Is the inferior role of women in oil-rich countries determined by high rates of oil production and exportation?

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Is the inferior role of women in oil-rich countries determined by high rates of oil production and exportation?


Oil production is one of the main sources of income for the most MENA region countries. However, there are notions that the bigger amount of oil the state produce, the less its authorities cherish democratic values.[1] The weak democratic system, consequently, do notprotect women rights from violation in most of MENA states. Some scholars claim that oil is the principal reason for the exclusion, discrimination and provision of fewer opportunities to women around the region.[2] Oil-producing states, according to Michael Ross, have lower rates of women participation in work force, politics or education and are in general less respected than in countries whichdo not have rich oil resources.[3]

The aim of this paper is to analyze the women’s situation in Maghreb countries: Algeria as an oil producer on the one side and Tunisia with Morocco as manufacture-based countries on the other. First of all, I will present the arguments of Michael Ross presented in his Oil and Patriarchy and Oil, Islam and Women. The main part of this essay is the analysis andcomparison of female statuses in three Maghreb countries through the perspectives of women involvement in politics and their representation, their opportunities to be employed and sectors they usually work in, the access to education and their rights endorsed by the legal system of the country. After comparing countries and their policies towards women, I will prove that Michael Ross’s argumentcannot be taken as hundred percent true, because there are many other factors which affect women’s status in the countries discussed.


Michael Ross bases his argument on the claim that intensive oil production (Morocco and Tunisia exports oil as well, on very low rates though) creates an economic sector, where men have a physical advantage before women and are usually more oftenemployed in construction, heavy industry or retail.[4] Consequently, industries like manufacturing, agriculture and textile do not get enough attention from state’s authorities as these sectors do not bring as much income as oil production does.[5] Traditionally women are employed in the traded sector as textile and in oil-rich countries they are automatically excluded from the work force as theoil production is given more importance.[6] It is said by social contract theorists that women can reach their full liberation by entering the working arena outside the home.[7] Michael Ross relates the dominance of oil-production sector with the inferior status of women because petroleum tends to create more jobs for men and reduce the importance of women-dominated sectors. Since women do not haveopportunities to work outside home, they are economically depended on their husbands. Professor Ross mentions two terms in order to explain his claim of economic dependency.

Dutch Disease is known from the 1960s when the economy of Netherlands increased rapidly because of natural gas recourses found in the North Sea.[8] The main idea of this concept is that the increased income from thenatural resources transforms state’s economy away from the traded sector to the non-traded sector. As more women in many developing countries are employed in a traded sector, they lose the protection of their jobs, because oil-rich governments tend to ‘protect heavy industry, not light industry – and hence, male jobs instead of female jobs.’[9] The boom in non-traded sector caused by oil production,decreases women’s incentive to join the labor force, because in oil-rich countries female unearned income is usually higher than in oil-poor countries. Female unearned income belongs to woman’s household, but is not earned by her directly.[10] As the income of the household rises, woman is less motivated to join the workforce and to earn the second income. If money earned by the male member of a...
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