This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Status of Women is a Key "Demographic" for the Future

Today I read one of my Christmas presents--"Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue" by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. It is an extremely good, albeit troubling, book. It is an exchange between an avowed atheist (Sam Harris, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA), and a "reformed" Islamist (Maajid Nawaz) who was recruited into extremism as a teenager in Britain, but later completed his education at the University of London and LSE and is working to help bring Islam peacefully into the modern era. It is clear that dialogue is necessary, but worrying that the task is not a simple one. Of course, the mess in the Middle East regularly teaches us that lesson. However, I kept seeing an issue in the conversation that resonated with me, as I think it does with all demographers--the status of women. Most--but not all--religions in the world have sanctioned the subjugation of women by men. In my mind the key to the future is for every society to get to the point of genuine legal and social equality of men and women. This is the path to the best kind of civil society, and it is the path to demographic stabilization.

The status of women is obviously not just an issue with Muslims. It is a cultural issue throughout the world. That was reinforced by, among other things, a Christmas present that my wife received: "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante. That is the pseudonym of an extremely successful Italian writer. Although her identity is unknown to the public, she did recently consent to an email interview with a writer for the Financial Times. Here is one of her comments that really struck me:
I grew up in a world where it seemed normal that men (fathers, brothers, boyfriends) had the right to hit you in order to correct you, to teach how to be a woman, ultimately for your own good. Luckily today much as changed but I still think the men who can really be trusted are a minority. Maybe this is because the milieu that shaped me was backward. Or maybe (and this is what I tend to believe) it's because male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, is still bent on subordinating us. Too many women are humiliated every day and not just on a symbolic level. And, in the real world, too many are punished, even with death, for their insubordination.
Remember that these kinds of issues among Italian immigrants to New York City (largely coming from southern Italy, keeping in mind that Ferrante is from Naples) were what motivated Margaret Sanger a hundred years ago to find methods of birth control that women could use, so that they didn't have to choose between a beating from their husband or an unwanted pregnancy. It took us a long time in the US and most of Europe to boost the status of women, but these kinds of traditional attitudes hold back progress everywhere we go in the world. 

No comments:

Post a Comment