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Debate

Matriarchy

Our theme of the month is Matriarchy, through which we invite you, our readers, our writers and anyone else to reflect upon this often misinterpreted concept and what it could potentially mean and teach us. Ultimately seeking to question the underlying assumptions governing our patriarchal structures and how other models of social governance have emerged dictating everyday relationships and interactions in a very different way. 

The feminist scholar Heide Goettner-Abendroth defines matriarchies as mother-centered societies, focussing on maternal values such as care-taking, peace-making, and emphathy, which hold for everyone, for mothers and non-mothers, for men and women alike. In this way, matriarchal societies are far from merely being a reversal patriarchy, as it is often misinterpreted, where women rule over men, although in some they may be the head of the ‘patriarchal household’. Matriarchies and their existence thus allow us to position patriarchal structures within a historical, societal, and/or cultural narrative, as opposed to a biological one. Matriarchies are need-oriented, which means that the biological process of mothering has been transposed to being a cultural model performed by each and every individual and for the greatest benefits. Carolyn Hibbs states that matriarchal cultures are oftentimes characterised by a strive for equality without hierarchical structures, a high level of cooperation, and an approach grounded in pacifism. 

Following these foundations, matriarchies understand the concept of equality as being much more than just a levelling of differences. This does not mean that natural/socially constructed differences between genders and generations are not respected or dismissed but rather that these are never used to create certain hierarchies and power relationships between individuals in which one will be dominated and the other one dominated, as it is the case in patriarchal structures. Ultimately, they seek to fashion a balance between individuals in which each person has his/her/their own dignity and area of activity, where equality works in a complementary way permeating all societal levels, economic, political, social, and spiritual. In other words, matriarchies seem to be rooted in a more egalitarian lifestyle, with strong community bonds and a healthy bartering system built upon supportive rather than exclusive values. 

Matriarchies can be found across the globe in various places. Societies such as the Mosuo in China, the Bribri in Costa Rica, the Umoja in Kenya, the Minangkabau in Indonesia, or the Akan in Ghana, and many others, all represent cultures in which matriarchal structures and values are at play in different forms. As for the last matriarchy in Europe, you need to go to islands (Kihnu and Manija) near Estonia to encounter it. 

Through this theme, we invite you to reflect not only upon these alternative ways to conceptualise and build societal structures and human interactions but also upon various instances in which women across the world took the lead for the better. Be it in medicine, physics, chemistry, politics, law, arts, etc. there is much to be learnt there.