Gender Inequality: An Arab Tradition?

by Ghassan Karam

There is no asset at any state in the world that is more valuable than its human capital. That is a non controvertible fact that can easily be seen by examining the rationale for policy making at all levels and in all areas including ecological and religious. We cannot, after all, help not being anthropocentric. But what is paradoxical about the above is that the same managers who promote efficient use of resources in all enterprises are loathe, in many societies, to extend an equal opportunity to half of the human family to find fulfillment. It is as if politicians, business managers, religious custodians and heads of households have formed an “unholy alliance” whose only aim is to disenfranchise, marginalize and deny the female gender its humanity and innate rights. The above concerns gain more relevance for the Arabic speaking world and even more urgency for the Lebanese citizen.

It would be helpful to take a slight detour into the field of gender inequality studies before we look at the specific records of the Arab countries. The UNDP has been publishing for over twenty years the Human Development Index, HDI, which has become the golden standard of classifying states by their levels of development. That has caused a monumental shift in how development is measured; we no longer single out the monetary achievement of GDP/capita as being the end all of developmental efforts. Instead the world has come to recognize that “man does not live by bread alone” and so we have created an index that considers another two important fields; healthcare and education. Yet this relatively new yardstick failed to address the gender inequality issue.

The response to the above challenge came from the UNDP in the form of a modification of HDI. The new parallel measure was called Gender Development Index, GDI which had a short but informative life of highlighting the gender disparities in various countries.  This modification of the HDI was regarded as a welcome first step forward but it was regarded, as it should be, as a work in progress. The next iteration in the same area is currently called Gender Inequality Index, GII, which is an effort to highlight the discrimination in the three major areas of (1) Health (2) Education and (3) Labour Market participation.

It should be clear from the above description of the HDI and the GII that the two are strongly related. The GII ends up being a measure of what each country is giving up in its developmental efforts by not adopting gender equality standards. As an example of the above, consider the following: The World GII for 2012 was 0.492. This simply means that the world has, unfortunately, forgone an improvement of 49.2% in the three areas in question.  The major objection to the GII is that it is still strongly associated with the phase of development of each country. The association though is not overwhelming. The US drops to 47th  place when the GII is applied, Kuwait is ranked as the 37th in the world while Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the barrel #135. Lebanon is ranked as 76Th.

The GII is helpful but is still not a pure measure of gender inequality. That is why the World Economic Forum has developed as of 2006 its own measure of Gender Gap Index, GGI. This index does not concern itself with economic development but focuses instead on access given to four select areas to both genders. This index measures only the gap between the genders and so must be regarded as a pure measure of gender discrimination. To enjoy a high ranking is no longer a function of wealth as demonstrated by Nicaragua that is ranked as the 9th best country in the world in gender equality. Lesotho was 14th and Cuba was the 19th in the rankings. As is to be expected though, the top ranks are dominated by the Northern European countries such as Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark…

What is distressing and ought to be of the highest concern are the ranks occupied by the Arab countries. The report covers data from only 135 countries in the world and unfortunately the cluster of Arab states at the bottom must be seen as a call for action unless one believes that we all share a patriarchal gene responsible for our shameful behviour towards half the population. The following is the list of the Arab countries:

107 United Arab Emirates

109 Kuwait

111 Bahrain

115 Qatar

120 Algeria

121 Jordan

122 Lebanon

125 Oman

126 Egypt

129 Morocco

131 Saudi Arabia

132 Syria

135 Yemen

(It is to be noted that Israel was ranked as 56)

The GGI measures gender discrimination in four areas and uses a number of issues in each area. What might be of special interest to some is the fact that Lebanon achieved its very low ranking despite the fact that it ranked as the best in the world in the Area of access to Health. That advantage was more than offset however, by Lebanon’s ranking in the Political field and in Economics. The area of education suffered, less than politics and economics, as a result of the lower literacy rate among females. The overall conclusion is that Lebanon can improve its ranking by reducing the illiteracy rate among its females, by giving them major access to parliament and the cabinet and by improving measurably the wage gap and the income gap. This is not an easy task. To increase the number of women in the parliament to 64, in the present cabinet structure to 15 and to offer females equal pay for equal work is nothing short of a revolution. It’s a revolution we cannot afford to keep on hold for much longer. Our current practices are unethical and immoral.

