Muslim Countries Want Their Women to be Educated February 11, 2010

Muslim Countries Want Their Women to be Educated

Contrary to what you might expect after reading about honor killings and the mostly male-run societies, predominantly Muslim countries support equal education for women. This is according to The Pew Global Attitudes Project (PDF):

Charles McAlpin summarizes the results:

In a positive sign for women’s rights globally, overwhelming majorities in all nine countries said they believed education is as important for girls as it is for boys: 87% in Pakistan, 93% in Indonesia, 85% in the Palestinian territories, 71% in Egypt, and 65% in Jordan said they believed girls should be educated.

Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, shares a wonderful saying explaining the significance of these results:

If we educate a boy, we educate an individual. If we education a girl, we educate a community.

Why is that true?

… when you teach little girls to read, you teach entire villages to read. (Because the girls teach their mothers.) And female literacy then leads to a healthy drop in birth rates and less poverty.

It’s a better system for everyone if people who are currently oppressed get enough education to lift themselves out of their lot in life.

But I don’t know how that leap can get made.

Still, if there’s enough support from the locals, as the Pew study seems to show, that education can’t be too far off.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jim

    Yes, that is refreshing! To me the fairly equal response for boys and girls says even more than the overwhelming “both equally” response. It shows that there really isn’t much fundamentalism on this issue.

  • Ron in Houston

    I rather amazed at how low Jordan is. I’d always thought of it as one of the more progressive Muslim countries.

  • ckitching

    Be very careful with interpreting this question. The “equality” answer doesn’t mean that the people support equal educational content for both the boys and the girls. The answer is simply, that “[educating children] is equally important for boys and girls”. This can mean separate types of educations for each group (i.e. job training for boys and homemaking for girls), or the same for both.

    I imagine we’d get some pretty depressing numbers if you asked those who answered equality for this question if they supported educating both boys and girls on the same subjects. In fact, the numbers would probably be depressing if you asked that same question of western countries.

  • Maybe they thought “education” meant training on how to conceal, wear, and detonate explosives.

    If not, it is encouraging.

  • Jason

    Im going to read the linked document however my initial reaction is – what is the agenda behind the study and exactly how was it carried out, what type of Muslims did they sample, etc.? Ever a skeptic.

  • Solitas

    Am I the only one noticing the glaring omission of Saudi Arabia and Iran on that list? How about the Emirates?

    Would it be as positive reading if those countries were included?

    I also agree with ckitching; what is defined as education here?

  • kenneth

    I also want to point out that there is a vast difference between educating girls and giving them the same education as boys. Most of the western world considered itself to be educating girls for centuries… as seamstresses, maids, home cooks, and babysitters.

  • Ditto what Ron in Houston said!

  • Mak

    Jeff P- …was that supposed to be funny?

  • Aj

    Gallup produced a politically motivated and manipulated poll on Muslim attitudes. I’m surprised to see Pew doing the same, and even more surprised that this blog would be propagating it.

  • Ron in Houston


    Maybe you didn’t get this one – but Jeff P is one of the best satirists on this site.

  • debg

    I wonder if they interviewed the rural populations in these countries as well as the urban areas. The people in the urban areas do tend to be more progressive.

  • I’m with the several others who are skeptical without more information on what the content of the girls’ education will be compared to the boys’.

    My instinct is to say that the respondents probably think equal education means “education” for the boys (learning skewed by a Muslim perspective) and “education” for girls (how to be good, submissive Muslim wives).

  • Mak

    God, satire on the internet is freaking impossible to recognize.

  • muggle

    Yeah, I too have to wonder how education is defined.

    Knowledge is power. That’s how the leap is made. I don’t see these countries as encouraging a whole lot of power for the men, let alone the women.

    Is education studying the Koran for men? How to be good homemakers for women? I’d rather see a survey that specifically asked if they supported science education, reading, world history, etc.

