About half of the total population of Islamic countries consists of women. But sadly, Islamic societies have lagged behind the world average in many issues such as education, health, economy, culture, and women are the most affected groups. In this case, there is a significant contradiction between negative human indicators in the Islamic world and the value Islam gives to women. The main reason of this contradiction is related to the perception of traditionalism and the poor economic conditions of the societies in major Islamic geography from Indonesia to Morocco. In the last century, Muslim countries, which have experienced serious economic, political and cultural problems, have taken a more defensive attitude on issues related to women, family and children, something that has led to a decrease in problem-solving capability.
Today, humanitarian indicators on women in Islamic countries reveal some of the problem areas and provide important clues about what needs to be done. The following data series on issues such as education, health, economic equality of opportunity and victimization of war reflect some of the negative conditions for women in the Islamic world.
Between 2010 and 2016, global male literacy was 86% while female literacy was 79.2%. In Islamic countries, both the general literacy rate and the rates between women (64.7%) and men (76.1%) have lagged behind the world average.
Adult Literacy Rate, as % of Population, 2010-2016
Literacy rate in 19 Islamic countries is above of the world average. Uzbekistan (99.98%, 2015) and Azerbaijan (99.72%, 2016) are the countries with the highest female literacy rate as a result of their education policies. On the other hand, more than half of adults in 14 Islamic countries are illiterate. In sub-Saharan African countries, female literacy is much lower. For example, this rate was recorded at 13.96% in Chad and 22.20% in Mali. In other words, about eight out of every 10 women in Chad and Mali are illiterate.
Girls’ enrolment rates at all levels of education are much lower than boys. Between 2006 and 2016, 23.3% of girls of secondary school age and 18.8% of boys did not attend school in Islamic countries. Some of the children who start school leave it for social, cultural and structural reasons before they can complete their education. Lack of compulsory education policies and programs for girls, inabilities of infrastructure in public schools - especially in rural areas -, lack of teachers, early marriage of girls from poor communities, remove of them from school are the main reasons that prevent girls’ participation in education.
In some sub-Saharan African countries such as Somalia, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, more than 50% of primary school-age girls are unable to attend school. Meanwhile in Islamic countries such as Kazakhstan, Palestine, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan, gender apartheid in education has decreased considerably and the number of girls who cannot attend school has dropped below 1%.
Although the average fertility rate in Islamic countries fell between 2010 and 2016, it was recorded at 3.55 births per woman, higher than the world average of 2.72 in 2016. The rapid increase of the population compared to other regions in the world means health sector is vital for women in Islamic countries.
Prenatal care and post-natal health care is very important for both mother and baby. However, there are some serious problems in this issue in Islamic countries. In these countries, only 54% of pregnant women have access to this service when ideally pregnant women should undergo health checkups at least four times before birth. In Somalia, this rate is 6.3%. Between 2010 and 2015, doctors, nurses and midwives assisted only 63% of deliveries in Islamic countries. More than 70% of births in Somalia, Sudan, Chad and Niger occur without the access to any health care or assistance.
The inability to obtain health services during birth increases maternal and infant mortality. According to a research by the World Health Organization, approximately 300,000 women worldwide died from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth in 2015. 49% of these deaths (149,000 mothers) occurred in Islamic countries.
As a result of studies done to decrease maternal mortality rates, maternal mortality in Islamic countries declined from 559 per 100,000 births in 1990 to 326 in 2015. The highest maternal mortality rate is in Sierra Leone at 1,360 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Sierra Leone is followed by Chad and Nigeria.
Women have the potential to contribute to the economy in different lines of work. While the global participation rate of women in the economy is 41.19%, this rate stands at 33.60% in Islamic countries. Reasons such as economic inadequacy, the development of modern social structure and the development of different business lines increase the participation of women in the economy. However, traditional prejudices and intense conflicts hold down women's participation in the economy. In 2017, the lowest ratio of women's participation in the economy was recorded in Yemen (7.88%) due to conflicts and the highest ratio was recorded in Mozambique (54.82%) due to economic incapability.
In Islamic countries, the unemployment rate among adult women was higher than adult men in 2008-2017. Young women are particularly the group most affected from unemployment. In 2017, the unemployment rate among adult women was 11.5%, while the rate among younger women was 23.8%. The ratio among women in both categories is 4 to 8 points behind men.
Adult and Youth Unemployment Rates (%) in OIC Member Countries, by
Women who are most affected by the negative results of inadequacies in education and health are also severely affected by extraordinary situations such as conflicts, wars and terror attacks. All segments of society are exposed to acts prohibited in the International Law such as death, injuries, arbitrary arrest and torture. But women suffer the most severe forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence with these acts. In addition, in conflicts, women and children are used as blackmailing means and weapon of war.
Sexual assaults on women were used as a weapon of war in the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995. In the ongoing Syrian War that broke out in 2011, women have also been killed, injured, tortured, harassed and raped in prisons and used as a means of blackmail between opposing factions. Women who are freed from prison are rejected by their families due to the degrading treatments they receive in imprisonment. Some refugee women who take refuge in neighboring countries also struggle with the most difficult aspects of being refugees, such as working at very low wages, be subjected to physical violence, verbal abuse and sexual assaults.
The ways of the existence of women in the social sphere of Islamic countries is a subject of debate among different ideological views. Ideological differences lead to insufficient evaluation of women's influence and the role they play in transforming a society. Women suffer from different forms of victimization, such as child marriages, physical and verbal violence, as well as inadequate health and education in the social sphere, inability to participate in the economy and the negative consequences of conflicts. The position of women in Islamic countries should not be discussed according to the values and norms of the West, but the consequences of the transforming world.
Women’s grievance should be eliminated. This could be done, first and foremost, by developing a mutual perspective about women in various aspects of life. Only then can women’s potential can be used, since it is unquestionable that women have the power in transforming the society.