Skip to main content

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:
Hide All
Abukhalil As'ad 1994. “The Incoherence of Islamic Fundamentalism: Arab Islamic Thought at the End of the 20th Century.” Middle East Journal 48:677694.
Afary Janet. 2004. “The Human Rights of Middle Eastern and Muslim Women: A Project for the 21st Century.” Human Rights Quarterly 26:106125.
Afshari Reza. 1994. “An Essay on Islamic Cultural Relativism in the Discourse of Human Rights.” Human Rights Quarterly 16:235276.
Ahmed Ishtiaq. 1987. The Concept of an Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan. London: Frances Pinter.
Al-Mughni Haya, and Tetreault Marry Ann. 2000. “Citizenship, Gender and the Politics of Quasi States.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, ed. Suad Joseph. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 237260.
An-Na'im Abdullahi. 1990. “Human Rights in the Muslim World: Socio-Political Conditions and Scriptural Imperatives.” Harvard Human Rights Journal 13:1343.
An-Na'im Abdullahi. 2008. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Baderin Mashood. 2001. “A Macroscopic Analysis of the Practice of Muslim State Parties to International Human Rights Treaties: Conflict or Congruence?Human Rights Law Review 1:265305.
Baker Raymond W. 2003. Islam Without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Baskan Birol. 2011. “The State in the Pulpit: State Incorporation of Religious Institutions in the Middle East.” Politics and Religion 4:136153.
Bielefeldt Heiner. 1995. “Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate.” Human Rights Quarterly 17:587617.
Brandt Michele, and Kaplan Jeffrey A.. 1995The Tension Between Women's Rights and Religious Rights: Reservations to CEDAW by Egypt, Bangladesh, and Tunisia.” Journal of Law and Religion 12:105142.
Bueno de Mesquita Bruce, Downs George, Smith Alastair, and Cherif Feryal Marie. 2005. “Thinking Inside the Box: A Closer Look at Democracy and Human Rights.” International Studies Quarterly 49:439457.
Carle Robert. 2005. “Revealing and Concealing: Islamic Discourse on Human Rights.” Human Rights Review 6:122137.
Carlson Matthew, and Listhaug Ola. 2007. “Citizens' Perceptions of Human Rights Practices: An Analysis of 55 Countries.” Journal of Peace Research 44:465483.
Charrad Mounira. 2000. “Becoming a Citizen: Lineage Versus Individual in Tunisia and Morocco.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, ed. Suad Joseph. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 7087.
Cherif Feryal. 2010. “Culture, Rights, and Norms: Women's Rights Reform in Muslim Countries.” Journal of Politics 72:11441160.
Chong Daniel. 2009. “Five Challenges to Legalizing Economic and Social Rights.” Human Rights Review 10:183204.
Cingranelli David, and Richards David. 2010. The Cingranelli-Richards Human Rights Dataset. Version 2010.08.15. Comparative Sociology 1:321346.
Cooke Miriam, and Lawrence Bruce. 1996. “Muslim Women Between Human Rights and Islamic Norms.” In Religious Diversity and Human Rights, eds. Bloom I., Martin P., and Proudfoot W.. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Dahl Robert. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Dief F. 2008. Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch Report.
Euben Roxanne. 1997. “Comparative Political Theory: An Islamic Fundamentalist Critique of Rationalism.” Journal of Politics 59:2855.
Evatt Elizabeth. 2003. “Finding a Voice for Women's Rights: The Early Days of the CEDAW.” The George Washington International Law Review 34:515555.
Finnemore Martha, and Sikkink Kathryn. 1998. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization 52:887917.
Fish Steven. 2002. “Islam and Authoritarianism.” World Politics 55:44–37.
Freedman Amy. 2009. “Political Viability, Contestation and Power: Islam and Politics in Indonesia and Malaysia.” Politics and Religion 2:100127.
Hassana Riffat. 1996. “Feminist Theology: The Challenges for Muslim Women.” Middle East Critique 5:5365.
Hawkins Darren. 2004. “Explaining Costly International Institutions: Persuasion and Enforceable Human Rights Norms.” International Studies Quarterly 48:779804.
Henderson Conway. 1991. “Conditions Affecting the use of Political Repression.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 35:120142.
Hill Daniel Jr. 2010. “Estimating the Effects of Human Rights Treaties on State Behavior.” Journal of Politics 72:11611174.
Inglehart Ronald. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, economic and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Inglehart Ronald, and Welzel Christian. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Inglehart Ronald, and Norris Pippa. 2003. Rising tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ismail Sarwa. 2006. Rethinking Islamist Politics. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.
Joseph Suad. 2000. “Civil Myths, Citizenship, and Gender in Lebanon.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, ed. Suad Joseph. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 107136.
Joseph Suad. 2002. “Gender and Citizenship in the Arab World.” (Accessed on December 21, 2012).
Keck M., and Sikkink Kathryn. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.
Marshall Monty. 2010. Polity IV Project. Version: p4v2009. (Accessed on December 21, 2012).
Mayer Ann Elizabeth. 1999. Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Miller Peter. 2010. “Torture Approval in Comparative Perspective.” Human Rights Review. Forthcoming.
Moghadam Valentine. 1999. “Gender, National Identity and Citizenship: Reflections and the Middle East and North Africa.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 19:137157.
Moghadam Valentine. 2003. “Engendering Citizenship, Feminizing Civil Society: The Case of the Middle East and North Africa.” Women and Politics 25:6387.
Poe Steven, and Tate C. Neal. 1994. “Repression of Human Rights to Personal Integrity in the 1980s: A Global Analysis.” American Political Science Review 88:853872.
Poe Steven, Tate C. and Keith Linda. 1999. “Repression of the Human Right to Personal Integrity Revisited: A Global Cross-National Study Covering the Years 1976–1993.” International Studies Quarterly 43:291313.
Ross Michael. 2008. “Oil, Islam, and Women.” American Political Science Review 102:107123.
Ross Michael. 2009. “Does Oil Wealth Hurt Women?Politics and Gender 5:575582.
Ross Michael. 2012. “What's So Special about the Arabian Peninsula?Quarterly Journal of Political Science 7:89103.
Simmons Beth. 2009. “Civil Rights in International Law: Compliance with Aspects of the ‘International Bill of Rights.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 16:437481.
Smith Heather. 2007. “Explaining Ratification of Human Rights Treaties: Signaling for Aid During Regional Crises.” Ph.D. Diss., San Diego, CA: University of California.
Waltz Susan. 2004. “Universal Human Rights: The Contribution of Muslim States.” Human Rights Quarterly 26:799844.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Politics and Religion
  • ISSN: 1755-0483
  • EISSN: 1755-0491
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-religion
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 56 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1438 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.