How does the role of women in the public sphere differ between Islamic and non-Islamic societies? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Just a few points to start off: There are no "Islamic countries" as in countries that are in perfect compliance with Islam's normative teachings. There are certainly Muslim majority countries however, so I will answer the question based on this. Muslim majority countries, more than 56 of them, are widely diverse. One cannot make a single general statement on the role of women that would apply everywhere. Bosnia is different from Yemen is different from Indonesia. What I can say however is this: The status of women in any country, including Muslim majority countries, is more the product of human development than religion. We love to blame religion for everything and it's not hard to understand why. When fathers marry off their child in Yemen, they may say Islam allows this. Yet, other factors predict child marriage far more than religion. In Yemen, 52% of girls are married before 18. However, in Algeria, the average age of marriage for women is higher than it is in the US (female general public). The difference between Yemen and Algeria is education and economic development, not Islam.
To further illustrate this point, American Muslim women are among the most educated women in America, more likely than the general public to hold a higher degree and to work outside the home in a professional job. Same religion, but different economic and educational opportunities. If you want to help women in the so called "Muslim world", work on human development, not religion.
That said, misogynistic interpretations of Islam exist and are used to justify anti-women policies and practices. It is the role of Muslims to challenge these within the tradition. Western advocates for Muslim women support this effort by listening to these activists and scholars, not by preaching to them. Demonizing a faith that women overwhelmingly revere emboldens the enemies of women's equality.
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