Women’s rights not blocked by religion in Arab world, claims survey


Religious views do not stand in opposition to women’s rights in the Arab world, says a survey of men and women from across the Middle East. The survey, conducted by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, shows that no correlation exists between people’s attitudes towards Shariah law and their level of support for women’s rights.

The results show that other factors impact women more.

“The biggest challenge facing women wasn’t so much the rise of Islamist parties but the rise of a sense of insecurity and the plummeting economy,” said Dalia Mogahed, a senior analyst who oversaw the study.

The study asked questions that broadly defined women’s rights, such as: “Do women and men have the same right to education and employment?” and “Do women have the right to initiate divorce?” In fact, survey participants who advocated for Shariah law were more inclined to support a woman’s right to initiate a divorce.

The goal of the Gallup study was to test the assumptions people in the West and in the Arab world make about religion and rights.

“We look at what seems to be givens in the public debate and then test them. Is it true that the way to push for women’s equality is to secularize society? Is it true that religion is an impediment to women’s rights?” said Mogahed.

According to the findings, there are direct links between the level of education of men, higher male employment, and overall satisfaction of living ─ and support for women’s rights.

But these findings are only one aspect that needs to be considered, according to the Egypt director of Freedom House, Nancy Okail.

“The issue is not religion, but how democratic this new regime will be for women,” said Okail.“The right of women to work, divorce their husbands, choose what to wear. What about plans to reduce the age of consent for marriage for women in Egypt? These issues are all signals of what may come.”

Philippa Strum, Senior Scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said that these findings are important for American policy-makers and should help them when deciding where to spend their aid money. She believes that “Egyptian female activists are indeed active now more than ever,” and this will be something that Egyptian President-elect Mohammed Mursi will have to take into consideration in his agenda.

(Jennifer Vasquez is an intern in Al Arabiya’s D.C. bureau.)