Although women have made great strides in terms of equality over the years, worldwide, men still own more businesses and run more countries and communities—it’s still a man’s world. There are precious few examples of societies that are truly governed and actually led by women, but they’re out there. And we could stand to learn a thing or two from them: here are five women-run societies from around the world, and the governing philosophies that make them unique.
The Ede of Vietnam
Traditionally, in Ede villages, women own all of the property and they pass it on to their daughters. Ede women are expected to propose to their husbands; the husband then takes the name of the woman’s family and lives in the family’s longhouse. The eldest woman in the longhouse even gets her own handmade chair, which must be carved painstakingly from one piece of wood. Land is owned communally by the village while the forests are sacred, part of their ancient animistic religion. While vestiges of ancient customs still remain, the Ede of today are primarily Protestant Christians.
The Mosuo People of China
In Mosuo society, women make most of the business decisions and they run the households completely. The Ah Mi is the ultimate leader of a household, typically the eldest female. Children are raised communally. Often one household will take in another household’s child, and raise them as part of the family. While everyone else shares a communal space, women over 13 years old get the privacy of their own room, called a “flowering room.” The Mosuo practice walking marriage, which basically means a woman can pick a partner but aren’t really bound to them. Children are raised by the whole household and uncles are expected to play the male role in the lives of their nieces and nephews. It’s a dynamic, fluid society in which women have dominant power roles.
The Native American Hopi Tribe
The Hopi Indians call themselves “The Peaceful People.” They based their way of life on a respect for their environment, and Hopis traditionally organize themselves matrilinearly. Women hold most of the power, even though the labor is divided equally. All of the women come together whenever a baby in the tribe is 20 days old in order to name it. It’s a remarkably cooperative society, and one that evokes communal principles on every level.
The Chambri of Papua New Guinea
Margaret Mead’s writings about the Chambri people from the 1930’s helped bolster feminism in the United States. Mead wrote about how women did the fishing and provided for their family and community in Chambri society. Anthropologists later concluded that although Mead’s observations were right, the power dynamic in Chambri relationships is more equal than she let on. Nonetheless, the Chambri still provide an example of a society with a atypical sexual politics — where women maintain control of many aspects of the culture.
Okay, so Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1910 classic is complete fiction, and includes the supernatural (and convenient) element of virgin birth… still, Herland reveals what we, as a society, think of women and how they would run the world. In Herland, the women value motherhood above all, they raise children communally, they are devoted to education — and they’re completely peaceful. In other words, the aggressive, war-like tendencies of men fade away, and the desires for progress and democratic harmony are advanced.
When Women Lead?
From this cursory view of women-run societies, some fundamental differences from predominantly male-run communities become pretty clear. Most strikingly, these cultures appear to have quite a different view of ownership than the one that dominates in Western culture today — a far greater emphasis is placed on communal participation than in societies run by men, which tend to be more hegemonic. Children, for example, belong to the whole community rather than to a single family, and land is shared instead of partitioned off. Of course, this was just a casual look at some incredibly complex and unique communities around the globe — but if they’re any indication, societies run by women stand to be more egalitarian, more nurturing, and perhaps more just.