Economic Opportunities for Minorities & Women in Africa & the Middle East

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  • 0:00 Reasons for Lack of…
  • 0:40 Growing Opportunities…
  • 1:30 Still Holding Women Back
  • 2:05 Minorities in the Middle East
  • 3:25 Minorities in Africa
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Economic development has improved in recent years in the Middle East and Africa, but what about opportunities for women and minorities? This lesson shows that, while there has been progress for these groups, it has been far from perfect.

Reasons for Lack of Opportunity

One of the major economic problems facing both the Middle East and Africa today is a lack of opportunity for women and minorities. For those of us raised in the West, where we try our best to make sure that everyone has equal opportunities, this sounds crazy. However, for much of the world, there are still very widely-held prejudices against minorities and women doing well financially. Often, these prejudices are culturally based, but have been inflamed by political leaders looking to score cheap points with their supporters by trashing other people. However, in many ways, as we'll see, the situation of both women and minorities is improving dramatically in both regions.

Growing Opportunities for Women

The plight of women in the Middle East has long been an issue of focus by people from around the world. In many ways, it is getting better. In many universities throughout the region, more than 60% of students are women. That's a massive economic potential just sitting, waiting until graduation.

However, it's not just in education that women are gaining economic potential. Divorced women in particular are often in real financial danger, no matter what society they are in. However, countries from Turkey to Jordan are working to increase the rights of women who have been through divorces. Meanwhile, in Africa, women are beginning to take advantage of micro-finance plans that give people very small loans in order to make dramatic changes to their economic livelihood. Encouragingly, many of the gains from these micro-finance plans have been channeled into education and healthcare for the next generation.

Still Holding Women Back

Yet many women are still held back in Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Saudi Arabia. Women are forbidden to travel outside of the home without the permission of a male relative, which leads to the ridiculous situation in which a mother has to be escorted by her 10-year-old son.

Meanwhile, women in that country are only slowly gaining the right to drive, often by openly defying the authorities. Elsewhere, especially in Africa, traditional practices still keep women out of the financial sector, meaning that many women can't secure bank loans. This has led to much of the success of the aforementioned micro-finance plans.

Minorities in the Middle East

Minorities throughout the Middle East have a history of either faring extremely well or being forced to leave completely. The most famous example of this is certainly the migrations during the 1940s as a result of the declaration of Israel and Palestine. Politicians and scholars still hotly debate the merits of each case, but for both Palestinians and Israelis, the simple truth was that because of a distrust of minorities, thousands had to leave economically-thriving livelihoods to start entirely new lives. As a result, many Jews have faced economic discrimination in parts of the Middle East, while the economic activities of Muslim-majority Palestinians are heavily limited in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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