Freedom for all people to be educated
If a skilled workforce is important for helping a nation become more economically productive, then every person in the nation must have access to at least basic educational skills such as reading and mathematics. Only then does every person have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the economic production of the country.
Since it is impossible to predict where children with great intelligence and creativity will arise, such education must be available to boys and girls alike, and to children from all racial and religious backgrounds. If it is not, the important contributions that some child from a minority group could have made are lost from the economy forever, and it cannot move as quickly from poverty toward greater prosperity. (We discussed the need for a nation to require universal education in chapter 7, 253-56.)
Freedom for women as well as men
If a nation truly wants to move from poverty toward greater prosperity, it must insure that all of the freedoms we have discussed up to this point in this chapter are available to women as well as to men.
The teachings of the Bible give honor and value to women as well as to men. The very first chapter of the Bible says that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Men and women share the most privileged status of all creatures in the universe, that of being made “in the image of God” (that means they are more like God than all other creatures and that they represent God on the earth).
In addition, the portrayal of the “ideal wife” in Proverbs 31 shows that she is someone who engages in various commercial activities in the public marketplace: “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. . . . She perceives that her merchandise is profitable . . . she makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant” (vv. 16, 18, 24; see also Gal. 3:28). This means that women should have the same opportunities as men to hold jobs, to be educated, to be trained for careers, to inherit, and to own property or businesses.
However, we must emphasize the important role of mothers in raising and nurturing children. We understand this to be a God-given responsibility, one that we hope many women will choose to pursue full time while they have children at home and are able to do so.
But even in earlier centuries and in agricultural societies, women often contributed to the work of the farm in various ways while they raised their children. In fact, women actually taught their children to work as well. Today, modern transportation and technology mean that many mothers have opportunities to work from their homes or to work part-time if they choose to do so.
Interestingly, even though nineteenth-century Japan was a very traditional society, with women having almost entire responsibility for caring for their households and for raising children, women still had an active role in “enforcing frugality, engaging in farming and industry, and building prosperity.” Starting in 1870, all girls as well as all boys were required to attend elementary schooling and become literate, and by 1910, 97.4 percent of eligible girls were attending school. Women had the same complete access as men to public places, very unlike traditional Muslim societies.
To recap what we have specified above, economic freedom for women must include the freedom to start and own businesses; to own property; to inherit; to buy and sell, and to negotiate contracts; to travel and relocate anywhere in the country (as long as this is consistent with family responsibilities); to invent and profit from invention; and to have free access to useful knowledge and information.
Landes notes that the Muslim nations of the Middle East continue today to fail to develop economically apart from the influence of oil wealth. One reason is that “rates of illiteracy are scandalously high and much higher for women than for men.” Muslim society “accords women an inferior place.” He adds:
The economic implications of gender discrimination are most serious.
To deny women is to deprive a country of labor and talent, but—even worse—to undermine the drive to achievement of boys and men. . . . In general, the best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status and role of women. This is the greatest handicap of Muslim Middle Eastern societies today, the flaw that most drives them from modernity.