A Research Companion
Edited by Mustafa F. Özbilgin and Jawad Syed
Chapter 12: From Gender Empowerment to Gender Diversity: Measuring the Gender Gap in Muslim Majority Countries
Jawad Syed Introduction In mainstream sociology, Muslim majority countries (MMCs) are generally described as outliers on gender relations particularly in terms of female employment (Haghighat, 2005: 84). MMCs have lower levels of female economic activity rates relative to non-Muslim majority countries at the same level of economic development (Weeks, 1988; UNDP, 2004). In 1995, the proportion of female employment in MMCs was 21.7 per cent compared to an overall 38.1 per cent average for all developing countries (World Bank, 1999). However, the issue is much more complex than it might appear. Islamic society is not monolithic (Said, 1978). While some similarities may stretch across cultures, religious schools, and countries of the Muslim world, diversities are at least as striking (Shaheed, 1995: 78). This may be attributed to a variety of interpretations and practices of Islam, which have also resulted in various discourses on gender equality and gender segregation. Women’s experiences in MMCs range from being strictly isolated and voiceless within the house to situations where women have a far greater degree of freedom of mobility and interaction, enjoy the right to work and to participate in public affairs, and also exercise a far greater control over their own life (WLUML, 1986). Dynamics of various Islamic discourses on women’s rights and equal opportunities cannot be understood without understanding the local socio-political and cultural context (An-Na’im, 1995; also see Ali, ch. 3, this volume and Metcalfe, ch. 9, this volume). In other words, gender diversity and gender empowerment may take many different...
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