Conflict & Justice

Gallup poll: Religion doesn't hinder women's rights, the economy does


An Egyptian woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote at a polling station in Cairo on June 16, 2012. When it comes to women's rights, religion isn't the decisive factor many once thought it was. Instead, new polling shows the economy is more to blame.



The spread of Islamist movements across an increasingly democratic North Africa has the West nervous for what these changes might mean for women's rights and human rights in general. But a new report from Gallup Center for Muslim Studies shows there is no correlation between support for Islam and opposition to women's rights.

Across the board, the results of Gallup's polling found the Arab majority believes boys and girls should have equal access to education, and those who said religion was "important" in their lives were more likely to support a woman's right to initiate a divorce. 

Islam doesn't seem to be the reason for North Africa's women's rights troubles. In fact, Gallup found that liberals and Islamists equally favor women's rights. Instead, systemic sexism stems from a dissatisfaction with the standard of living and continuing economic troubles in the region, not religion. (Polling found most people were less happy with the standard of living now than they had been in 2010.)

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When asked if they agree or disagree that women should have the same legal rights as men, respondents from Egypt's liberal Free Egypt party answered "yes" 82 percent of the time, while the Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party) and the general public both answered in the affirmative 83 percent of the time. In general, 86 percent of Egyptian women agreed, and 79 percent of men agreed. 

“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, according to AlArabiya.

These results may inspire optimism in policymakers in the West, but they shouldn't get too excited. Another thing the majority of Egyptian men and women agree on is a distaste for aid from the US and Europe. 

Egyptians favor money from NGOs and Arab countries, but those who oppose Western aid far outnumber those who are in favor of it.

"This finding is especially noteworthy as many policymakers in the US and the EU are reaching out to women, particularly after the Arab uprisings, to offer gender-specific programs. Economic aid from the US and the EU often contains stipulations meant to empower women. These development programs face substantial popular resistance as Egyptian women and men are equally suspicious of all kinds of U.S. aid," said the analysis within the report. 

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Considering economic troubles were found to be the number one concern facing Egyptian households, the findings are significant. Egyptians need money – badly – but they don't want it coming from the West. 

Most of US aid money to Egypt (which has averaged about $2 billion a year since 1979) goes to the military, which controls about 30 percent of the economy, and recently had an effective coup. 

The findings in this Gallup report relate to the question executive editor Charles Sennott asked in his blog post on GroundTruth earlier in the week: What is the US going to do?

If women's rights aren't the issue, and it's just the economy standing in the way, will Americans continue to fund the military? Or the Egyptian people?

For continued coverage of Egypt, check out our Special Report "Egypt Votes"