Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gender Ratios in Qatar and other Islamic Countries

I was reading recent news articles about the 2010 census in India and a key item in the census was the surprising lack of women. According to the data the number of male children to female children under 6 is 109.7:100 (I believe for the overall Indian population it is 106.4:100). Typically the ratio should be around 101:100, though in the West there tends to be slightly more women than men. Yes, that means that worldwide there are more men than women, at birth the ratio of males to females is not completely equal, worldwide it tends to be around 105-107:100 but since men tend to die younger and also die a bit more frequently as children the adult ratio worldwide is typically around 101:100.

Yes, biology slightly favours giving birth to a male child. I'm not entirely sure why myself but I'm guessing there are many websites on biology that explain the phenomenon.

In India there is a significant preference for boys, both for taking care of the parents when they get older and because in many Indian societies the bride’s family has to pay significant amounts of money to the groom and his family for a marriage. This can make having daughters burdensome. As a result many Indians use ultrasound to determine if the fetus is a boy or a girl and have an abortion if it's a girl. India has passed laws to make sex screening of babies illegal but it is rarely enforced so the practice is still common. Wealth and education are not necessarily a factor, it appears that the gender ratio amongst the Indian middle class is no better.

According to the census India has 1.21 billion people now (Wow!). With only 940 women to every 1000 men by my rough calculations there are over 35 million missing women, and given the gender ratio is worse for children that discrepancy will only grow.

So what has this got to do with Qatar? I find that sometimes in the West people confuse social issues in India or other parts of Asia with social issues in the Middle East. Combine that with the West’s criticisms about how women are treated in the Middle East and many assume that similar gender ratio issues happen in the Middle East as well.

Well Qatar also had a 2010 census and the results are interesting. Qatar does have one of the most skewed gender-ratios in the world (100:31.6) but that is because of the hundreds of thousands of expatriates who are here in the construction and oil sectors, who are preponderantly men. When you look at the data for only Qatari citizens you get a more balanced picture.

Now for some reason they have not published the total number of Qatari men and women, instead you have to look at statistics such as people age 10 and older by region of the country, or work statistics. I grabbed the population age 10 or older statistics:

Qatari Men: 85,819
Qatari Women: 88,460

This means that the gender ratio is 100:103! It's an unusual result because for the reasons I gave above it would be unusual for there to be more women than men. There could be a number of reasons -- more men have gone abroad for education or work, the vehicular death rate is high here and I assume that it is primarily males who die in accidents, who knows. It does show that despite issues about women's rights in the Islamic world there is no issue here with female infanticide like in India.

So why is that? Here’s a few reasons:

Reason 1: the Qur’an says not to. Sura 6:151 makes expressly clear you should not kill your children out of poverty (as Allah will provide for them somehow).

Reason 2: the Qur’an has many verses about marriage and notes that the groom must pay the bride a bride-price (Mahr) which is hers to keep even if they divorce. And if a lady dies her parents are entitled to some of the inheritance. There is no issue about girls being a financial burden to marry them off.

Reason 3: divorce is acceptable as it is mentioned numerous times in the Qur’an. Thus marital splits do not necessarily have to end with killing the wife so that the groom can remarry (and under Islam he can have up to four wives anyway).

So does this mean there is no issue with gender ratios in the Islamic world? Sadly, no. While Qatar appears to be fine unfortunately in other countries societal customs have survived and in many cases have somehow been blended into the religion despite the fact that these customs have no basis in Islam. Case in point, the gender ratio in Pakistan. Sadly in Pakistan the gender ratio is little better than it is in India. I found a great paper on it here:

Gender Analysis in Pakistan (by Gary Smith)

I suspect that many of the Indian customs in discriminating against girls continues on in Islamic Pakistan. The paper has some excellent maps and diagrams showing the gender ratio in both Pakistan and India and, not surprisingly, the areas of India with the worst gender ratio are the areas in the north-west near Pakistan, while the areas with the worst gender ratio in Pakistan is the half of the country closest to India. It appears that the cultural biases towards girls has survived the introduction of Islam centuries ago.

This is an issue that I think the West should really be focusing on. Forget about veils and other "symbols of oppression", there are literally millions of missing women in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and efforts need to be made to change attitudes. The paper notes that there was some success in Sri Lanka with programs that provided food and health care to women, any programs like that should be brought into areas with poor gender ratios.


Tame said...

Good article. Thanks. Please keep up the updates.

Unknown said...

I was on the lookout for EXACTLY your article. I stumbled on the CIA website noting that the estimated ratio for 2014 was a whopping 3.29 male to every female. I too was wondering if the CIA was counting population estimates instead of native births--"guest" workers could well account for it. So I read on, and consistently, developed Islamic countries had a noticeable dearth of women. Guest workers? A place like Western Sahara is more or less even, but NOBODY lives long there!

I wonder if it isn't neglect, rather than outright killing. I've read that in Yemen, for instance, baby girls are rarely touched or held, are last in line for medicine, are punished when they evacuate their bladders, and later have no real access to help during difficult births. Later, they impose this same callousness on their own girls. That'd do it, all right.

Glen McKay said...

Well, in Qatar it's the opposite -- more women than men, yet many areas of Pakistan were as bad as India in terms of gender ratio.

Issues in regards to how a society treats a values women is a complex problem and it's hard to say how much religion is a factor. Gender ratios in the Islamic World vary widely, countries with "Eastern" religions like China and India also have issues, and in China even the secular Communist regime is challenged to change traditional attitudes in favouring boys over girls.

Female genital mutiliation is common is some parts of Africa and it cuts across religious bounderies -- practiced by Muslims, Christians and people of tribal religions.

The West has had its own challenges, though perhaps not as dramatic as infanticide or FGM. The feminist movement didn't appear because everything was hunky-dory.

Glen McKay said...

Sorry, meant to say in Qatar it's the opposite -- more female CITIZENS than men. The huge ex-pat population really skews the ratios.

Qataris appear to not have issue with having daughters and treating them well. For example at Qatar University 2/3 of the Qatari students are women.

Anonymous said...

The sex ratio in Pakistan is 1.06. It is not hugely different to western countries. Instead of conjeturing about Pakistan and how it treats women, provide some evidence that neglect / gender selection is carried out. Also, women in the Arab world are mostly repressed, so please don't suggest that they are on average better off than Pakistani women. Are they allowed to drive in your wahabbist countries?

Glen McKay said...

I'm sorry the article upsets you but:

1) the paper cited in the article shows a gender ratio of 108.1, which is based on figures from Pakistan's last census in 1998. The latest I found was a plan to have a new census before 2018.

2) While the CIA World Factbook lists the ratio at 106 but it is an estimate as they do not have census data to work with.

3) "106 is not hugely different to western countries", actually it is -- per the CIA World Handbook the ratios for the US, UK and France are all less than 100. That agrees with 2010 US Census data. 106 is quite high.

4) Many Westerners have misconceptions about Arabia, including that issues around skewed gender ratios like in India must occur there as well. I simply pointed out that it is untrue and the data from Qatar shows it.

5) Women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, they can drive in other GCC countries such as Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Oman.

Anonymous said...

Problem in Indian society came with Islamic invasions , fascination for male child over female may come from Hadith that says men are superior . India did not have arranged marriages traditionally India had love marriages , arranged marriages came as a way to protect women , neither was there any custom of giving expensive gifts . In fact women were leaders of society and preferred over men .