The road ahead for Arab women

There is changing mindsets in the region regarding gender equality, including access to education, employment and political representation.
Sunday 10/03/2019
Tunisian women shout during a protest to ask for equality between men and women in Tunis, last year. (AP)
Tunisian women shout during a protest to ask for equality between men and women in Tunis, last year. (AP)

On top of social and economic progress, Arab women are making important strides in changing societal attitudes on gender equality but more work is needed to ensure women are granted the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts in the Arab region.

In a report titled “Women in the Middle East and North Africa: A Divide between Rights and Roles,” the Arab Barometer institution pointed to changing mindsets in the region regarding gender equality, including access to education, employment and political representation.

Polling across seven Arab countries showed an increasing level of adherence to equal rights between men and women, with 75% of respondents saying they support a woman’s right to a university education, 84% backing women’s access to the workplace and 62% favouring women’s access to political office.

There is even support for women serving as president or prime minister. In six of seven Arab countries included in the survey, the majority of respondents stated they would support a female head of state, including 77% in Lebanon, 70% in Morocco 66% in Jordan, 64% in the Palestinian territories, 63% in Tunisia and 61% in Egypt. (Only 36% of Algerians shared that view.)

However, there are not only positive trends. Despite largely affirming women’s right to assume top government positions, two-thirds of the public in the Arab world said “in general, men are better at political leadership than women,” reflecting a deep-seated bias in favour of men.

That bias, which grows stronger in times of crises, reflects a common preconceived notion that women are less capable of assuming leadership roles than men, leading to a stubborn glass ceiling that effectively blocks women’s political empowerment.

There is no easy way to deal with this mentality. It requires both more female role models and strong political will to press ahead with initiatives that put women in positions of leadership.

As stressed by the Arab Barometer report: “Efforts to improve women’s equality need to move beyond ensuring equal rights to focus on attitudinal shifts about the roles women should play in society.” 

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