A majority of Arabs would accept a woman head of state, yet only one-third think it is permissible for women to travel alone. At the same time, Arab young people are so disillusioned with their prospects in their own countries that large numbers want to emigrate.
These are a few of the latest findings from the Arab Barometer, a research network that has conducted surveys of public opinion across the Arab region since 2006. The nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative, run out of Princeton University, conducted its fifth and largest wave of surveys in 12 Arab countries between September 2018 and June 2019.
The survey’s questions deal, among other things, with governance and political affairs, personal and national economic circumstances, religion, and international relations. The Barometer has begun releasing parts of the results, a process that will continue until the end of the year. It recently released reports concerning the status of women, and attitudes among youth.
The reports are based on responses collected by local partners who conducted 45-minute, face-to-face interviews with over 25,000 citizens in their homes. There were about 2,400 respondents in each of the 12 countries surveyed: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen. The Barometer has been trying to expand to other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but the initiative’s organizers say they have been unable to get guarantees of “free and fair access” to the population, without which they will not include a country in the exercise.
In its report on attitudes toward women, “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa,” the survey found modest but mixed support for greater rights, with positions largely unchanged since the start of polling a dozen years ago. On many questions, the greatest support for women’s rights came from people in Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia.
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“We become very impatient with the Arab countries because they are not changing faster, but we forget how slow change has been in the U.S. and Europe,” says Marina Ottaway, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “It has been a century since women got the right to vote in the U.S., but there still has been no woman president.”
Mixed Views on Women in Politics
Overall, 60 percent of respondents think a woman can be the head of state of a Muslim country. (By country, the proportion of respondents agreeing with that statement ranges from 77 percent in Lebanon to 37 percent in Algeria.) Yet 66 percent feel that men are, in general, better political leaders.
At the same time, there is support for greater women’s political involvement. Over two-thirds of people support the idea of quotas that would reserve a certain number of seats in elected bodies, like parliaments, for women. Several Arab countries have such quotas, though experts say it’s hard to keep track since the rules change often.