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Democracy, Oil, or Religion? Expanding Women's Rights in the Muslim World

  • Neilan S. Chaturvedi (a1) and Orlando Montoya (a1)

Of the 45 Muslim majority countries in the world, 42 have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. While this does indeed signal a motive to improve women's rights, there is wide disparity in terms of which countries expand rights and which do not. Social science literature suggests that in addition to economic factors like wealth and oil resources, or political factors like the quality of democracy in the country, Islamic culture may be at odds with the Western conception of women's rights. We posit that Muslim countries are unique in this regard due to religious pressures that often conflict with conventional measures of human rights. Using data from the Cingranelli-Richards Human Rights Dataset and the Religion and State Project, we find that Muslim countries that restrict the influence of fundamentalist religion in the government and population improve women's economic and social rights.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Neilan S. Chaturvedi, University of California, Irvine. E-mail:
Orlando Montoya, University of California, Irvine. E-mail:
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