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Establishing the connection between demographic and economic factors, and gender status in the Middle East: Debunking the perception of Islam's undue influence

Elhum Haghighat (Department of Political Science, Lehman College, The City University of New York, New York, New York, USA)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 8 July 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

Multiple dimensions influencing women's status in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – factoring in socio-demographic, economic, and political forces are discussed in this paper. Process of modernization has been complicated by a strong patriarchal culture, the overlap of religion and government, and the absence of a diversified economy along with presence of wealth producing oil resources. Religious ideology, cultural beliefs, and traditional principles, however, cannot be argued as the only reason for women's status lagging behind in these countries. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

Six diverse MENA countries – Iran, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen – that differ from one another with respect to geography, economy, demographics, modernization characteristics and cultural history are examined for comparative reasons.

Findings

Even though Islam is commonly portrayed as the main factor controlling women's lives and opportunities in MENA, the analysis shows that there are other significant processes at work. To date, women's higher level of educational attainment and unusually swift fertility decline in the MENA region deviates from the expectation that predicts a strong positive correlation between these demographic factors and increased women's social status and higher social mobility.

Originality/value

This conceptual paper demystifies the connection between women's social status and empowerment in the MENA region and its connection to economic development, employment opportunities, and political stability.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Several parts of this review/conceptual paper were previously published in the following articles and book: Haghighat (2012a, b, 2013).

Citation

Haghighat, E. (2014), "Establishing the connection between demographic and economic factors, and gender status in the Middle East: Debunking the perception of Islam's undue influence", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 34 No. 7/8, pp. 455-484. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-01-2013-0004

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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