Towards Gender Equality in the Arab/Middle East Region

Islam, Culture and Feminist Activism

2004 Occasional Paper
By Moghadam, Valentine M.

Social indicators and gender statistics reveal that women in the Arab region are on average more disadvantaged economically, politically, and socially than are women in other regions, and certainly more so than in regions with similar income levels or at similar stages of economic development (e.g., Latin America, Southeast Asia, East Asia). Arab women’s share of the formal non-agricultural labour force is relatively small, as is their share of earned income. Given the region’s oil wealth and urbanization, literacy and educational attainment rates are comparatively low, especially for the adult female population. Women also are under-represented in governance and decision-making positions. All Arab countries have in place family laws – also known as personal status codes – that confer upon women the status of dependent and minor with respect to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Because of these family laws, states that have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women have done so with significant reservations. Although the sexual division of labour operates in varying degrees in most of the world, it is particularly resilient in the Arab countries. Women remain associated primarily with their family roles, and a kind of “patriarchal gender contract” prevails across the region. The cumulative effect is gender-based discrimination and second-class citizenship for women, albeit in varying degrees across the countries of the region.