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Young Women May Be Driving Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa

Post written by Alexa Hassink, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, Promundo

The Middle East and North Africa often makes the news, and not for it’s progressive stance on gender equality. A new 10,000 person study on the state of gender equality in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine seeks to look behind the headlines. The study finds – among other trends – that young women are leading the way when it comes to supportive views about equality.

Produced by Promundo and UN Women with local research partners, the International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA) is the first study of its kind and size in the Middle East and North Africa. Covering four countries, it takes a big picture view of what men think, and how they act, when it comes to supporting gender equality. This includes asking men questions ranging from if they ever have used violence against a partner, to how they feel about having a female boss.

The study reveals that while the majority of men do have fairly traditional, sexist views about gender equality, at least one quarter of men hold more open and relatively progressive views in supporting women’s economic, social, and political equality. That’s good, but not great news.

Importantly, we also get to look at women’s side of the story. What we find is that young women have less traditional attitudes than the older generation. This may seem intuitive, and it is supported by global data and trends, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted in the MENA region, where, among men in Morocco, Palestine, and Egypt, younger men’s views on gender equality do not differ substantially from those of older men; in some cases, they were even more conservative.

We know that when it comes to men taking on less traditional, sexist attitudes, personal histories, family influence, and life circumstances are among the factors that can help drive us in the right direction. This is in addition to things like having greater wealth, higher education, a mother who had more education, or a father who carried out household chores.

So what impact might progressive women have on men’s support for gender equality?

In two of the countries, men whose wives worked outside the home were more likely to do more of the unpaid care work. Others had come to see their wives as strong and capable after they (the men) had spent time away from home, either migrating for work, or otherwise.

The reality though, is that women do not always have the opportunity or support to take action when it comes to seeking and achieving equality in employment, politics, or at home. Indeed, men frequently dominate or control household decision-making, political and leadership spaces, and the daily lives of women and girls: only about a quarter of women in the region work outside the home. Furthermore, the burden should not fall on women to drive this change – we need everyone to be partners in the process.

In this context, men – as friends, partners, siblings, citizens, and importantly, as fathers – can play a key role in raising and supporting strong, independent young women. Fathers who encourage daughters to take on non-traditional professions or to work outside the home, or who allow their daughters to choose their own husbands, seem to contribute to the emergence of more strong, independent women.

In all four countries, men whose fathers had participated in traditionally feminine household work and caregiving, as well as men who were taught to do this work as children, were far more likely to report contributing in this way within their own marriages. This points to the importance of parents’ positive examples in setting the stage for future generations of both women and men who will support relationships and societies based in equality.

This research helps us to better understand how we can raise progressive girls into women. The challenge ahead is to create a supportive environment where these women can thrive, and where the men in their lives support them to do so.

Download the full report here.

Cover photo credit: Promundo

This entry was posted in: Rights

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Founded in Brazil in 1997, Promundo works to promote gender equality and create a world free from violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls. Promundo is a global consortium with members in the United States, Brazil, Portugal, and Democratic Republic of the Congo that collaborate to achieve this mission by conducting applied research that builds the knowledge base on masculinities and gender equality; developing, evaluating, and scaling up gender-transformative interventions and programs; and carrying out national and international advocacy to prevent violence and promote gender equality.

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