|Middle East and Africa||Female literacy rates in the Arab world today range from 28% to 73%. Between 1970 and 1990, six Arab countries ranked among the world’s top twelve countries in increasing their female literacy rates: Saudi Arabia raised its female literacy rate from 2 to 48%; Jordan from 29 to 70%; Tunisia from 17 to 56%; Libya from 13 to 50%; Algeria from 11 to 71%; Iraq from 18 to 49%, and Syria from 20 to 51%.
The percentage of girls who reach at least grade five in primary school in the Middle East and North Africa ranges from lows of 40% to highs of over 90% in Jordan, Algeria and Oman. The average for the entire region (79%) is the second highest regional average in the developing world, surpassed only by the Pacific/East Asia region (83%).
Female secondary education enrollment today ranges from 20% to 90% in the Arab world, and in many countries, including Jordan, female university enrollment is 50%.
In Israel Arab girls are far less likely to pass high school matriculation exams than their Jewish counterparts, and Arab women are the least employed sector in the country. Arab women are limited in terms of the jobs they can take because of the general lack of job opportunities where they live and the traditional dictates that discourage women from finding work outside of their villages.
In 2003, 18.5% of Arab women were employed, compared to 62% of Jewish women. One of the first known Palestinian women’s organizations in the Palestinian territories was founded in Acre, on the current Israeli coast, in 1903.
The legal age of marriage for girls in Gaza is 17. In many areas of Gaza, especially in villages and refugee camps, the average age of marriage is closer to 15.
In Lebanon, women hold 2.3% of parliamentary seats while men hold 97.7%. The population of Lebanon is 1,889,000 women and 1,812,000 men.
In Yemen, women hold 0.7% of parliamentary seats while men hold 99.3%. The population of Yemen is 10,400,000 women and 10,391,000 men.
On November 23, 2004, Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Muhammad al-Muqarran, the Secretary of Riyadh city in Saudi Arabia, said that women would not have the right to vote or nominate themselves for the upcoming municipal elections, but their participation will be discussed in the next elections in four years. Incarcerated prisoners, however, were allowed to vote.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Muslims, Christians, and Jews all have the right to vote in free and fair representative parliamentary elections.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East that grants full religious freedom for all — including Muslims.
Israel has the third highest rate of entrepreneurship — and the highest rate among women and among people over 55 — in the world.
In 1999, Arab-Israeli Rana Raslan from Haifa won the Miss Israel pageant award, becoming the first Arab to earn the title. Muslim fundamentalists called Raslan immoral for stripping down for the pageant’s bathing-suit competition.
|Europe||In England, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are the poorest groups in the country. Only two out of ten women in these communities are active in the job market, compared with seven out of ten black Caribbean and white women.
The prenatal mortality rate amongst Pakistani mothers living in England is 16% — twice the United Kingdom’s average.
Arabs make up 7.4% of the French population, and do not occupy any seats in parliament; there are 37,000 mayors in France and none is of Arab descent. (Exact figures are difficult to attain, because in France it is discouraged or even illegal to acquire official government statistics based on religion or ethnicity.)
In December 2003 French President Jacques Chirac announced a law that prohibited the wearing of visible religious signs in schools. The law (sometimes called the French Headscarf Law) forbids wearing “brazen” signs of religious expression. Items prohibited by this law include Muslim veils, Jewish yarmulkes and large Christian crosses.
In 1994, the French Education Ministry initiated legal proceedings against 72 students who refused to obey the French Headscarf Law.
|North America||In the United States, Arab-American women share characteristics commonly associated with women who leave the home to find employment. Arab-American women have relatively low birthrates, are proficient in English, and are highly educated. Despite these qualities, however, Arab-American women’s employment rates rank among the lowest of any ethnic group.
Ontario is home to 43% of the total Arab population in Canada.
In Canada 52% of women of Arab/West Asian [Middle Eastern] ancestry are living in poverty.
|Sources: JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY; MONTHLY REVIEW; THE JERUSALEM POST; CBS NEWS; U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; U.N.’s Development Fund for Women; The Muslim Council of Britain; UC Irvine; Statistics Canada; Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women; Speech by H.M. Queen Noor of Jordan at the National Organization of Arab-American Women Banquet; news.bbc.co.uk.|