Though it may seem obvious to those with casual knowledge of the gender gap in North American and in the Middle East, it is the fact that the gender gap in the Middle East is growing that raises some eyebrows.
With factors such as gender based violence and lack of women's rights at all, women were found by a recent study to be at a profound disadvantage in many of the societies institutions in Middle Eastern countries. For instance, women were found to be disadvantaged in the criminal justice system, education, the media, the economy, and health care.
This particular women's rights and gender gap assessment rated countries on a numerical scale. Very few Middle Eastern countries scored above average in any areas of women's rights, making a growth in the gender gap of these countries apparent. According to the results, the gender gap is systematic in the Middle East because it is aided by discriminatory laws. In addition, it found that many existing laws were not enforced, which hampers cross gender understanding and can add to the existence of gender based violence in these countries. Though some countries have showed progress in narrowing the gender gap in some areas, none of them met internationally recognized women's rights standards.
The gender gap in many of the countries in this region is broadened by high levels of illiteracy among women. In addition, many governments are apathetic to the cause and cultures are patriarchal in tradition, which keeps women unaware of their rights. Also, these same women are not at all equipped to advocate for cross gender understanding and respect in their countries.
Interestingly, 16 of the 17 Middle Eastern and Northern African countries that were looked at had the idea of equal rights in their constitutions. However, in these countries, women still encounter legal forms of discrimination that find their way into every part of these women's lives. In some countries, the acts of law enforcement can only be described as gender based violence, because women are subject to harsher penalties than men for certain crimes.
Though it is likely that increasing cross gender understanding would improve women's rights in many of these countries, there is very little government support for such understanding. For instance, no country in the Middle Eastern and Northern African region has any laws that clearly outlaw all domestic violence. In gender based violence situations, the burden of proof is placed entirely on the female victims in these domestic violence cases.
Though seemingly the gender gap is slowly, but surely closing in North America, we needn't look any further than the Middle East and North Africa. In these places, the gender gap continues to widen, gender based violence continues to rise, and cross gender understanding continues to elude government officials and private citizens alike.
What is the answer? Nobody really knows for sure, but finding out where the problems are in these countries is a big step in finding solutions. These solutions can slowly bring the countries of this region into the 21st century in terms of women's rights, cross gender understanding, and the narrowing of the gender gap.