Sexism Is a Problem of Politics, Not of Islam


None of the 50 highest rated countries were Arab, but more than half of all Arab states fell in the bottom 25. While sexism is certainly a prominent issue in Arab states, it is not distinctly Arab, nor is misogyny primarily an Islamic issue.

Arab women are systematically oppressed, part of a long-standing governmental policy suppressing female opportunities beyond and even within the home. In Afghanistan, Islamic custom can take precedence over civil legislation, which means women’s rights are frequently ignored. In 2010, the Afghan Supreme Court ruled that women can be jailed if they run away and do not go either to a police station or an immediate relative’s house. Close to 30 universities in Iran, another Muslim country and a close neighbor to multiple Arab states, currently ban women from a wide variety of courses, including engineering, computer science, English literature and business. This isn’t to mention frequently reported cases of violence and abuse against women in these countries. The sources of these crimes are not as simple as some may make it seem, however, and it is necessary that people look beyond unfair generalizations made about Arab religion and culture.

Many people mistakenly attribute sexism in the Arab world to Islam as a whole or consider it something innately Arab. This stance ignores that Islam is a diverse religion, much like Christianity. The culprits, or at least some of the most important instigators of Arab misogyny, are Ottoman, British and French colonists. According to academic Deniz Kandiyoti, misogyny was implemented in Arab countries through the “patriarchal bargain,” in which colonists bought the submission of Arabic men by offering them power over women. Yet another theory posits that Arabian misogyny is a byproduct of centuries of authoritarian rule: Abuse from the military or secret police exacerbates misogyny when men use women to vent their humiliations.

Women represent 50 percent of the population, yet there is still a substantial gender gap — especially in Arab countries. This gap is not due to differences in ability or IQ — it is a product of unethical political policy. Researcher James Flynn, in his book “Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century,” found that in every country where women were allowed equal access to educational opportunities, they matched men in IQ. This means that the increase in women’s IQs over generations is due to their rise from a disadvantaged past. There is a direct relationship here between institutional policy and inequality.

To solve this issue, Arab governments and their neighbors must continue to advance women’s rights through legislation, while members of society must continue facilitating a cultural stance that opposes the marginalization of women.