Women’s education in the Middle East has always been a matter of provocation. The issue is so intense, you don’t even have to look into facts to see how women are affected by lack of education.
According to the UN, everyone has the right to education, as it is part of the economic and cultural rights of each person. Lack of women’s education is toxic not only for women but the world itself.
When women have less access to education, the country they live in becomes in a poorer state. The power of patriarchy in the Middle East belittles women and denies them of their fundamental human rights. Women’s education in the Middle East marks higher illiteracy rates than the rest of the world.
Statistics and facts have revealed to us that a vast gender gap exists between men and women in lack of education, which fortunately is getting smaller every year.
Let’s have a look at the facts about lack of women’s education in the Middle East
What are the numbers, barriers, and reasons?
According to a 2015 study by Christine Ostrosky, 5% of the women in some of the Middle Eastern countries have fallen behind men literacy-wise, which happens to be in line with the global average of women’s education. On the other hand, Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Yemen are almost 10% and more behind male literacy.
Compared with the global average, women’s lack of education in these Middle Eastern countries is major, consequential concern. Women’s illiteracy rates in UAE and Palestine have shown considerable signs of increase, whereas Qatar has the lowest female illiteracy rate. The total percentage of girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools in the Middle East is 44%.
The country facing the most issues concerning women’s education, is Yemen, with only 28% girls enrolled in primary school, and 21% in secondary. Over the past century, women’s education in the Middle East has gone through drastic changes, but still has a long way to go, and preferably in a shorter timespan.
Lack of women’s education in the Middle East is strongly connected with a number of social and economic issues
Although studies have shown that women show higher and better performances than men, they are still pulled out of school. The general reason? Poverty.
Poverty plays a substantial factor in the lack of women’s education. Although education is one of the key elements in eradicating poverty, both matters are intermingled. The country suffers from poverty because the majority of the population is illiterate, the majority of the population is illiterate because parents can’t afford to pay for school.
If there’s a son and a daughter in a Middle Eastern household, the son is more likely encouraged to pursue studying, as he is more likely to get a job and support the family. The daughter, on the other hand, would be off marrying a man after school, and the money spent on education would be flushed down the toilet.
The increase in girls’ enrollment in school is also connected with mother: if the mother has received education, the daughter has higher chances of enrolling in school and pursuing higher education. The more women participate in the labor force, the more girls enroll in secondary school.
A number of negatives factors in the Middle East would face decrease if women receive an education: child mortality rates, fertility, and population growth rates would fall.
When women are educated, they are more likely to be politically active and voice their opinions on certain social and economic issues. If women receiving education in the Middle East would benefit the countries, why is it deemed so negatively?
What’s more important in the Middle East: women receiving education, or women taking care of families?
By digging into facts, we locate the core of lack of education in traditional gender roles
According to the traditional patriarchal system, the son is the one providing the family. Daughters tend to be expensive, which is why they give their girls away at a young age so their husband is the one spending on them.
Women have a specific part to play in the Middle Eastern culture, and their education does not have that big of a role. A diploma is regarded as a title instead of a certificate of knowledge, and a title is unnecessary as it does not profit the family.
A traditional arranged marriage in the Middle East is more of an alliance between the father and the husband. Men are in charge of money and wealth, whereas women are supposed to be dependent on the man of the house. Considered as second class citizens, women in the Middle East are discriminated not only by men but also by religion and law.
The education system is heavily affected by the patriarchal system. School curricula in certain Middle Eastern countries is constructed in a way that initially teaches girls to become good mothers, nurses or teachers and no more. Women in Middle Eastern families are the ones representing the honor of the family, therefore, western mentalities are considered dangerous.
A daughter disobeying her father is shameful, and honor killing is seen as a reasonable act. Her primary role is to bear children, become a mother, and raise children, preferably boys.
What must be done in order to eliminate lack of women’s education in the Middle East?
The issue must be addressed both internally and externally. Providing proper female education will lead to progress in developing Middle Eastern countries. Gender discrimination must be eliminated in primary and secondary schools, with both girls and boys receiving the same education.
Women must have more access to education and should be encouraged to see beyond the walls society has placed her in. Once the problem is recognized from the inside, the people will be willing to address it on an international level, therefore catching the eye of richer, more developed countries.
Western countries can assist the Middle East in providing girls with financial aid and scholarships in order to receive a proper education.
Women in the Middle East are raising their voices now because enough is enough. If education is their fundamental human right, they will exercise their political rights no matter what patriarchy does to impede them.
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