Is Gender Inequality in Muslim Societies a Barrier to Modernization and Democratization?
Valentine M. Moghadam
Since the 1990s, studies have appeared suggesting that a distinctive pattern of values and behavior sets the Muslim world apart from, and sometimes in collision with, the West. These studies are based on culturalist arguments and emphasize the constraining impact of Islamic orthodoxy in the Muslim world's intellectual, technological, scientific, and economic progress.1 Others cite as principal culprits "petro Islam" and Islamist movements such as those in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, and elsewhere.2 Samuel Huntington, the best-known proponent of the culturalist explanation, has argued that modernization, interdependence, and democratization—instead of resulting in convergence and increased cooperation among nations—have resulted in a growing divergence that is likely to culminate in a clash of civilizations. He is particularly concerned that the demographic surge of the Islamic world, which he sees as a source of strength, is a threat to the West.3
Scholars have also argued that Muslim societies are the most resistant to gender equality, which, in turn, has slowed their progress. David and Richard Landes attribute the Muslim world's lagging behind the West to the "slow evolution of Islamic societies' treatment of women."? Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris believe that the cultural fault line dividing the West and the Islamic world relates to gender relations, the position of women, and attitudes toward sexuality. They maintain that on issues of gender and sexuality, "Muslim nations have remained the most traditional societies in the world." Thus, they assert that despite surveys showing that Muslims favor democracy, their lack of "commitment to gender equality and sexual liberalization" means that "democracy may not be sustainable in their societies."?
It is, of course, possible to challenge these perspectives, at least by pointing