Gender refers to socially constructed roles and learned behaviors and expectations associated with females and males. Mostly, when people talk about gender they concentrate much on gender inequality- women and girls having fewer opportunities in life simply because they are female. However the word gender also refers to men and boys who are equally defined by the rights and roles assigned to them. Giving equal rights to women and girls should not mean denying men the same. In the Middle East there is no gender equality, but the phenomena of sexism and misogyny are global and not only peculiar to Islam or to Middle East. The status of women in the Middle
East varies greatly and the norms of one region should not be projected to the larger Muslim world. Many of the reasons for inferior status of women in the Middle East are native but also the west has exacerbated this oppression. The Middle East is predominantly an Islamic region; therefore the Islamic laws are dominant and are executed thoroughly (AbuKhalil, Para 1).
The position of a woman in the Islamic role
It is widely acceptable that Islam view women as subordinate to men. According to the law in use today in most of the Middle East countries, women do not have equal rights with men but they have equal responsibilities in monetary terms. The westerns have a stereotype depiction that women in the Middle East are weak, passive and always veiled. In Saudi Arabia for example women are not allowed to drive cars though this may not be generalized for the whole of the Middle East and the Islamic countries. It is said that the versions of Islamism and sexism in Saudi Arabia are very different from other Middle East countries. It also seems to be taking roots in Afghanistan. It is unfortunate that women in Saudi Arabia must be accompanied by a male relative in public and also dresses an all covering abayas.
Problems in the Middle East have remained acute; the religious leaders in this society have provided the people with the most exclusivist and conservative interpretations of religious laws. These laws have burdened the women in their families, state and also in the society. The top positions according to strict Islamic laws are denied to women on the basis of dubious Hadith. The political representation of women in parliaments in the Middle East lags behind all other nations of the world while Kuwait is yet to give women a right to vote. In Saudi Arabia more precisely, women are not allowed to vote and just the other day they were allowed to have an identification card. It has been noted also that, in the Middle East, women have limited chances to education and employment. Currently, there are changes that are going on due to the more and more women graduating from the universities but the representation is still low in the work force (Kamguian, Para 2).
Although mostly religion is blamed for the inferior status of women, it cannot be solely blamed for the gender inequality in the Middle East. In reality the role of culture has been more prominent in activating the oppression of women. Female genital mutilation, as an example has been a culture that has afflicted women in several cultures in history. They also have adored polygamy which has been a risk to the health of most women. This has been practiced and still been practiced in the conservative Islamic nations. Conversely inequality between men and women tend to be largest among the poor, this call for gender development. In the Indian villages, men spend big portion of their income for personals like drinking, smoking and gambling while women devote all their income to family needs (Grimier, Para 4).
Contrary to the conservative Islamic nations, the liberal Islamic nations allow women to drive and have been accorded some freedom. In Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been led by women. In Israel, a woman (Golda Meir) once headed the government, though the political elite has been male dominated since the creation of the state. In these liberal Islamic nations women have entered the workforce and even started their own businesses.
The restrictions women face are significantly reducing hence good improvement for them. Women are allowed to join the army and have a say in choosing their careers. They can also work alongside men and even join the male dominated fields like engineering. For example Fatima runs her own company which designs the interiors of offices, hotels, apartments, restaurants and retail outlets in Dubai. They are also entering the entertainment business, a difficult choice in the Islamic society (Grimier, Para 5).
In these nations women have been well supported by their male counter parts and in deed polygamy has been abolished. Women in these nations live long and healthy due to availability of basic needs without struggle and also honor and respect.
Cost of gender inequality to the economy
Gender inequality is usually approached from a social, anthropological or political angle. This is a great mistake because the costs of inequality are yielded in the economic level. Women in deed have a lot of economic potential and contribution that is vital for regional development. In the Middle East female education, life expectancy, per capital income are very well indicated and also fertility. There is much of this that can be seen in the societies in the
Middle East in these areas named above. Where women have been denied quality opportunities is in economic participation and political participation.
Gender inequality holds back a countries economic performance. This acts as a barrier that decreases a country’s open competition and consequently the ability of a country to draw the best talents and therefore undermining the economic growth and productivity. Women in the Middle East remain an untapped resource. They make 49 percent of the population but a very small percent in the labor force. High unemployment, low female labor force and high proportions of people too young and too old to work all make the economic dependency ratio of Middle East the highest in the world.
In the liberal Islamic nations where women have been allowed to participate in businesses and work force the economies of those nations have been well improved. The numbers of businesses owned by women have increased over the years. In the United Arab Emirates the women businesses have grown 1.7 times better than those owned by men. One of the most major trading sites in the Middle East is run by a woman. This is a huge step for women. This is an indication that if women are to be allowed to venture in the work force and businesses they is a likelihood of improvement in the economy (Grimier, Para 4-7).
If the women in the Middle East are given opportunities, the poverty levels in these nations would rapidly reduce. The few who have been given the chances have been of great benefit to the Middle East nations. Middle East would probably not be termed as the poorest region on the world. It is the high time that Islamic nation should accord women their full rights for they have proved an essential part of the nations economic growth.
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