This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

August 18, 2004

Arab Women May Migrate

Relegated to a level of second class citizenship for generations, young Arab women are becoming a powerful force for the future. Anticipating that Arab men, protective of their traditionally superior position, will block women from substantial progress, many of these women may migrate to other areas where they have greater opportunities.

Until 1964, Saudi girls were not even allowed to go to school. Now, 55 percent of the country's university students are female. Barely 6 percent of the country's workforce is female, so they may have to migrate to find meaningful work. In Kuwaiti and Qatari national universities, women now comprise 70 percent of the student body. In Yemen, the illiteracy rate among young women (54 percent) is three times that of men. Across the wider region, the average time girls have spent in school by the age of 15 has increased from a mere six months in 1960 to 4.5 years today. Though it is still only three-quarters of the schooling that Arab boys get, female education has improved faster in Arab countries than in any other region. Tunisia has narrowed the literacy gap between young men and women by 80 percent since 1970. Jordan enjoys full literacy for both sexes.

Arab performance improving women's health is also unmatched. In 1970 female life expectancy was only 52 years; today it is more than 70. The number of children born to the average Arab woman has fallen by half in the past 20 years, to just above world norms. In Oman, fertility has plummeted from ten births per woman to fewer than four, due to a dramatic rise in the age at which girls marry. A generation ago, three-quarters of Arab women were married by the time they were 20. That statistic is now half as many. The high cost of housing, added to the need for women to pursue degrees or start careers, is prompting many to delay marriage into their 30s.

For Arab women wanting to pursue a career, only one-third of whom now have jobs, moving out of the region may be their only option. Mobility of women will be a serious issue.

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