Using Google’s Public Data Explorer lets take a look at labor force participation rates and gender. unfortunately I wasn’t able to upload the graphs to this blog directly, but you’re free to verify my findings here

contained in the data-set is this definition for Labor Force Participation Rate:  “Percentage of the working-age population (ages 15–64) that actively engages in the labour market, by either working or actively looking for work. ILO (2010d). [“Key Indicators on the Labour Market: 6th edition”. Geneva: ILO.] Accessed June 2010.” they direct you to this link for further detail:

I wondered how a selection of Muslim-majority countries would compare with non-Muslim majority ones, but wanted to retain some measure of development for fairness. I chose the latest UN report measuring the Human Development Index for 2010. The reason I chose to use HDI ranking was to prevent ridiculous scenarios like Afghanistan vs. France. While the HDI is not perfect, it should be sufficient for the task of roughly comparing levels of development.

I like pictures of flags so I created an image of my word table to retain them 😀

I tried to break down countries by region, using neighboring non-Muslim countries when I could*. I included several Middle Eastern countries that did not have current HDI information just for comparison’s sake. HDI ranking is on the left while the female/male participation ratio is on the right.  Red indicates comparisons where Muslim-majority countries have more female participation in labor than their non-Muslim counterparts.

There are several interesting things we find here. Overall, higher HDI ranking does not imply female participation, in Muslim and non-muslim countries. For example, the US has a ratio of 85% female participation vs. men, while Cambodia has 88% female participation!

At the same time, it would be remiss not to point out that the majority Muslim countries had a lower female participation than their similarly developed non-Muslim counterparts. out of 25 comparisons only 5 showed higher female participation in Muslim countries. In other words, 80% of the Muslim countries had a lower rates of female participation in the labor market.

What’s notable, is that of the five exceptions, all come from former communist states! even Turkey, which has been hailed for its secularism, had a considerably lower rate of female participation. Also notable is the outcome for Bangladesh. Even though it scored lower than Nepal, it ended up beating out a much bigger competitor in India! I didn’t use India as a comparison because the HDI difference was too high, but its worth pointing out that despite its higher development, India’s female participation is very low, at just 42.2%. India was also featured on an earlier list on female literacy. The Economist has an article on sexist attitudes in India that sheds some light on this.

In the Middle East (as defined by an earlier post) the picture more negative than in Bangladesh. Only two Muslim countries there reach 50% female participation and in eight have a 3rd or less participating. Even in oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain where per capita income is high and their HDI is comparable to European countries women are a marginal part of the labor force. The good news is that in many of these countries the rate of female participation is increasing; but unfortunately this trend is not uniform in the region. notably, Egypt, with its recent revolution has gone from having the best levels of female participation in 1980 (ahead of even turkey) to having a below-average participation ratio.

Perhaps more insight could be gleaned from the former communist exceptions in this table as well as Bangladesh.

*there is only one non-Muslim majority country in the middle east and it’s HDI rank is also considerably higher so I didn’t use it for any direct comparisons)