NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Working women in the Arab world, whose participation in the labour force already is among the world’s lowest, also face a serious image problem in Arab media, according to a report in the Saudi Gazette.
Programs on Arab satellite channels overwhelmingly portray Arab women in the workforce negatively as superficial and selfish dilettantes who trade on their femininity for advancement, according to a survey by King Faisal University in Al-Ahsa.
The first-of-its-kind study was conducted by media professor Hanan Al-Yusuf in 16 Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Yemen.
It found that 76.6 percent of the satellite channels portrayed working women as exploiting their sexuality to progress in their careers. The study said 67.3 percent depicted women as “selfish” and 62 percent showed them as “helpless and submissive in the face of injustice.”
Working women also were shown as unable to multitask and prone to low productivity by 59.3 percent of the satellite channels and 30 percent portrayed them as corrupt and lacking intelligence.
The satellite channels also tended to show women working in administrative and secretarial jobs, as opposed to higher status professional jobs, which promoted another stereotype, according to the study.
There is no shortage of professional Arab women. According to UNESCO, Arab women graduate from university at about the same rate as men, although they tend to outperform men academically, including in the sciences. The share of women graduates in the sciences in the Middle East outpaces that in Western Europe.
Nonetheless, unemployment rates for women in the Arab world continue to be much higher than those for the region’s men.
One reason for this, beyond cultural restrictions, is perception, according to a study done by Nadereh Chamlou, senior adviser to the chief economist for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank.
Chamlou surveyed 5,000 European companies that regularly hire for white-collar jobs in the Middle East. Although many of these companies said they would prefer to hire women over men, they often did not do so due to their perception of cultural restrictions that might hinder women from doing their jobs and achieving success.
The fact that such cultural or religious restrictions do not apply to every society in the Arab world was, the report concluded, trumped by the perception that they did.
Countering incorrect perceptions was one goal of the study done at King Faisal University, researcher Al-Yusuf told the Kuwaiti Arabic language daily paper Al-Watan.
The more a state demonstrated political concern for issues faced by working women, the more often women were portrayed in higher positions in that country’s media, she said.