Saudi Arabia. United Arab Emirates. Iran. Iraq. Kuwait. Nigeria. Qatar.
That may look like a list of seven random countries, but they all have something sinister in common. Namely, being generally awful places for women to live. All of them occupy a spot at the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, placing them amongst the worst 30 countries in the world for women.
These are countries where domestic violence is condoned by the law. Where women aren’t able to get a passport, marry, travel, or attend school without permission from a male guardian. Where marital rape and sexual harassment are not crimes. Where women aren’t allowed to work in coffee shops, restaurants, and other public areas. Where the law mandates that women must obey their husbands. Where authorities use sexual abuse as a form of torture against women.
But the appalling mistreatment of women isn’t the only thing these countries have in common. They also make up half of the world’s top 14 oil exporters.
This isn’t a coincidence.
The vast quantities of oil these countries were lucky enough to discover within their borders grants them international support and allies they would be unlikely to acquire otherwise. This, in turn, gives them a pass on their horrific behavior toward women — and certain minorities, but that’s a discussion for another time.
And as long as the world remains hopelessly addicted to oil, this situation is unlikely to change. Major players on the international spectrum, such as the United States, China, Germany, and Russia, who could pressure these countries into treating half of their population with basic human decency, are unlikely to do so because their economies rely on oil to survive.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we replaced some of the oil we use with cheaper, cleaner, domestically produced fuels — such as ethanol, methanol, natural gas, electricity, and hydrogen — oil-producing nations would lose some of their unearned influence on the world stage. This, in turn, would embolden Western nations to criticize the blatant misogyny and human rights abuses currently taking place in these same countries. Isn’t that worth fighting for?