October 18, 2003


Repressing Women, Repressing Democracy: Globally, better female health and education align with free government. (M. Steven Fish, October 12, 2003, LA Times)

There are many ways to measure the status of females in a society, but two indicators are particularly revealing. The first is the gap in literacy rates between men and women, which reflects the value that societies assign to the education of females. The second is the gender ratio, which is measured as the number of males per 100 females in the general population.

A wide gap in literacy between the sexes (which invariably favors males) tends to keep women out of public life and politics. The consequences for democracy are momentous. Social and political psychologists have found that women are on the whole better at building consensus, less comfortable with hierarchy and inequality in social relations, and more averse to extremism and violence in politics. The marginalization of women, whether in the neighborhood or in elective politics, means fewer anti-authoritarian voices.

The average literacy gap between the sexes in non-Muslim countries is about seven percentage points; in Muslim countries it is 17 points. And things seem no better in countries with secular regimes than in those where religion is mandated. The gender literacy gap is 20 percentage points in Iraq, 23 in Egypt and 28 in Syria. The gap in the more religiously repressive nations of Iran and Saudi Arabia is 15 percentage points. Outside the Muslim world, differences of 15 percentage points or more are rare. In El Salvador, the gap is five points, in Thailand three and in South Africa one.

And then there's the ratio of men to women. In non-Muslim countries, the ratio is 98 to 100. In Muslim nations, sex ratios are dramatically unbalanced: The average number of males per 100 females is about 103. In some countries, like Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the ratio is even higher. A ratio in excess of 102 males to 100 females is a red flag: It usually reflects inferior nutrition and health care for girls and women and can point to an extensive practice of sex-selective abortion or infanticide.

When the ratio of men to women gets lopsided, young men are far more likely to join fanatical religious and political brotherhoods. Particularly in many Muslim societies, where men must be capable of supporting a family before being allowed to marry, and where older, wealthier men practice polygamy, unbalanced sex ratios give rise to tremendous social frustration among young men.

Democracy does not demand total equality between the sexes; it flourishes in many male-dominated societies. But patriarchy varies. A culture may have a reputation for machismo and emphasis on clan and family honor but still promote the health and basic education of its girls. Such is the case in much of Latin America, Southern and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Alternatively, a culture may assign disparate weights to the value of male and female life, as in much of the Muslim world. In such cultures, democracy is far less likely to take root.

Another lesson in a series: Demographics is destiny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2003 9:24 AM

Social and political psychologists have found that women are on the whole better at building consensus, less comfortable with hierarchy and inequality in social relations, and more averse to extremism and violence in politics.

Sure. Anyone read a NOW press release lately?

Posted by: Chris at October 20, 2003 11:42 AM

I was just wanted to ask if you had a very Merry Christmas / Holiday, and to wish you the very best for the New Year.

BTW, In saw something on another blog site I think it is a good idea to let as many people / bloggers know about. I was just organizing my vacation for later this year and stumbled across the above web site about Bali, where I was considering going. But just read what it says there and especially between the lines; unreal. A travel agent there Bali Discovery Tours of Sanur went to their friend the police chief and made trouble for someone visiting the island who had caught this travel agent offering unauthorized room rates on the Internet for the Hotel Santika Beach in Kuta, which is where I was going to stay, but thank God I am not now (I am not even going to Bali becuase of this) - seems to me like the hotel did not exactly help!

The poor guy was detained by the police for 4 days and had his passport illegally seized. He was not released until the British Embassy filed a formal complaint. Of course, there were no charges!! This is absolutely terrible. Please, please, please, join me in saying "Stuff Bali - I'm going somewhere where they treat people like guests, not enemies".

Posted by: George at January 4, 2004 12:07 AM