Rae Lesser Blumberg
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia

Moghadam (e.g., 1995) was the first to document women’s higher labor force participation in the oil-poor nations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) than in the region’s oil-rich states – although all are Muslim. Here, I’ll go two steps farther. First, using my theories of gender stratification and gender and development, I’ll explore the consequences of women’s economic empowerment vs. disempowerment in the Muslim heartland. These theories posit that relative female vs. male control of income/other economic resources is the most important (though not the only) variable affecting the level of gender stratification in a group. Second, I discuss the “Islamic surprise”: Muslim women in West Africa and Southeast Asia are more likely to earn – and control – income and have more local level autonomy than in Islam’s heartland. I present data about Muslim women not only from an oil-poor West African country, Guinea-Bissau, but also from oil-rich OPEC nations, Nigeria and Indonesia.

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