Kinship, Islam, or Oil: Culprits of Gender Inequality?


Charrad, Mounira M. 2009. “Kinship, Islam, or Oil: Culprits of Gender Inequality?” Politics & Gender 5 (04): 546-53. doi:10.1017/S1743923X09990353.

Author: Mounira M. Charrad


Gender inequality in the Muslim world has become the object of high drama on the international scene. Ghostlike images of women wrapped in burqas and begging in the streets of Afghan cities swept television screens in the United States following 9/11. The number of articles on Muslim women in English newspapers has increased exponentially in the last few years. Although the popular press and the media continue to emphasize seclusion and subordination in their description of Muslim women, scholars have written extensively and persuasively to debunk the myth of the Muslim woman as a victim, passively suffering the subordination imposed on her. Starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present, a rich literature has argued that as elsewhere in the world, Muslim women have not only resisted subordination but have actively shaped their own destiny (e.g., work by Leila Ahmed [1992], Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt [2008, 2009], Elizabeth Fernea [1998], Nikki Keddie [2002, 2007, 2008], and Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji [forthcoming]).



“I have ascribed women’s subordination in the Muslim countries of the Middle East to the kinship/politics nexus. I have pointed to a form of kinship that relies on bonds among men. I have focused on a long history of “kin-based solidarities” in the political system (Charrad 2001, 2007a). This history has led to the development of powerful patriarchal networks that tend to perpetuate gender inequality in law, politics, and the economy.” (547)

“History suggests that the “atypically strong patriarchal cultures and political institutions” that Ross (2008, 107) attributes to oil in fact predate oil economies in the Middle East. Several oil-producing countries in the region have a long history of strongly patriarchal structures and political institutions. Examples include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf Emirates, Libya, and Iraq. Oil was discovered in societies that were based on tribal or kin ties, with strong patriarchal networks invested in the control of women. These tribal or kin ties became the basis for the political system, and the oil economy later was grafted onto these social structures. In some cases, patriarchal networks were kept in place or were even reinforced by colonization, as in Algeria.” (548)

“The theory I have offered indicates that political systems that build their power on kin-based patriarchal networks tend to curtail women’s rights, whereas those that have historically evolved to be relatively autonomous from such networks tend to favor more women-friendly policies (Charrad 2001, 1–13 and 233–41; 2007a).” (548)

“Ross’s argument is not sufficient to explain the differences in the Maghreb... On the basis of a strict adherence to Ross’s pathway, one would expect Tunisia, where women have achieved greater political participation, to have a smaller oil industry than Morocco. However, this is not the case. In fact, while Tunisia has oil rents at the relatively low rate of $61 per capita, Morocco has none at all… Yet Tunisia has witnessed greater female political participation and ranks higher on the Gender Rights Index than does Morocco. Neither oil nor Islam explains this difference.” (549-50)

Topics: Economies, Extractive Industries, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Political Participation, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East

Year: 2009

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