  • 5thDrawer

    Is THAT why we don’t have more of the cuties in here?? At least they are not illiterate in body-language on a beach . ;-)
    Thanks again Ghassan …. and when the men get killed for being as stupid as they are, the women and their children suffer forever due to the attitudes … or die sooner from the enforced poverty of their situations.
    However …..
    I am not certain where that line about ‘Area of access to Health’ came from … I am sure some females I know will agree the concept must be one which only males have …. possibly true only when one has a pocket-full of money …. is that ‘research’ from the same school that educates the women perhaps??
    Well, perhaps there’s equality anyway in that old saying ‘You die on the hospital door.’

    • Ghassan Karam

      5thDrawer
                    Excuse the delay in acknowledging your post but I have been without internet access for two days. I do not at the moment have the WEF study with me but I believe that their major proxy in that area is life expectancy. I will double check on that and let you know.

      • 5thDrawer

        Certainly understand internet & electrical problems Ghassan. And never a need to rush a reply … 
        I would understand it from the ‘life-expectancy’ side … as women generally seem to have an edge on that everywhere. I think, even when people don’t realize it is affecting them, the ‘low-level-stress’ always present in Lebanon reduces everyone’s life expectancy anyway – yet possibly women handle it better.

  • 5thDrawer

    Is THAT why we don’t have more of the cuties in here?? At least they are not illiterate in body-language on a beach . ;-)
    Thanks again Ghassan …. and when the men get killed for being as stupid as they are, the women and their children suffer forever due to the attitudes … or die sooner from the enforced poverty of their situations.
    However …..
    I am not certain where that line about ‘Area of access to Health’ came from … I am sure some females I know will agree the concept must be one which only males have …. possibly true only when one has a pocket-full of money …. is that ‘research’ from the same school that educates the women perhaps??
    Well, perhaps there’s equality anyway in that old saying ‘You die on the hospital door.’

    • http://profiles.google.com/karam.ghassan Ghassan Karam

      5thDrawer
                    Excuse the delay in acknowledging your post but I have been without internet access for two days. I do not at the moment have the WEF study with me but I believe that their major proxy in that area is life expectancy. I will double check on that and let you know.

      • 5thDrawer

        Certainly understand internet & electrical problems Ghassan. And never a need to rush a reply … 
        I would understand it from the ‘life-expectancy’ side … as women generally seem to have an edge on that everywhere. I think, even when people don’t realize it is affecting them, the ‘low-level-stress’ always present in Lebanon reduces everyone’s life expectancy anyway – yet possibly women handle it better.

  • Leborigine

    Women deserve much, much more respect and authority than what society shows them, especially in the Middle East.
    I challenge any traditional male in the ME to do half of what their wives or mothers do, on a daily basis as a house wife, raising 5-6 kids, house keeping and looking after their husbands when they come home (who mostly are chauvenistic pigs BTW). What even surprises me more is that those chauvenist males usually defend their mothers from their fathers, but yet treat their wives like their father treats their mother.
    Women, when given the chance, have shown to be superior in every aspect except physical to a male, which is probably why they keep them uneducated in the ME.

    • Ghassan Karam

      Leborigine,
                     We need to be able to transcend gender and not replace patriarchal society with a matriarchal one. By liberating women we would in effect be liberating men.

      • Libnan10452

        well, i believe women should be complementary rather than equivalent to men; making women competitors to men will only aggravate the situation; look at western countries decadence with homosexuality becoming a social plague secondary to this male/female rivalry, yet the west continues to sublimate it and considers it as a golden standard, exactly like multicultural societies, which in theory are ideal but in practise they are latent social bombs. I always said women were superior to men till they started to claim equality to men, at that point they started to get degraded. Dont we say behind every great man there is a woman; look at billary clinton; oops a little man in that case. All i am saying is that there is a difference between free women and equality with men; i am for a free woman buit i am not for equality with men; further the whole concept of matriarchal versus patriarchal societies in terms of man/woman ratio is wrong; i have seen jewish women beaten by their husbands and i have seen muslimas beating their husbands; i once watched an interview with a world boxing champion, his name escapes me right now, in tears, because his 35 pounds wife used to beat him!!!!

        • Hannibal

          As I suspected, Mr. Karam did not even bother with an answer… Reread the article… It is not about beating this or that… It is about bigger issues: Like citizenship, jobs, equal pay and opportunities, education and politics… Just look at our current government… No women. This is really shameful. 

