Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Gender Segregation: A Persisting Dilemma in Arab Education

children line up for school
Pupils line up in the courtyard of the Mahaba school in Ezbet al-Nakhl, a shanty town north of the Egyptian capital Cairo on October 13, 2018. Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP

Nour Abbas

Gender segregation in schools is still a matter of global controversy. Single-gender schools have re-emerged during the current century in countries such as the UK and Australia, which are considered countries more developed than us. In these countries, debate stems from different opinions about the theories and differences of learning and ways to deal with genders. Even though the supporters of segregation claim that students receive a better education, many opponents have appeared in these countries, as there is no scientific basis for all these allegations. It is nothing but an invitation to regress to the past.

As for the Arab world, the issue represents a war between the two parties, given the reasons for segregation. Mixing genders is horrible for most Arab parents, not to mention mixed gathering for long hours while studying. Unlike the previously mentioned countries, segregation in education based on gender stems from ancient customs and different religious ideologies. For example, some single-gender schools are Christian in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

All of this means that criticizing segregation leads to wars!

Supporters and advocates of segregation cite experiences of the European countries. Nevertheless, Arab educational supervisors manage it in a non-educational way. They neglected all the programs that countries like Australia implement in schools to enhance the opposite sex status. They forgot to prepare both teachers and students for this experience.

Perpetual Minors

Farida Nassif titled her report to the Human Rights Organization on gender segregation in Saudi Arabia with Perpetual Minors. This title represents the truth in metaphorical words, as segregation strengthens patriarchy and “women’s inferiority” in these societies. For example, King Saud University allocates old buildings to female students. On the other hand, the new ones are for male students. The university prohibits female students from entering some departments of university libraries. These and other measures come under the pretext of segregation.

The issue is not exclusive to the KSA, as discrimination measures under the pretext of segregation are present in most Arab countries. This approach proves that we are in patriarchal societies promoting ‘women’s inferiority and exclusion under the pretext of protecting them, even if it is educational communities!

Single-gender schools distort the image of the opposite sex, whether it is in Arab schools or elsewhere. The virtual society that these schools create causes distortions in the social upbringing of students. This system deprives students of interacting with the opposite sex until reaching university. In some countries, this occurs in universities; drawing by this a stereotype of the opposite sex among students. It is not surprising if women consider any man near them as a warning of danger in eastern societies. In the same context, men might see women as an objective they can brag about reaching, in ways that can be funny and sometimes dangerous. Sexual repression that the young generation suffers from comes in line with the educational systems in their countries. It is not a coincidence that countries with completely segregated educational systems suffer from high rates of harassment and rape. These rates come in tandem with persecution wrapped in social justifications for women.

Single-gender education leads to typical results. Segregation moves from single-gender schools to mixed places and even universities. Although a sexual segregation system is absent in universities, students spend all their educational years separated from the opposite sex in stands. Over time, segregation has become a social instinct in these educational systems.

We may see that the situation improved through criminalizing educational segregation based on gender in Tunisia. Moreover, many Iraqi citizens denounce calls for gender separation in education. Improvements in this domain include the spread of mixed schools in some Arab countries such as the UAE. However, we face difficulties while overcoming gender separation. The presence of these schools does not mean that segregation of school divisions based on gender would stop. The mixed-gender classrooms include seats where males and females sit together. It seems that we dress up customs with what we are trying to separate from them. Interestingly, these schools suffer from discrimination between male and female students based on gender. The threat of moving a male student to the female students’ division is considered an insult to the whole sex, and vice versa, not to mention the insults directed by teachers based on the gender of students.

Any educational process is based fundamentally on the teacher, regardless of whether the classroom is separated or mixed. Therefore, teachers have to have the qualities to deal with their classes and consider the difference in their customs and traditions from the correct educational process. Our current inability to properly implement mixed schools does not mean the failure of this system. Instead, it means that we failed in implementing it. It does not also mean that we will not succeed in applying it in its correct educational form. Getting rid of customs requires nothing but awareness and time, which we hope for our Arab countries.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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Mattia Yaghmai
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