Greater access to women's education in the Islamic world has had dramatic effects on both gender relations and women's social and economic standing. Family lives have also changed, as women are marrying later and having fewer children, and thanks to the increased confidence that education has given women, they are turning to political participation as a way to reform societal inequalities throughout the Islamic world.
Setbacks and Changes
Muslim women are often disadvantaged in their access to education and employment -- 17 of the world's 20 countries with the greatest gender inequality are in the Islamic world. In Iran, for example, women possess fewer work-related skills than men, on average, and due to a prejudicial justice system, they are beholden to the dictates of their husbands and male family members. Since these factors often limit women to the domestic sphere, many have chosen to immigrate to the West to seek education and employment. In Iran, for example, this option has always existed for many upper-class women, but increasingly, middle- and lower-class women from small towns are leaving in search of educational and work opportunities. As a result, Muslim women's university participation is rapidly rising both abroad and in Islamic countries including Iran, where female students outnumbered males 110 to 100 as of 2005.
Learning to Love Oneself
Some Western scholars have hypothesized that Muslim women's increasing access to education would result in them becoming dislocated from their religion and culture. "The Guardian" reported in 2006, however, that evidence from interviews with female Muslim students show that religiosity is increasing as a source of self-identification. "The Guardian" also reports that evidence indicates that racial prejudice associated with Islamophobia is a potential barrier to education and employment. By emphasizing religion in their self-identities, "The Guardian" reports, female Muslim students have emancipated themselves from feelings of racial discrimination, thus giving them greater confidence.
Muslim women's increased access to education has had significant impact on gender relations in the Islamic world. Access to higher education has created opportunities for social relations between men and women that were previously nonexistent in parts of the Islamic world. In addition to greater confidence among female students, which has helped them to raise their social status to equal that of men in many respects, there have been dramatic changes in the home lives of educated Muslim women, such as an increase in their average age of marriage to the late 20s and a decrease in the number of children that they have.
Women in Work and Politics
Muslim women's attitudes toward their employment prospects have become more positive as their access to education increases. Education, "The Guardian" reports, has helped to equip Muslim women with the knowledge of the available resources for job seekers that globalized economic integration, including Western-based Women's Rights NGOs, has provided. In addition to secondary education, the Islamic world has also seen the introduction of literacy programs and other grassroots educational efforts for women. Besides employment opportunities, these educational efforts have also served to increase Muslim women's political participation. With greater awareness of the unequal treatment that they face from their families and society, Muslim women are turning to political avenues in increasing numbers as a means to social and cultural reform.
- Political Psychology: Young Muslim Women in France: Cultural and Psychological Adjustments
- Legatum Institute: Women and Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Repressive Policies, Unexpected Outcomes
- The Guardian: Muslim Women and Higher Education: Identities, Experiences and Prospects: A Summary Report
- World Economic Forum: Global Gender Gap Report 2012
- Brookings Institute: Are Iranian Women Overeducated?
- The Journal of Developing Areas: Education and Fertility: A Panel Data Analysis for Middle Eastern Countries
- Journal of Business Ethics: Women, Management and Globalization in the Middle East
- Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images