Muslim women as in Islamic countries today — Dr Amriah Buang

In the 7th Century, Islam had empowered women in various respects of its civilisation. But women in majority Muslim countries today are the least empowered.

Let it be reiterated that Islam empowered women since the seventh century and that Muslim women took an active part in building what is today called Islamic civilisation. 

And let it also be reiterated that this Quranic empowerment of women bears too little relation to the real condition of women in many contemporary Muslim societies. 

Muslim women are mainly marginalised and severely suffering from the consequences of political upheavals, poverty, injustice, corruption and other social ills prevalent in their societies (Elmira Akhmetova (2015).

The fact that Muslim women have been deprived or denied several components of their empowerment can be seen from the rankings of Muslim countries in the WEF Global Gender Gap report. 

1. Economic participation and opportunity1.000
2. Educational attainment1.000
3. Health and survival0.980*
4. Political empowerment1.000

Gender Gap Index: 3.98 / 4 = 0.9949

*In this case parity is not assumed, there are assumed to be fewer female births than male
(944 female for every 1,000 males)

For the year 2020, for example, all the rankings of Muslim majority countries are low down from 143 to the last 153rd positions (Table 1).

Table 1: The Global Gender Gap Index 2020 Rankings (source)

The only Muslim countries that rank below 100th position are Indonesia (80) and Brunei Darussalam (95). Even the apparently progressive Malaysia is ranked at the 104th place.

The rest of the Muslim majority countries are ranked from 120th place (UAE) to 138th place (Jordan).

This means that of the total 50 Muslim majority countries in the world today, one (Yemen) has the least score of less than half (0.494) of the index value in terms of women empowerment as achieved by the top ten country scorers, 5 countries were under 0.6 index, and 14 countries were under 0.7 index. 

Only one country, Indonesia, managed to score a 0.7 index to be ranked 85th in the 153 country list (Table 1).

In other words, Muslim women are still not adequately empowered with respect to:

  • economic participation and opportunity (as indicated by their labour force participation, wage equality for similar work, estimated earned income, and positions as  professional and technical workers and as legislators, senior officials and managers); 
  • educational attainment (as indicated by their literacy rate, enrolment in primary education, enrolment in secondary education, and enrolment in tertiary education;
  • health and survival (as indicated by their sex ratio at birth and healthy life expectancy); and 
  • political participation and representation in decision-making bodies (as indicated by the number of women in their parliament, in ministerial positions, and years with the female head of state).

By contrast, the top rankings are occupied by countries which Muslims would label as kafirin such as Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda and Germany (Table 2):

Table 2: The Global Gender Gap Index 2020 Rankings: Top 10 countries (source)

  • Amriah Buang (2020), Gender Equality vs Gender Equity: Islamic Worldview, Paper presented to the IIUM-ISTAQ Roundtable Discussion on 3rd March, 2020, Ibn Khaldun Hall, ISTAQ, Kuala Lumpur
  • Elmira Akhmetova (2015), Women’s Rights: The Quranic Ideals and Contemporary Realities, Islam and Civilisational Renewal, ICR Journal, Vol 6, No 1.Jamal Badawi, 2014
  • World Economic Forum (WEF) (2020), Global Gender Gap Report 2020,
  • empowerment: The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.
  • gender: either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.
  • Gender equality: the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.
  • Gender gap: The difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes.
  • Gender Gap Index: An index designed to measure gender equality. It is arrived at by compiling scores in four components, namely, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment:
Compilation components
1. Economic participation and opportunity1.000
2. Educational attainment1.000
3. Health and survival0.980*
4. Political empowerment1.000
sum  3.980

Gender Gap Index: 3.98 / 4 = 0.9949

*In this case, it is assumed that  there are fewer female births than male
(944 female for every 1,000 males)

  • The Global Gender Gap Report: The Global Gender Gap Report was first published in 2006 by the World Economic Forum. The 2020 report (published in 2019) covers 153 countries.
  • Women empowerment:  The process of making women becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights in social, educational, economic, political and psychological aspects.

Contributed to us by Prof. Dr. Amriah Buang

President, Interactive Muslimah Association (IMAN), Malaysia

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best Fikrah team. Read all her contributed articles here.

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