Out of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today, over half are women. However, the ever rising presence and prominence of women in Islamic countries hasn’t exactly resulted in a corresponding ascension of women’s rights. It is a fact that, on average, women continue to earn less than men for the same work, while nearly two thirds of the world’s 700 million illiterate adults are female.
And although it is true that equal rights for women have taken huge strides internationally over the last 50 years in the eradication of discrimination against women (especially so in the West), the Muslim world has for so long lagged way behind. That is why – as part of the proposals outlined in the Ten-Year Program of Action – the OIC set up a separate, specialized Plan of Action for the Development of Women (OPAAW) back in 2008, aimed at achieving greater empowerment of Muslim women.
Further to that, the OIC Women’s Development Organization was also established in 2009, giving OPAAW a permanent headquarters in Cairo. Since this landmark accomplishment, the OIC has been committed to creating an environment that strengthens the role of women in everyday life, with much positive progress being witnessed around the Muslim world and within the organization itself.
At the 4th Ministerial Conference on the Role of Women in the Development of the OIC last December in Jakarta, the Secretary General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu noted that the decision to appoint a woman as the head of the organization’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (whose board members also include four women) was a symbol of the OIC’s progress. Also at the conference, the important adoption of the ‘Jakarta Declaration’ was undertaken. Continuing the OIC’s commitment for the empowerment of women and its encouragement for them to be a greater part of the workforce, the declaration puts increased focus on the promotion of equal access to education and jobs, taking into consideration the required measures for removing administrative and legal obstacles, while also granting women with investment opportunities to empower them economically.
By providing women with greater opportunities for accessing training and education, and thus improving their capacity to enter the labor market, the OIC believe it will in turn help alleviate the Muslim world’s great poverty problem. Recent studies from the Organization of Economic Cooperation Development have shown that female labor participation rates are positively correlated to gross domestic product. In other words, nations with high rates of women workers have high rates of economic performance.
And now that such enlightenment is filtering through to the Muslim world, Muslim women are finally realizing and relishing their equal importance to their societies. Meanwhile in Jakarta, the OIC also urged the intensification of efforts in preventing all forms of violence against women. This comes amidst the fact that more than 370 million women and girls live without legal protection from domestic abuse throughout the organization’s member states. Recently, the OIC particularly condemned the practice of female genital mutilation – the barbaric ritual still carried out in some Muslim countries – stating that Islam in no way approves of the brutal act. Equally the OIC stands firmly against child marriage.