        • Libnan10452

          mr hannibal; as you did not suspect, i did not reply to the article but to his comment; also as you did not suspect, i was not criticising him i was just complementing rather embellishing his reaction; also as you did not suspect, he is using terminology i used before and very unusual to be used unless if you are in the field of sociology, thus i can guarantee you that not only he read my previous writings, all to his advantage, but also, as many bloggers here, was influenced, by it; also as you did not suspect, i did not bother to read the article, not out of disrespect, but because of lack of time; also as you did not suspect, i was not expecting an answer from him; btw you need to give him time to answer; this reply of mine is only an hour old only; but please do not think i am expecting any reward or appreciation on this blog from anyone; as i said previously, remember, guinea pigs; please keep this in mind

        • Libnan10452

          also mr hannibal, this article concerns arabic people; i do not consider Lebanon arabic; btw the word arab does not exist even in the arabic language; arabic is an adjective; if you open an arabic dictionary, arab means bitch; i repeated this maybe 5 x already on this blog

  • Leborigine

    Women deserve much, much more respect and authority than what society shows them, especially in the Middle East.
    I challenge any traditional male in the ME to do half of what their wives or mothers do, on a daily basis as a house wife, raising 5-6 kids, house keeping and looking after their husbands when they come home (who mostly are chauvenistic pigs BTW). What even surprises me more is that those chauvenist males usually defend their mothers from their fathers, but yet treat their wives like their father treats their mother.
    Women, when given the chance, have shown to be superior in every aspect except physical to a male, which is probably why they keep them uneducated in the ME.

    • http://profiles.google.com/karam.ghassan Ghassan Karam

      Leborigine,
                     We need to be able to transcend gender and not replace patriarchal society with a matriarchal one. By liberating women we would in effect be liberating men.

      • Libnan10452

        well, i believe women should be complementary rather than equivalent to men; making women competitors to men will only aggravate the situation; look at western countries decadence with homosexuality becoming a social plague secondary to this male/female rivalry, yet the west continues to sublimate it and considers it as a golden standard, exactly like multicultural societies, which in theory are ideal but in practise they are latent social bombs. I always said women were superior to men till they started to claim equality to men, at that point they started to get degraded. Dont we say behind every great man there is a woman; look at billary clinton; oops a little man in that case. All i am saying is that there is a difference between free women and equality with men; i am for a free woman buit i am not for equality with men; further the whole concept of matriarchal versus patriarchal societies in terms of man/woman ratio is wrong; i have seen jewish women beaten by their husbands and i have seen muslimas beating their husbands; i once watched an interview with a world boxing champion, his name escapes me right now, in tears, because his 35 pounds wife used to beat him!!!!

        • Hannibal

          As I suspected, Mr. Karam did not even bother with an answer… Reread the article… It is not about beating this or that… It is about bigger issues: Like citizenship, jobs, equal pay and opportunities, education and politics… Just look at our current government… No women. This is really shameful. 

        • Libnan10452

          mr hannibal; as you did not suspect, i did not reply to the article but to his comment; also as you did not suspect, i did not bother to read the artcile; also as you did not suspect, i was not expecting an answer from him; btw you need to give him time to answer; this reply of mine is only an hour old; but please do not think i am expecting any reward or appreciation on thios blog; as i said previously, remember, guinea pigs; please keep this in mind

        • Libnan10452

          also mr hannibal, this article concerns arabic people; i do not consider Lebanon arabic; btw the word arab does not exist even in the arabic language; arabic is an adjective; if you open an arabic dictionary, arab means bitch; i repeated this maybe 5 x already on this blog

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYRtmMxB5yw CrossWinds

    Galatians 3:26-29……….
    26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

  • Plumbline

    Galatians 3:26-29……….
    26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

  • aleesara

    Women should have equal opportunities in the Arab world they should not be regarded as inferior to men.
    More of them must have seats in governments more women should hold managerial places at work and looked up on to and their right to equal inheritance to men when it comes to Sharia law.

    Indeed, woman are very disadvantaged in many Arab countries their attitude is still in the stone age, things should move on with time.

  • aleesara

    Women should have equal opportunities in the Arab world they should not be regarded as inferior to men.
    More of them must have seats in governments more women should hold managerial places at work and looked up on to and their right to equal inheritance to men when it comes to Sharia law.

    Indeed, woman are very disadvantaged in many Arab countries their attitude is still in the stone age, things should move on with time.