Testing the Hillary Doctrine: Study finds lack of women’s rights linked to anti-American terrorism

New research appears to confirm the Hillary Doctrine: the subjugation of women is linked to anti-American terrorism.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has argued that the subjugation of women should be considered a national security issue for the United States. “Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain. The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country,” she said in 2010.

The study, published March in the peer-reviewed journal Political Research Quarterly, examined data from 156 countries from the period 1981 to 2005 and found strong support for the Hillary Doctrine. Countries with lower levels of women’s rights were more likely to have had anti-American terrorist incidents than countries respectful of women’s political rights, even after accounting for political, economic, social, and religious factors.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Nilay Saiya of the State University of New York, Brockport. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Saiya: I became interested in this topic after reading a book last year by Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl titled The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy. The Hillary Doctrine refers to talks given by Hillary Clinton arguing that women’s rights should be considered not only a moral issue but a strategic one as well. Hudson and Leidl’s book investigated the Hillary Doctrine in principle and practice.

While this book along and a growing body of literature supported a key part of the Doctrine—that countries that support women’s rights tend to be more stable, secure, and prosperous—a crucial component of Clinton’s claim remained untested—that the empowerment of women makes the United States more secure. As someone who studies terrorism, I thought it would be interesting to test Clinton’s claim by examining if countries that repress women are more likely to produce terrorists who threaten American national security.

What should the average person take away from your study?

This study finds strong support for the Hillary Doctrine. The percent change in the incident rate of terrorist attacks directed against Americans is a 49 percent decrease for every unit increase in women’s political rights, a 40 percent decrease for every unit increase in women’s social rights, and a 55 percent decrease for every unit increase in women’s economic rights, keeping the other variables in the model fixed.

To be sure, this does not suggest that gender repression is the only state-level variable behind anti-American terrorism, only that the existence of laws that codify traditions preventing society at large from seeing women as less valuable than men tends to fuel terrorism against Americans more often than countries where these restrictions do not exist. As theorized in this paper, this likely occurs because a lack of women’s rights compounds the societal issues that allow extremism to thrive.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

This paper uses quantitative analysis to test the effect of repression of women on anti-American terrorism. We did not, however, use any case studies in the paper. The argument of the paper could be buttressed by qualitative studies at the country or group level that demonstrate the causal link between repression of women’s rights and anti-American terrorism. Qualitative work might also endeavor to show how the empowerment of women has functioned as a deterrent to terrorism.

The study, “Testing the Hillary Doctrine: Women’s Rights and Anti-American Terrorism“, was also co-authored by Tasneem Zaihra and Joshua Fidler.