Oil, the bane of Muslim women

Check out this fascinating examination of the role of oil in retarding the advancement of women in developing countries like Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

Yet another example of how the contemporary Muslim problems often facilely ascribed to "Islam" or "Muslim culture" can be sociologically explained. That is, if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and consider them scientifically rather gleefully file them away as ammunition for culture wars.

The sooner they run out of this foul "resource" the better.

The natural resource curse is such a bitch | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

The quick version is that Ross makes a strong case that women are hurt by a previously unappreciated effect of the infamous "resource curse" that imperils democracy in countries with abundant fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia and Nigeria are textbook examples of the "curse": when ruling elites and governments can get rich quick by exporting oil (or natural gas, or even tropical timber), they don’t so much have a reason to care about the well-being of their citizens, or anything else for that matter. Many. Bad. Things. Ensue.

Speaking today at Brown University’s Watson Institute, Ross emphasized that when developing economies are dominated by oil and don’t diversify into things like textiles and manufacturing, women don’t go into the labor force, their social status remains low, and — because women are stuck at home or in informal employment — their political movements remain nascent. The preponderence of oil in the Middle East and parts of North Africa would explain why traditional gender roles remain enforced even as oil wealth brings the accoutrements of liberal modernity.

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Yusuf Smith

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,
    I’m not convinced. Surely the role of women is starkly different in all the countries mentioned, but traditional gender roles remain mostly intact. Most of North Africa has a strong agricultural sector; oil in Nigeria occurs well away from where most of the Muslim population lives and corruption may well cancel its benefits anyway. The problems women face in Saudi Arabia are due to legal restrictions which do not occur anywhere else, including the rest of the oil-rich Gulf. Nigeria has diversified into textiles and/or manufacturing no more or less than the oil-poor rest of West Africa. How many more holes are in the argument as presented on that article you linked?
    There is also the question of whether traditional gender roles are a good thing or not, and whether it is a positive thing for the Muslim world to go down the route of having large numbers of two-income households with the effect that has on living costs in crowded areas, and the effect it has on children who lose the access they had to at least one parent most of the day, and to neighbourhoods which are left empty during the day and thus become an easy mark for burglars and unsafe for children to play because of lack of supervision, and so on.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Salaams, Yusuf
    Thanks for the contrarian take. I’m not endorsing everything it claims or assumes to be desirable (I share your ambivalence about dual income based economic patterns; in this country the pressure for women to work and cutthroat economics have impoverished family life immeasurably) so much as agreeing with its central insights that 1) gender problems are affected by economics, politics, …, and 2) oil more often than not encourages extremely dysfunctional mores and policies, ones that are especially harmful for women.
    No doubt there are huge differences between Saudi and Nigeria that make comparisons fraught with peril, but I think this is a very useful discussion to have, even if some of the initial assumptions are problematic.
    I do see oil as the root of all evil in the Gulf, and I’m not convinced Saudis are quite so “traditional” as one might assume by virtue of the fact that mothers haven’t entered the workforce. If by “traditional” we mean living up to Islamic values and historical precedent of balancing traditional values with the needs of the real world, as I’m concerned no modern society that infantilizes women so shamelessly as to deny them drivers licenses at the same time it imports every imaginable luxury item, much less deny them even the right to travel (without the permission of a wali) warrants that epithet in our time. Tradition isn’t supposed to be frozen in time or indifferent to human needs and dignity.

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Yusuf Smith

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,
    If I didn’t make the point more clearly in my comment: there is nothing traditional about Saudi Arabia’s gender situation. It is the result of laws which are replicated nowhere else, at leats to anything like the same degree.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Of course. Didn’t mean to seem to imply that you were saying that.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/GCarty/ George Carty

    Could it be argued that in the West, it is impossible to restore traditional gender roles because most of the men’s work has been shifted to cheap-labour countries, while the women’s work is left behind (because most of the jobs which women do involved face-to-face contact and are thus inherently unglobalizable)?