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This is a small step towards the improvement of opportunities for women in the Middle East. However, Turkey is considered a "soft" power in the Middle East (Altunisik, 2005), so this small step alone is unlikely to result in immediate sweeping change. However, this does represent a small step and demonstrates that the women's movement is gaining strength.
Middle Eastern culture centers on the village and the local conditions Societies within the Middle East developed in geographically isolated pockets. Historically, these pockets had little contact with each other and developed their own ideologies and traditions that made them unique. Among those traditions is how they define women's roles and treat them in regard to education and career opportunities.
One such example of this distinction due to locality is the case of India. Southern India follows a matrilineal family system, while a patrilineal system is followed in the North (Ghandi, 2003). Despite the existence of laws Southern India that support the inheritance of property by women, tradition prevents them from achieving the reality of property ownership (Ghandi, 2003). Although, a traditional matrilineal system exists, women are still considered a disadvantaged group in that region (Ghandi, 2003). Similar trends are seen in the education of women, both in that region and elsewhere.
The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) conducted a survey of literacy rates among males and females in many countries throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. Education is one of the key strategies being used to help improve the well-being of individuals. The findings of this study indicate that access to education are improving and that there has been some progress in the education of women (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). Many of the improvements have been in primary education, but gaps still exist in access to secondary education (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). However, overall, women are more likely to enroll in universities than they were in the past.
A summary of the data contained in the PRB report indicated that the highest levels of illiteracy among women are found in Iraq and Yemen, were over 75% of the women were still illiterate as of 2000 (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). Jordan and Qatar had the lowest rates of illiteracy at 16 and 17% respectively (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). Morocco and Egypt also had notable high rates of illiteracy, but not as high as Iraq and Yemen (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). Illiteracy rates demonstrated considerable variation across the countries surveyed. They demonstrated dramatic differences between locations, supporting the importance of local culture and law on the ability of women to achieve an education.
Middle Eastern women that embrace the growing feminist movement risk placing themselves at odds with their families, their communities and their government. Laws and proclamations take a back seat to traditional ideals about morality. Women continue to represent a proportionally low percentage of the total workforce (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). In some countries, such as Algeria, women are not permitted to take part in the labor force at all, therefore have a lower educational level as well (Roudi-Fahimi & Moghadam, 2009). This study suggested that fertility rate was not related to educational level or participation in the labor force as suggested earlier by Moghadam (2004).
Women in the Middle East face greater challenges than women in other parts of the world in their quest for liberation and education. Islamic law presents a major roadblock to their endeavors. Although, they place many challenges, globalization will continue to place pressures on the traditional values that are resistant to change. Statistics indicate that changes in women's education are not occurring at the same rate across the region. Local differences are dramatic, creating further hindrance to the advancement of educational opportunities. Small advances in countries such as Yemen and Turkey are offset by continuing oppression in countries such as Algeria.
It is likely that traditional values will continue to be a hindrance to the education of women. The advancement of the education of women will not occur without drastic political and social change. However, the local nature of politics and social norms in the Middle East will make pandemic change a slow process. Pressures to globalize will continue to aid in these processes. One must understand that resistance to these changes can be expected and that it will mean compromising traditional beliefs.
Women in the Middle East cannot do it themselves and need to the help of the global community to further their cause. However, there are small signs of change throughout several areas of the Middle East. Help from the global community may or may not be productive. Change must come from within and pressures may only create additional resistance. The best action that the global community can take to help advance the education of women is to support women in the Middle East as they continue to pursue their own interests and status.
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