  • gwen

    My initial thought is “teach them WHAT??”. If the only ‘education’ they get will be memorizing appropriate parts of the koran to keep them subserviant, it will be no better than no education at all…

  • ckitching got it right…well, with at least the first part of the comment. The obligatory liberal snipe at Western civilization (in order to not appear to be racist against Muslims?), was, I thought, unnecessary.
    This poll (like so many polls) was carefully crafted to give the needed or wanted results. In this case, it was desirable to show Muslim nations as being progressive, or at least not the primitive, backwards societies they really are. As one who has traveled extensively throughout the Muslim world (going back to visit several countries next month, actually) and was raised in Islam, I have no qualms about calling it out for it’s horrific and primitive misogyny.
    As atheists, we are so intent on preaching the need to live in the real world, yet when it comes to confronting anything ugly head on and we must choose between being politically correct, or being uncomfortable and calling things what they really are, I fear too many of us choose the path of least resistance.

  • ckitching

    >The obligatory liberal snipe at Western civilization (in order to not appear to be racist against Muslims?), was, I thought, unnecessary.

    It was more in reaction to several stories I’ve read in the last few days about the “Quiverfull movement” and some horror stories about fundamentalist Christian homeschooling which has resulted in some girls growing up entirely illiterate. With even these stories, which, of course, are the worst of the worst, I figure you’d probably find a good 10-15% of people willing to agree that girls should receive a different education from boys, which I would find to be a rather depressing number.

    Now, the numbers that would make me horrified would be a little different depending on the region surveyed. If less than 98% of those polled in western nations did not agree that girls and boys should receive the same education, I’d be appalled. On the other hand, if we got up to 75% in the Muslim nations polled, I’d be inclined to think that this was decent progress.

    My hedge was more of a potshot against the local crazies and the reminder that we have to be vigilant against them, too. Just because they have limited power today, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be considered a threat. Given the chance, they’d love to roll back the clocks a few hundred years.

  • Of course, the most “important” of all Muslim nations, Saudi Arabia (the birthplace of Islam) is missing from this poll. Huge shock there (sarcasm).
    Ugh…I could go on and on about this poll all day and night and I wouldn’t even begin to touch on just how flawed a picture this gives of reality.

  • ckitching,
    You make a fine case for being vigilant against local crazies and I could not agree with you more. My point was (is) to draw a distinction between massive, institutionalized, culturally pervasive insanity and bigotry as opposed to the rants of a few in the West who want to “turn the clock back”, as you put it. I’m sure you’ll agree that the two cannot be compared. They are vastly different in scope, range and kind.

  • ckitching…In regards to “rolling back the clocks”…if that were to occur in this nation, we’d be better off in some ways, actually. When this nation was founded, there were fewer folks (percentage wise) that were as religiously fanatical as today.
    Yes, more people probably attended services, but fewer were what we would classify today as “fundamentalists”. That type of thinking didn’t really catch on over here until the mid to late 1800’s.
    Most people don’t realize, for example, that the modern creation science movement didn’t really get it’s start until the early part of the last century.

  • CybrgnX

    Poll – Smoll!!!
    The poll can be worded to get any answer someone wants. Is equal ed meaning both sexes can read??? Most likely. Just look in this country of ‘equality’. Though out my school years all I heard was learn how to read/rite/count that all any girl needs cuz she wont use her college cuz she is going to be a mudder.
    A religion or even politics is not about what individuals say or think but about what the society condones and has as law.

  • nankay

    I this sounds cynical, but I had this thought while reading “Three Cups of Tea”: what difference does it make if they are teaching girls to read if they are not allowed any opportunity to use it? Yay she’s literate! Fat lot of good it will do her as she’s married off at 13, covered from head to toe, not allowed to hold a job, drive a car, or indeed, in some cases, leave the house!

    Until basic human rights are given to women, I feel the huzzahs over literacy are a bit overblown.

    I truly welcome another perspective on this to set me straight.

  • DGKnipfer

    I’ve got to agree with most people above. The poll looks contrived to get the answer they want to show the world. Until qualified women can hold all the same jobs at the same pay as qualified men it’s just for show.

  • Brian Macker

    Question was too vague. They didn’t necessarily mean educating the girls in actual schools. Could be about educating them in how to properly wear a burka.

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