Three of the main types of discrimination in the Middle East are based on gender, disabilities and religion, in which women, disabled persons and Christians are discriminated against.
One of the major types of discrimination in the Middle East is gender discrimination.
Comoros is the best country in the Middle East to be a woman in while Egypt is the worst, according to a 2013 study conducted by Thomson Reuters on the best countries in the Middle East to be a woman in. The study ranked countries according to the six categories of violence against women, reproductive rights, women in the family, women in the economy, women in society and women in politics.
It found that in the Middle East, women often face issues that the women in the rest of the world do not. For instance, women are often forced into arranged marriages in their teens, usually being taken out of school so that they can marry and become housewives. If a girl disobeys her father and refuses to enter into an arranged marriage, she could be punished, abused or even killed in an effort to defend the family’s honor.
Low emphasis is placed on female education as compared to male education, and if a family does not have enough funds to support its daughters for schooling, the money goes to the sons instead.
According to a 2015 study by Christine Ostrosky, the global average of women’s education is about five percent behind that of men’s, literacy-wise. However, in some countries in the Middle East such as Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran, the literacy rate of women falls behind that of men’s by ten percent or more. Only 44 percent of girls in the Middle East are enrolled in primary and secondary schools. This statistic is particularly shocking in Yemen, where only 28 percent of girls are enrolled in primary schools and 21 percent in secondary schools.
One trend is that if a girl’s mother is educated, the girl herself is more likely to complete her education. In contrast, if a girl’s mother is not educated, the girl is also more likely to have her schooling neglected. Since more than half of the girls in the Middle East are not receiving an education, it is also more likely that these girls will grow up uneducated, bear children and the cycle will continue.
The reason why so many girls are pulled out of school is mostly due to the Middle Eastern view towards women. Influenced by the patriarchal culture in both their religion and law, women are seen as second class to men and expected to be subservient to the man in their household. Although international studies have shown that women tend to perform better than men in education, a man is more likely to find a job in the Middle East, whereas a woman is more likely to be married off to a man and nurture a family, thus “wasting” the money spent on her education. In a patriarchal society, daughters tend to be expensive, so they tend to be given away at a young age, passing the costs of caring for them to their new husband. Even for girls that remain in education, they are usually taught only to become good mothers, teachers and nurses, leading them to face high unemployment rates even though they are literate.
In the eyes of Middle Eastern culture, a woman’s purpose is only to become a mother and nurture children – preferably boys.
Disability discrimination is a taboo topic in the Middle East, with many able-bodied people ignorant about such conditions. In line with the Middle Eastern culture and religious beliefs, people tend to view disabilities and mental conditions as imperfections and diseases, and often go to lengths to conceal children with such conditions in case it makes the child or their siblings undesirable candidates for marriage. Additionally, admitting that one has a child with a disability is seen as humiliating and shameful.
When Mahmoud Safwat Abdel-Bari and Dina Tarek Saad married, they were met with much criticism from their fellow Middle Eastern people. As a couple both with Down’s syndrome, they were accused of being immoral as it was believed they would “continue the spread of the gene” if they had offspring.
Down’s syndrome rates remain high in the Middle East at approximately 1 every 800 births, with one of its probable causes being consanguineous marriages. However, only three percent of the population in the Middle East is recorded as having a disability, as compared to 15 percent of the worldwide population. The Middle Eastern statistic may be an undercount as the government only tends to count severe impairments as disabilities. Furthermore, some parents may refuse to admit that they have a child with a disability, believing that mainstream people should be “normal” and without imperfection. These sentiments are amplified in regions where people receive little education. Sometimes, husbands blame their wives for bearing a disabled child and even file for divorce.
The Middle East is largely tied to their religious views. Although the Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity, Christians were persecuted and discriminated against. They are not the only minority religion facing discrimination, but also the Yazidis, Kurds and Druze, to name a few. However, about 80 percent of persecuted religious believers are Christians, according to a report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
With the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East, religious discrimination took place in a variety of forms. While there was everyday discrimination in one’s job, school and life, there were also genocidal attacks targeted at certain minorities.
For example, in Saudi Arabia, there are strict limitations governing the rights of its people to express Christianity. Apart from regular crackdowns on private Christian services, Christians are also not allowed to perform public acts of worship. In Saudi Arabian textbooks, children are taught to express intolerance and hate towards non-Muslims. Hate speech against Christians is also common and even instigated by government officials. In Turkey, Christians are depicted by the authorities as a threat to the stability of the nation, and stereotyped as Western collaborators instead of true Turks. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is noted for his statements publicly denigrating Christians. Additionally, Egyptian Christians were continuously targeted by extremist groups over the period of 2017-2018. A total of 99 Egyptian Christians were killed by extremist groups in 2017, with 47 killed on Palm Sunday in Tanta and Alexandria.
Large-scale persecution and discrimination of Christians and other religious minorities largely occurred in the past two decades, prompting many of the survivors to move out of the region. Today, the population of religious minorities in the Middle East has decreased drastically, down from 20 percent of the population last century to 3-4 percent currently.