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Islamic Culture, Oil, and Women's Rights Revisited

  • Lasse Lykke Rørbæk (a1)

According to recent research, oil abundance is the principal explanation for women's poor human rights record in many Muslim societies. However, this study argues that resistance to gender equality in the Muslim world originates in its specific historical trajectory and that the critical juncture precedes the extraction of oil by a thousand years. The study assesses data on women's economic, social, and political rights in 166 countries from 1999–2008 and shows that whereas the negative effect of oil is driven by the 11 members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Muslim countries consistently underperform even when oil and gas rents and other relevant factors such as income and democracy are accounted for. The study concludes that persisting orthodox tendencies in Islamic culture provide the best explanation for Muslim women's limited empowerment.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lasse Lykke Rørbæk, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 7, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark. E-mail:
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Politics and Religion
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