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