Plight of Women in the Muslim World

Source: Daily Times

By Dr Khadija Bari, who is an Associate Professor and Director Population Research Center at Institute of Business Administration Karachi.

MARCH 23, 2022

Examining the disenfranchisement of women in Pakistan requires us to ask a broader question – why do Muslim countries, in general, perform so poorly when it comes to gender parity?

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap index, fifteen of the worst-performing countries are all Muslim-majority countries. Out of the 156 nations ranked in the report, Pakistan was bested for the bottom place by only three – namely Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

Similarly, Muslim countries were over-represented in the Thomson Reuters Foundation poll (2018), which surveyed 548 experts on women’s issues to identify the countries globally perceived as most dangerous for women. 8 out of the 10 most dangerous countries were Muslim, with Pakistan featured at 6th place. The dismal performance of these Muslim countries, particularly Pakistan’s, can be attributed to patriarchal cultures that use religion as a smokescreen for female subjugation. Since Islamic jurists are, after all, products of their societies, Islamic literature has become so inundated with patriarchal interpretations of the Quran that many have come to view these interpretations asunassailable facts.

Women have been politicised as symbols of cultural authenticity and carriers of religious tradition. Their demand for equality and justice is interpreted as demands to change the Divine message.

Muslim women, who must live their lives governed by these patriarchal interpretations, naturally experience a great deal of inner conflict and frustration. But they are often forced into a Catch-22 of sorts: traditional Muslim jurists’ appropriate holy texts to enforce and justify oppressive regimes and legislation. Neo-orientalists then use these misogynistic interpretations of Islam to support their – often xenophobic – critiques of Islam and Muslims. Muslim women (and men) end up responding with a kneejerk defence of “Islam gives women more rights than Western societies” without having access to either scholarship on the subject or – as evidenced by these global indexes – the rights of which they speak.Advocating for women’s rights or freedoms in Muslim countries is also seen as advocating for western hegemony, for the ruin of piety, and the dissolution of Islamic tradition. Women remain passive because of the social cost of speaking out. With Islamic jurists throwing their support to the status quo, asking too many questions can be seen as practically blasphemous.

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