’, says Erik Melander.

Through history a tendency towards more humanistic values can be observed. Cruel and violent practices that were once considered natural, honorable or simply entertaining are now rightly viewed as bizarre and immoral. Slavery, torture, dueling, the burning of witches and cruelty towards animals are examples of practices that have become unacceptable in most societies. When our views on such cruelties change the world becomes more peaceful and less violent. The fight for more humanistic values is therefore also a fight for peace.

Prof Heinz Werner Wessler, Professor of Indology at Uppsala University says:

“The Pakistani school girl Malala Yousafzay, who dared to continue to go to school even though she was aware of the risks to be harmed by the enemies of female education, and the experienced fighter and organizer Kailash Satyarthi, social activist and non-violent fighter in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, stand for the thousands and hundred thousands of people who struggle hard in all the countries of the Indian Subcontinent to secure the right of education, which we in the Western countries tend to take for granted. The lexical meaning of "Satyarthi" is "a person committed to truth" - the name stands for the person.”

Prof Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University says:

“I am delighted for this year’s Noble Peace Prize going to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi for their fight for children’s right and education in South Asia. Both have shown great personal courage to fight for justice and peace in the sub-continent. Moreover, the selection of a Pakistani and an Indian for this coveted honour will hopefully encourage the leaders of both Pakistan and India to desist from cross-border firing and purse a peace process.”