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Men in the Middle East slow to embrace gender equality - study

by Heba Kanso | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 2 May 2017 19:36 GMT

A woman stands with her children outside their tent at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

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"It is not just men who uphold the patriarchy, women buy into a lot of these attitudes as well"

By Heba Kanso

BEIRUT, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most young men in the Middle East and North Africa still hold traditional attitudes similar to their fathers towards women's role in society, according to a survey published on Tuesday which said the region was bucking a global trend.

The study of nearly 10,000 men and women across Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories also revealed significant levels of domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Two-thirds to three-quarters of the men surveyed believe a woman's primary role should be caring for the household, according to the study by the U.N. Women agency and Promundo, a global organisation that promotes gender equality.

At least half the women surveyed also saw this as their most important duty.

Gary Barker, CEO of Promundo, said it was "concerning and surprising" that young men's views in Morocco, the Palestinian Territories and Egypt did not differ substantially from those of older men.

"... everywhere else that we have done this research ... young men typically have more progressive views than their fathers and the older generation - that was not so here," he added.

The study suggested the finding could be a reflection of the challenging economic circumstances in the three countries where many young men said they struggled to find jobs, leaving them feeling disempowered and ashamed.

Overall, more than three-quarters of men supported the idea that men should have preferential access to jobs over women. But the study showed nearly as many women shared this view.

"It is not just men who uphold the patriarchy, women buy into a lot of these attitudes as well," said Shereen El Feki, senior fellow at Promundo, adding that greater equality would require changing women's mindsets as well as men's.

Barely a quarter of women in the region participate in the labour force - the lowest rate in the world - according to the International Labour Organization.

Despite the prevalence of traditional attitudes, the study said a sizable minority of men in the region supported women's economic, social, and political equality.

"We don't have to invent gender equitable men in the region, they exist. It is a matter of finding their voices and helping turn (them) up and say this can be the normal in the region," Barker said.

The study also showed high rates of domestic violence in Egypt with 45 percent of men saying they had been violent towards their wife. The figure ranged from around 8 percent to 17 percent in the other countries.

One of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence highlighted in the study was sexual harassment in the street with 40 to 60 percent of women saying they had experienced it.

(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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