Through the example of the bonobo, a female-led species of apes, women can be protected from sexual coercion and violence, writes Diane Rosenfeld LL.M. ’96, a lecturer on law and founding director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School. She begins her book, “The Bonobo Sisterhood: Revolution Through Female Alliance,” with problems women face in patriarchal societies, including everyday threats of violence and legal systems that limit the rights of women. 

Traditionally, abusive men have been shielded from consequences by the “castle doctrine,” she writes, which gives men sovereign rights over women living in the household and insulates them from government intervention. She shares examples demonstrating that women have no right to enforcement of orders of protection against abusers. 

Noting that female bonobos band together to repel harassment and violence from males, Rosenfeld advocates that women similarly practice “collective self-defense as our primary weapon against patriarchal violence.” Female bonobos form coalitions not only with relatives or close companions but with females with whom they don’t regularly associate, offering a lesson about the importance of treating everyone as a sister. As a result, she argues, bonobos enjoy sexual freedom and reproductive autonomy, and they do not rape or kill intimate partners. 

To build a bonobo sisterhood, she  writes, we should initiate a new framework of women’s equality, share resources, and reform laws to counteract threats posed to women: “Nothing prevents humans from choosing to be bonobo, from doing everything possible to exit a world of endemic violence by some men against all women and some men.” We can choose “love over fear; abundance over scarcity; peace over war; sexual choice and freedom over coercion,” Rosenfeld adds.