Najib said that the founding principles of Islam encouraged female participation.
He said that all countries stand to benefit from the economic empowerment of women, noting World Economic Forum research that shows greater equality and higher per capita income are closely related.
“The Quran and the Hadith are clear: learning is an honorable pursuit, regardless of gender. The acquisition of knowledge is binding for all Muslims.
“Those who argue against educating women do so as a result of a cultural bias, one which frustrates the aspirations of Muslim women – and holds back economies,” he in a speech to the World Islamic Economic Forum in London today.
The Prime Minister also pointed to successful majority Muslim countries that have made huge progress in empowering women.
He noted that 13 Muslim countries produce more science and engineering graduates than the United States, while in Malaysia almost two-thirds of students enrolled in tertiary education are women.
But he also noted there was work still left to be done. According to the World Bank, of the bottom 20 nations for female labour participation, 19 are majority Muslim countries.
“All countries stand to benefit from the economic empowerment of women. For ageing societies, it represents a welcome boost to the workforce. For the poorest countries, positive impacts on education, health and development. And for the developed world, productivity gains and a rebalancing of growth,” he said.
He noted that in some countries, girls are falling behind where their right to learn itself is being challenged.
“This right is being defended so honourably by the inspirational Malala Yousafzai. So, we owe it to girls like Malala to deliver the best educational opportunities we can,” he said.
Najib further said that although the Muslim world was taking positive steps on education, they were falling behind on workforce participation.
He also said Malaysia has set an ambitious target – women must account for 30% of senior decision-makers and corporate boards in two years, which is three times the global average and more than double the figure in the US, not far behind global leaders such as Norway.
Najib said the decision-making skills and risk awareness that prove so useful in the corporate world should be brought to bear in the public sector too.
“When I took office four years ago, women occupied just 18% of the top posts in Malaysia’s civil service; today, thanks to targeted training and support policies, it is 33%,” he said.
He noted that seven of Malaysia’s government departments are led by women, with Malaysian Central Bank Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz being one of the world’s first female central bank governors.
“She is an example to young Muslim women around the world; her success shows that the glass ceiling can be broken, for the benefit of all,” he added.
Source: The Malaysian Insider