The true measure of a society’s success should be the well being of those who live in it. Are they healthy and happy? Do they have their basic needs met? Are they free from the fear of violence? While the matriarchal “Societies of Peace,” as described the book of the same title edited by Heidi Goettner-Abendroth, represent many differing eras and places and each is unique, in general they succeed in creating such lives for those who live or lived in them. Carol Christ recently explained what characterizes these matriarchal societies:
Matriarchal societies have 4 characteristics in common:
1) They practice small-scale agriculture and achieve equality through gift-giving as a social custom.
2) They are egalitarian, matrilocal, and matrilineal. Women and men are defined by their connection to the maternal clan which holds land in common.
3) They have well-developed systems of consensus decision-making that insure that everyone’s voice is heard and considered.
4) They honor principles of care, love, and generosity which they associate with motherhood and teach both genders to express. They often view the Earth as a Great Mother.
Witnessing the tragedies and catastrophic problems that occur every day in our society, matriarchal societies can seem like utopias that are far out of reach. Yet, research and experience are increasingly confirming the effectiveness of the values inherent in matriarchal societies and, as public budgets strain to meet growing social needs with fewer resources, this may be a time when lessons learned from matriarchal societies can be adapted to policies and programs in ways that benefit all.
Clearly, from the four characteristics cited, matriarchal societies value relationship and community. In fact, myriad studies have found that strong interpersonal relationships reduce mortality, improve the immune system, reduce depression, decrease stress with all its health risks, and more. In addition, many times, the most effective program models are those that strengthen relationships and communities while addressing the primary concern. One example of this would be “train the trainer” programs in which people are trained to be their own community advocates and service providers. It is in communities and through personal relationships that people find the emotional support they need to overcome trauma, create healthy habits, and make positive changes for themselves and others.
We can inform our policies and programs with the importance of relationships and community in so many ways. We can devote public resources of time and money to build outdoor and indoor spaces and hold events that bring together members of the community. We can provide mental health services in groups, when appropriate, so that people can feel empowered to find their own solutions with others who understand their problems. We can support public transportation, especially paratransit programs for those with disabilities, to enable people to participate in their communities.
Matriarchal societies value Nature and the Earth. Again, research shows that enhancing connections to the natural world create better physical and mental health, including reductions in stress, with all its health implications, better mood, and better health in general. How can we provide opportunities for people to experience Nature, no matter where they live or how limited their mobility may be? We can institute programs that bring gardens to urban areas for both better nutrition and reduced stress. We can make sure that hospitals and nursing homes include areas of natural beauty. We can support use of public space for gardens and parks.
Gender equality characteristic of matriarchal societies, is again, an essential element of addressing some of our society’s greatest problems. Those who work across cultures have long known that societies in which women are more equal have better health, education, and overall stability. Many of the difficulties women that bring women to human services agencies are due, in some part at least, to a lack of income, especially as women grow older, traceable to economic and other forms of inequality. Physical and emotional violence against women also takes a heavy toll on health and spirit. Many mothers and their children are homeless due to the mother’s inability to find fairly-paid work or because of domestic violence. Supporting policies and laws to promote women’s equality is not simply just, but is also important to the well being of our society and all those who live in it.
It is easy to assume that ways of matriarchal societies are far from our own in terms of culture, time, and space. However, many of those aspects of these societies that made them successful are what our society also needs. I have described only three of them. Many policy initiatives and programs that reflect the values of matriarchal societies are already taking place, but are in danger of being defunded and need the support of citizens and policymakers. Our public policymakers desperately need good solutions to the problems of our individuals, families, and communities. They really do not need to look far to see what has worked in the past and is still working in many parts of the world today. What can we all do to support the adaptation of matriarchal Societies of Peace to our own time?
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.wordpress.com.