Did you know some 800 million population of Muslim women surpass the combined populations of the United States, Russia and Brazil? Stereotyping Muslim women and putting them in one box would be the same as putting all characteristics and cultural nuances of all these three big countries into one box.
Did you know Islam is the only major religious group projected to grow faster than the world’s overall population? According to the July issue of Time magazine, from 2010 to 2050, estimated growth rate of the global Muslim population from 2010 to 2050 is 73%. Stereotyping this largest global population cohort would require a very limited and narrow mindset, don’t you think? Yet, we hear it in the mainstream news all the time—and even from some liberal satirist like Bill Maher—not to mention politicians who will use anything for political gain. Isn’t it time to confront this huge bias, prejudice and past orthodoxies?
I am a Muslim woman. I’ve never truly studied Islam, nor consider myself a religious person. Sure, we can always pick and choose what studies we like and not choose those that don’t fit into our own personal beliefs and values. And there are always two sides to all stereotypes. But I must admit, I am appalled by the consistent generalization and stereotyping of Muslims, as I would be by racism and sexism. Yet, this blog is not about Islam. I won’t even attempt to claim myself as a thought leader in this area. But if you’d like to learn more, as I am, I recommend reading No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan, or at the very least, this McKinsey article by William McCants.
However, I am a thought leader about The New World Marketplace and the cultural macro trends with women, youth and multiculturalism. And I’d like to dedicate this blog to the Women in the Muslim world who are taking the fast track to big cultural changes. Be ready to realize that this largely unseen population of Muslim women will soon become a cultural force to be reckoned with.
In my book, I punched a hole in the western feminist movement believing that it’s about shifting the power…trying to convince us that religious and cultural traditions must be overturned for women to be liberated and equal. I disagree. I believe it’s about sharing the power. I believe tradition is very different than oppression and feminist success means overturning suppressive energies of any kind.
Muslim women around the globe invest in tradition to create change and make a point. They wear hijabs to have the freedom to talk to leaders and create the cultural change. Sakena Yacoobi is an advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She believes and speaks loudly about the fact that Koran requires and strongly supports literacy. And she uses her religion and tradition for this cause. She is a devoted Muslim Woman activist. She believes change has come through partnering with communities, building trust, providing quality services, and waiting for results to become self-evident, rather than speeches, marches or laws. Today, assumptions have changed from “women don’t need education” to “education is valuable for all.”
According to a recent Mckinsey study, while much work remains to close the equity gap for the 800-million Muslim women worldwide, the rates of education and employment for some have increased dramatically in a short span of time. Changes that took half a century in the United States are being compressed into a decade in today’s Muslim world, and they are likely to accelerate.
In the space of two generations, a widespread education movement has elevated the prospects of millions of Muslim women, from Tehran to Tunis. You’ve often heard my sound bite: for every 2 men graduation from college, 3 women are and with better GPAs. This is not just a US phenomenon. In Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, university-enrollment rates for women now exceed those of men. It is not the gender equality that is so massive, it is the rate and pace of this acceleration that is massive and underreported. In Egypt, there were 3 women for every 4 men in universities a decade ago … today, they are equal. In United Emirates, women enroll at three times the rate of men. The list goes on. I often wonder what that means for the new male generation being raised by these educated women? Would we have as many religious wars?
Nearly 40 million Muslim women have joined the labor force. Clearly, there will be more and the next wave of change is under way. And for marketers, we are talking about unprecedented consumer power. According to McKinsey, in the next 15 years, even if women participation in the workforce reaches two thirds of men (or around 60%), it has the potential to spike regional GDP by 20% or more.
I believe Feminism is not just about the struggle against the ruling oppressor, but also about assumptions held by all of us, including women. This means a deep-rooted realization that women don’t have to look like a high-powered Western businesswoman to be party leaders and game changers. They can use their own religion and culture to navigate the social and cultural change.
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