Educating Muslim Women

The graph below illustrates the relationship between male and female illiteracy rates in Arab countries. There is not a single Arab country where the female and male literacy rates are comparable. Qatar is an exceptional country because female and male illiteracy rates are equal.

According to the Adult Literacy Rates and Illiterate Population by Country and by Gender report by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS),
Egypt’s adult literacy rate for males is 83% whereas that of females is 59.4%. The male adult literacy rate for Morocco is 65.7% and that of females is only 39.6%. Pakistan, another Muslim country’s literacy rate is 63% for males and a mirror image of 36% for females. Compare these percentages with that of Israel where male literacy rate is 98.5% and that of females is 95.9%! According to an unpublished report on senior schools by a lecturer at University of Reading, more and more Pakistani parents are keeping their children from seeking higher education or their children themselves are simply not interested in education. The result is that half of Pakistani households in the UK have incomes that are 50% below the national average income (Source) and nearly all Pakistanis aged 60 and over are living on Income Support (Source).

Time’s TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World, has only 10 ‘Muslim sounding’ names out of 100 and one of them is that of Wafa Sultan! This means that less than 10% of the 100 most influential people in the world are Muslims. The number of original research papers published by scientists in Muslim countries is 0.1% of the number published by scientists in Europe and the USA today (Source). And we need Muslim girls along with Muslim boys to gain education because when you educate a man, you educate a person, but when you educate a woman and you educate a family. Educate a family and you educate a country.

A study done with Bangladeshi women, for example, showed that “girls’ career preferences in Bangladesh were the most limited in the survey: rural girls opted for ‘doctor’ or ‘teacher’ almost without exception and 88 per cent of the urban girls said they wanted to be doctors. The lack of range in career preferences would appear to be linked to the lack of role models for the girls: only a tiny percentage of their mothers were working outside the home” (Source). Girls in developing countries don’t have appropriate role models and their parents make traditional career choices for them – doctor or teacher. We need Muslim female nurses, scientists, astronomers, composers, painters, writers, business entrepreneurs, and statisticians amongst other myriad professions. Fewer girls than boys are enrolled in high school science curricula because of a bias in the existing education system and family attitudes that encourage girls to study the arts and humanities (Source). Another study shows that 75% of Muslim women in India are illiterate (Source).

750 verses of the Quran urge believers (men and women) to study nature, to reflect, and to make the best use of reason in their search for the ultimate truth (Source). Educating women achieves equality between the genders since it is the duty of both genders to seek education/knowledge and helps to eradicate disease and poverty in the developing world. In 1837, when Queen Victoria came to power, no institution of higher education in Britain was open to women. But before the beginning of the next century women had even entered institutions like Oxford and Cambridge. Many new universities were founded during Victoria’s reign and the result was that the sun never set on the British Empire.

What I am proposing here is to empower Muslim women. I’m proposing that we change statistics which show that half the Muslim women in the Arab world are illiterate and in all but four Arab countries less than 80 per cent of Muslim girls go to secondary school. Islam cannot progress if we keep are women illiterate.

Does anyone know any articles by MF on this topic? What do Muslim feminists think about this topic?  How can literacy be achieved in Muslim societies?




12 thoughts on “Educating Muslim Women

  1. Zuhura says:

    In Irshad Manji’s book The Trouble with Islam, she addresses this a little bit. She suggests that we empower Muslim women financially (e.g. through micro-loans through organizations like Kiva) and that this will enable them to have more power within their own families, be more valued by their husbands and society, and have the resource to educate themselves and/or their daughters. I don’t know if micro-loans have been around long enough for there to be research showing whether this is effective with regard to literacy, but it seems to me that it’s worth a try.

    • Metis says:

      Thanks for bringing that to my notice, Zuhura. That seems like a very good idea. Qatar and UAE are doing something similar – there is a lot of focus on educating women so much that Qatari and Emirati women graduate in greater numbers than their men. They also receive stipend to study from the government and can easily apply for loans to start their business. I think it really could work!

  2. Lat says:

    ” we need Muslim girls along with Muslim boys to gain education because when you educate a man, you educate a person, but when you educate a woman and you educate a family. Educate a family and you educate a country”

    Loved how you phrased that 🙂 I agree with this and say further that education of women can bring about positive changes to the world at large.All this can happen if Muslim women,like other women, are allowed the freedom to achieve goals beyond their respective duty-bound roles.

    I’ll see if can find out any articles on this topic 🙂

    • Metis says:

      Thanks Lat! I would really appreciate if you could find some MF articles on the topic. I haven’t seen it discussed much but would like some references.

  3. susanne430 says:

    Great post as always. I appreciate all the interesting topics on this blog, Metis! 🙂

  4. Becky says:

    This is one of the issues that’s really close to my heart. I believe with everything that I am that education is the best way to fight extremism. True democracy and freedom is only going to come about when people want it, and they cannot want it if they don’t know it exists. I believe literacy and free education is the best way to fight poverty, crimes, ignorance, extremism and warfare. Not just for Muslim women, but for all women (as I believe it is a problem in non-Muslim majority countries as well, where literacy rates are low).
    I also concur that micro-financing is a GREAT way to help improve women’s conditions, I’m a great fan of Kiva and the work they do.
    Thank you for yet another interesting blog post!

    • Metis says:

      “I believe literacy and free education is the best way to fight poverty, crimes, ignorance, extremism and warfare.”

      I agree with you. Education can make a lot of difference. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Coolred38 says:

    Then again…sitting in a classroom in the Arab world is no guarantee of an education. I say that having sent my 5 children through the system more or less. Not only were some of the things they were meant to learn shocking (Hitler was a hero and should have finished the job) but more glaring were the things that weren’t taught. (Japan was attacked by us for no reason what so ever in WWII). That and so many other things meant I sent my children to school everyday prepared to undo what had been done when they got home…or to preempt if I could.

    Happy to say I got some level headed smart kids who know how to open an alternative book.

    • Metis says:

      Coolred, I wouldn’t disagree with you, really. Sometimes I still have hope that even if a woman learns how to count and multiply she will at least not be fooled as easily and will not be treated as a complete idiot.

  6. mezba says:

    Some of this is deeply cultural. I know a cousin in Bangladesh who’s Masters first class first with honours in Health and Nutrition, and she’s sitting at home looking after her daughter. You can’t tell her she’s right or wrong, but it’s such a loss to the nation.

    • Metis says:

      Mezba, that is also a good point. It may be a loss to the nation but hopefully her education will help her make smarter decisions for her children.

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