I Searched For The Places On Earth Where Women Rule Most

matriarchal societies

Most of this world is patriarchal. Men own more and run more. In some cultures, men’s dominance is so marked that women have very few rights and in many cases depend for their very lives on men.

In a few spots around the globe, matriarchal feminism is so strong that women lead the way. Here are some areas that, by example, hint at a way forward for female empowerment and gender equality. These are examples of how women take the hard work on themselves and how expertly they do it. I haven’t travelled to them all yet – and, unfortunately, one of these cultures is a Nation that lies in the past. But this is my short list of places where women rule.


The Last Generation of Women Deep Sea Divers


Credit: Karendotcom127

Our quest for matriarchal feminism takes off from Jeju in South Korea. A historically conservative society, South Korea has embraced a free market economy. There can be no free market without freedom. Given that women hold half the sky in South Korea’s economy and society, it makes sense to explore the freedom and respect that women command in Jeju. A volcanic island, the lifeline of the local economy of Jeju lies is tourism. Women in the Jeju Island have been making a living out of deep sea diving for a hundred years and are known as the Haenyeo in the lingua franca, meaning real-life mermaids. Known for their fearlessness and intense work ethics, the women plunge into the seas regularly for fishing activities, while the men stay back at home to take care of the youngsters, perform daily household chores and shop for amenities.

Lesson: High-profile women, whose story is told as part of the culture’s larger story, can inspire the next generation of women and girls. The Jeju Haenyeo stand tall as epitomes of enterprise, fearlessness and courage in a world dominated by men. Even as South Korea embraces change in all spheres of life, the Jeju Haenyeo exemplify the fine balancing act of reconciling women’s empowerment with tradition on one hand and modern values on the other.


“The Most Feminist Country in the World”

feminist iceland

From the Korean peninsula, we head to the Nordic country of Iceland, where feminism is an ongoing social movement. The country has a tiny population of 320,000, ranks fourth on the International Gender Gap Index and is in the process of pushing through gender diversity reforms for paternity-leave development, giving mothers the chance to succeed at work while their husbands keep an eye on kid raising, and the right to reject dress codes at work place that the women think of affecting their dignity. Iceland has been dubbed “the most feminist country in the world”.

Lesson: With a woman prime minister and a majority of women in the parliament, Iceland exemplifies women’s leadership in apex level policy-making, and the hand-picking of social tenets that augment women’s empowerment.


World’s Largest Matriarchal Societies

Credit: Chezumar

We now set foot on one of the most progressive societies in South East Asia. Meet The Minangkabau tribes that inhabit the Western Sumatra province in Indonesia. Women in the Minangkabau tribe enjoy not just property rights, but also inheritance rights to the legacy. This means that the prevailing law mandates the transfer of property from mother to daughter. Minangkabau women also have the freedom to choose their sleeping timings. While the husband spends time with his wife, he must leave before sunrise to have breakfast at his mother’s home. The Minangkabau trust that the mother is the most critical person in society. Women also have the power to select chiefs and expel them from office, if they’re found to be flinching from their duties.

Lesson: There’s a deeply entrenched but highly misconstrued perspective of women in Islamic nations being sequestered and closed to cultural and social exchanges. However, the Minangkabau women show it is possible to amalgamate deep-seated religious beliefs with a progressive woman-led society. And who better than mothers to be the power guardians of society?


Women of the Khasi Tribe Rule the Roost

khasi girls

Credit: Bogman

Get ready to have the rug beneath your feet pulled away. Yes, men can be packed off to their mother in-law’s place after marriage, then be ordered to do the household chores, take care of the old parents and unmarried siblings of their wives, and finally rest with only drink and fags for company. These facts will give a little shake to your world. The men from the Khasi tribe in the northeastern state of Meghalaya in India have their fates sealed in the strong hands of their mothers in–law. Men are considered ‘the weaker sex’ among the Khasis and are now fighting for gender equality. However, not all hope is lost for men. Women need to seek the consent of their maternal uncle for decision making. Khasis are a matrilineal society where children take on the names of their mothers.

Lesson: In a world where women are expected to leave home and hearth to stay with their in-laws after marriage, the plight of the Khasi men serves as a reminder of what the vast majority of women go through. While the winds of modernism threaten to blow away age-old Khasi traditions, Khasi women are examples of privilege by birth in an otherwise chauvinist world.

North America

Iroquois Nation

seneca woman 1908

Seneca Woman, 1908

There was no such thing as New York three hundred years ago. The indigenous people of the Iroquois Nation that once inhabited the area between the Adirondack Mountains and Niagara Falls consisted of five tribes: Oneida, Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca, and Onandaga. The Tuscarora tribe was added later on.

Men in the Iroquois revered their women. While there was a delineation of economic endeavours and domestic affairs, social distribution of power between men and women brought a balance. Women held the influence, power, and riches in all family matters and domestic chores, which were passed down through the mother’s side. Men were required to move into their wives’ place and live with their spouses’ distant kith and kin. In fact, women had the right to discard their husbands and could ask the latter to leave the family if they did not live up to expectations, without any questions asked.

Lesson: The Iroquois nation was governed by chiefs who could be supplanted at any time by a chamber of women elders, if the latter felt the need to do so. The nature of work done by women varied according to their environment. In Iroquois culture, a woman’s work was recognised as having equal value to that of a man and the values of enterprise, dignity of labour and mutual respect were cherished.


Where Muslim Women Have Sexual Freedom and Right of Power

tuareg woman

Credit: aLaIN eLoRZa

No worldwide quest can ever be over without making Africa a key destination. The nomadic Berbers have lived a pastoral lifestyle for centuries in the Sahara Desert. A tribe with a population of 2 million, the Tuareg has maintained its way of life for centuries, crossing from one side of the world’s largest desert to the other. In Sahrawi culture – and especially the Tuareg Tribe – the woman holds sway in marriage. If her husband displeases her, she can separate and continue to live as a respected individual in society. Separated women are highly respected and much sought-after in society by male suitors, and often more so than unmarried women.

Lesson: The Tuareg people are exemplary in the way woman are treated in their culture. Women are free to have sex before marriage and enjoy multiple sexual partners, as long as they abide by the strict privacy rules governing their tribal society. This implies that young children grow up with the same freedom regardless of gender.

From tribes to cities, women are capable of caring for the good of all, while looking at the bigger picture. Studies show women may respond to caring and compassion in different ways (although all genders naturally have the potential to feel and display compassion). The cultures above demonstrate that men are not the end-all and be-all of governance, law-making and societal norms. Ancient traditions have been kept alive today because they have proved to be effective for a functioning society. It is high time that more societies across the world adopt new approaches to empower women – because it can be done and it works.