x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Economic malaise the challenge for women in Arab Spring-swept countries

Gallup Poll finds that stability and security issues, and not the rise of Islamist parties, represent the main concerns for women.

WASHINGTON // A lack of economic and social development in countries swept by the Arab Spring, and not the rise of Islamist parties, pose the greatest challenge to women, according to a study based on polling from Gallup.

The study, released today, reveals women share similar political outlooks as men and largely agree on the role of religion in society.

More than 35,000 people, over a three-year period beginning in 2009, were surveyed in person and by telephone, in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen for the study After the Uprisings: Arab Women on Rights, Religion and Rebuilding.

Originally part of Gallup's routine tracking of public opinion in the Muslim world, the survey took shape in 2011 as uprisings gathered steam.

The upheavals in some cases significantly affected the study, with no polling possible in Libya in 2011, while the continuing fighting in Syria renders results there incomplete.

The study sought to address whether the rise of Islamist parties, in countries where heads of states have been toppled, indicate the revolutions have turned against women, said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies.

The research suggests that while "women have suffered" as a result of the uprisings, it is not for the reasons sometimes assumed, said Ms Mogahed. "Women's biggest challenge is not the rise of the Islamist parties. Their biggest challenges are economic, because of a lack of stability and security."

The surveys showed that most men and women believe that women should enjoy equal rights and that they see no contradiction with that and a prominent role for religion in society.

The study concludes that to promote women's rights in the region, policymakers should focus on general economic development. Women should also be encouraged to play a greater role in interpreting religious principles, the authors suggest.

Women and men agree that economic issues are the most pressing ones facing their countries. Only in Egypt did the genders express optimism about their economic prospects, with the outlook in other countries deemed bleak. Bahrain saw an increase in those who reported they were satisfied with their standard of living at 66 per cent in 2011, up from 60 per cent a year earlier.

The survey reported Arab women in 2011 felt less secure after upheavals in their countries. In Tunisia, in 2009, 78 per cent said they felt secure walking home alone at night. In 2011, that number dropped to 30 per cent. During the same period in Egypt, the results dropped from 76 to 57 per cent while, in Yemen, it decreased from 58 per cent to 50.

Of all six countries surveyed, however, only Tunisia had reported an increase in crime.

Most the people surveyed also supported the idea of equal rights for men and women, although not always in equal numbers. In Tunisia, 59 per cent of men supported equal rights as opposed to 89 per cent of women. It was least pronounced in Syria, with 80 per cent of men and 82 per cent of women supportive.

The survey also showed similar attitudes towards Islamist parties. In Egypt, 49 per cent of men and 48 per cent of women said they supported the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political wing garnered the support of 52 per cent of men and 47 per cent of women surveyed. Only 1 per cent separated the number of men and women supporting the Nour party - 31 to 30.

Most women and men also supported Sharia as the basis of new legislation, according to the survey.

"Right now it's really about basic needs," said Ms Mogahed. "Women are very similar to men in their most urgent priorities. Those are jobs, education, economic development and security and stability."

okarmi@thenational.ae