Saturday, March 15

How oil keeps women oppressed and isolated

It's a chain of conditions that goes like this: the larger the country's oil revenues, the greater the influx of foreign currency. The greater the influx of foreign currency, the more imports there are. The more imports, the smaller the domestic manufacturing sector.

And it's those low-level, low-paying manufacturing jobs – in textiles, for example – that give women a way to obtain their own money, independence, networks and, most important, political clout.

It's not unlike what happened here in the late 1800s, when women ran most of the sewing machines in the factories. They started to get into schools, unions, political groups and, eventually, pushed for the vote.

But, without jobs, women are isolated, with no money, and easily cowed by patriarchal ideas of their place in society.

That's all according to a provocative new paper by Michael Ross, chair of the International Development Studies program at UCLA.

His Oil, Islam and Women, published in last month's American Political Science Review, takes a sweeping look at all the political and economic variables in oil-producing nations and comes up with one aha! kind of hypothesis.

Women have made less progress towards gender equality in the Middle East than in any other region. Many observers claim this is due to the region’s Islamic traditions. I present evidence that oil, not Islam, is at fault; and that oil production has caused women to lag behind in many other countries. Oil production reduces the number of women in the labor force, which in turn reduces their political influence. As a result, oil-producing states are left with atypically strong patriarchal norms, laws, and political institutions. I illustrate this argument with global data on oil production, female work patterns, and female political representation, and by comparing oil-rich Algeria to oil-poor Morocco and Tunisia. This argument has implications for the study of the Middle East, Islamic culture, the resource curse, and economic development.


Rudy said...

The central premise of this piece isn't borne out by any of the facts.

This chart lays out the number of women in Ministerial and Sub-Ministerial roles:

As you can see several countries that are heavily reliant on oil have some of the higher levels of participation for women. Venezuela (a founding member of OPEC) is well above the international average - and pretty comprable with Canada.

Meanwhile, some of the worst countries for female participation have no oil reserves to speak of - Afghanistan, Djibouti, North and South Korea, Monaco, Nepal, Somalia.

Furthermore, the premise that low wage manufacturing jobs lead to women's emancipation (in addition to being deeply offensive) isn't reflected in the statistics either. Countries like China and India which have become synonomous with low-wage manufacturing have participation rates well below the international average.

This theory is a cute way to justify econimic exploitation but it's got no relation to the facts.

Anonymous said...

A number of cases inside and outside the Middle East support Michael's hypothesis—he documents, for instance, how manufacturing and women’s participation in Nigeria waned as oil wealth grew. He has a nice contrast of oil-rich Algeria to Morocco and Tunisia.

I don’t think Michael’s analysis is ironclad (nor, I think, does Michael). One must always be cautious with cross-country statistical correlations, and case evidence does not always yield systematic patterns that are true outside the case. But Michael’s logic resonates, and the combination of statistical and case evidence is persuasive.

Quoted from: