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Muslim Education Gap is about Money, Not Religion

While it’s been historically true that Muslim women are less able to acquire an education than women of other religions, a new study from Pew Research suggests that the key factor in this lack of education may come from the economics of a country rather than religion.

Often, Muslim countries are ridiculed for their lack of women’s education, especially when compared to male education in the same area, but the misconception comes from assuming that this disparity is due solely to a country’s practiced religion.

Muslim countries have made strides in recent years to move towards closing the education gender gap; however, the countries that have had the most success are oil-rich Gulf countries. A country’s economic standing plays a huge part in its ability to push toward providing more education for more women.

In Saudi Arabia, a self-proclaimed Islamic state, an upward trend in women’s education shows that younger Muslim women, born between 1976 and 1985, have an average of 11.5 years of schooling compared to older women, born between 1935 and 1955. These older women on average received around two years. Young Muslim men on average receive around 11.8 years of schooling.

This is a direct contrast with Mali, an economically poorer country, where young Muslim women of the same age reportedly receive around 1.4 years of schooling, young Muslim men receive around 2.7 years, and older Muslim women receive less than a year of education on average.

A study done by Pew Research in 2016 examined populations in certain areas in relation to their religion and found that Jewish peoples receive the highest levels of education, while Muslim peoples receive the lowest. However, it’s important to recognize that the largest Jewish populations are in the United States and Israel – two highly economically developed countries with quality levels of education overall. The study found that “educational attainment [is] partly a function of where religious groups are concentrated throughout the world.”

Image by Debashis Biswas on Unsplash

The more recent study examined the possible factors of Islam that could affect a woman’s access to education, including “the degree of gender discrimination in a country’s family laws, the percentage of its population that is Muslim, and the share of Muslims who reported religion is very important to them.”

The study found that none of these factors had a significant effect on the amount of education received.

This study challenges the accepted misconception that religion is the main factor holding women back from education attainment in Muslim countries. With this new research, we can hopefully move away from generalizing education and social status due to religion and push toward looking at each area as an individual scenario, each with their own factors – economic or otherwise.

In order to push toward giving more women access to education, it is vital to not blanket an assumption of religion over a mass population and instead look deeper into why the disparity is present in that specific country, what steps are being made to change it, and how one could help in furthering the closing of the gender gap in education.

Featured Image by Lisda Kania Yuliani on Unsplash

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