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Understanding Arab Men

May 20, 2017

A very interesting read when one considers the role social values play in politics.

Far from relaxing their patriarchal attitudes, Arab men are clinging to them. In every country except Lebanon, younger men’s views on gender roles do not differ substantially from those of older men. There may be several reasons for this, but the study suggests that the struggle of young Arab men to find work, afford marriage and achieve the status of financial provider may be producing a backlash against assertive women. In other words, male chauvinism may be fuelled by a sense of weakness, not strength.

Another explanation is that a general climate of religious conservatism makes men suspicious of newfangled liberties. Muslim legal scholars promote a notion of qiwamah (guardianship) that gives men authority over women. In conservative countries, such as Saudi Arabia, this is official policy. But the attitude persists even in relatively liberal parts of the Arab world, such as Morocco, where 77% of men believe it is their duty to exercise guardianship over female relatives.

In such an atmosphere, violence and harassment are common. In the four countries surveyed, 10% to 45% of men who have ever been married admitted to having beaten their wives. Between 31% and 64% of men admitted that they had harassed women in the street. Fewer than half of Moroccan men think marital rape should be criminalised; most expect their wives to have sex on demand. Some 70% of Egyptian men still approve of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Well over half of Egyptian women also say they approve of FGM. In fact, Arab women espouse many of the same views as men. In Egypt and Palestine, over half of men and women say that if a woman is raped, she should marry her rapist. In at least three of the countries, more women than men say that women who dress provocatively deserve to be harassed. Most of the women surveyed say they support the idea of male guardianship.

Activists have tried hard to encourage Arab women to assert themselves. They have made little effort, however, to soften men’s attitudes. This is changing. ABAAD in Lebanon is one of several NGOs in the region confronting the rigid norms of manhood; it uses awareness campaigns and psychological counselling. The study’s authors see an opening in men’s relatively liberal attitudes towards fatherhood and women in the workplace. They also want to stop the thrashing of boys at home and in schools, which makes them more likely to harm women later on.


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