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POLL: Women's rights in the Arab world

Updated: Tue, 12 Nov 2013

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THE POLLBack to top

In the autumn of 2013, Thomson Reuters Foundation conducted its third annual poll of gender experts, focusing on women’s rights in Arab League states.

The perception poll of 336 specialists was designed to assess the extent to which states adhere to key provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which most Arab League states have signed, ratified or acceded. It sought to measure how states compare for women’s rights across the broad sweep of factors covered by CEDAW, ranging from political representation and economic inclusion to reproductive rights and gender violence.

The poll produced a ranking of states – the best and worst for women’s rights – based on the methodology below.

STAGE 1 – DEFINING THE SCOPEBack to top

The survey examined expert perceptions of women’s rights in all 21 member states of the Arab League: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Palestinian territories, Tunisia, Yemen and United Arab Emirates.

It also included Syria, a founding member of the Arab League that was suspended by the group in November 2011.

Eighteen Arab League members and Syria have signed and/or ratified CEDAW. Somalia and Sudan have not signed or ratified the convention. Palestinian territories have endorsed it symbolically.

STAGE 2 - DRAFTING THE QUESTIONNAIREBack to top

We used CEDAW as the basis of our questionnaire.

Questions were set in six categories based on key CEDAW articles:

  • Women in politics
  • Women in society
  • Women in the economy
  • Women in the family
  • Reproductive rights
  • Violence against women

The poll measured sentiment across these six categories as indicated here:

  • “Women in politics” refers to women’s representation or opportunity for representation in the political, civil service and state administrative spheres.
  • “Women in society” looks at cultural expectations concerning women, as well as cultural factors that might prevent women from fully participating in society.
  • “Women in the economy” touches on women’s power to financially sustain themselves, as well as gender discrimination in property rights and employment.
  • “Women in the family” includes factors that could force a woman to accept an unwanted marriage or to discourage a woman from divorcing.
  • “Reproductive rights” includes a variety of questions regarding cultural attitudes to choice in bearing children, as well as access to reproductive health care.
  • “Violence against women” relates to the most dangerous forms of violence and their occurrence in each of the 22 surveyed states: trafficking, female genital mutilation, corporal punishment, marital rape and the factors encouraging violence against women.

In total, there were 36 questions, nine of which referred to details of respondents including name, age, sex, profession, employer and country of expertise.

We tested the questionnaire in-house and the average completion time was approximately 13 minutes.

Questions were designed to allow us to compile scores to rank states and leave space for respondents’ own thoughts on what they considered to be the most pressing issues for women in their countries of expertise.

The questionnaire contained: 

  • 14 Likert scale questions
  • 6 rating scale questions
  • 7 open-ended questions
  • 9 questions about respondents

Likert scale questions posed statements and asked respondents to choose one of the following: highly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree or strongly disagree.

Rating questions required respondents to rate the importance of certain factors on a scale of 1-5 (plus not applicable).

All of the poll’s six categories, with the exception of introductory questions, included both Likert and rating questions.

The “reproductive rights” category did not have any open-ended questions.

The first five categories featured two Likert scale questions each, with “violence against women” containing four.

Each category had one rating question.

Intermediate versions of the poll were tested in-house and by humanitarian, development and human rights organisations. We wanted to avoid questions that could in any way cause offense, so we asked both female and male Muslims to take the poll. We refined the questions in light of their feedback.

The final version of the questionnaire was the result of thorough research and informed by guidance from Thomson Reuters Foundation’s leadership team, the Reuters News polling team and international and national human rights groups.

STAGE 3 - SAMPLINGBack to top

We targeted local, national, regional and international humanitarian, development and human rights organisations, academics, media professionals, health care providers, refugee shelters, women’s shelters, legal advisers and activists, with a strong preference for female respondents.

We tried to avoid polling politicians and only considered those with a demonstrable interest in gender issues.

Respondents were not randomized. 

The questionnaire was not posted publically online and was only sent to people who matched the criteria above. We did allow respondents to forward to colleagues with relevant expertise but asked them not to post the survey online. 

STAGE 4 - QUESTIONNAIRE DISTRIBUTIONBack to top

The online questionnaire was built using SurveyMonkey. According to the firm’s own statement, it does not use cookies. It was important that respondents could take the poll without being tracked or geo-located as some human rights workers had stressed that they could be under surveillance in the countries in which they operated. 

We discussed cyber security issues with a top information security consultant from Front Line Defenders.

The survey was translated into French and Arabic by a professional translation firm. We created three identical surveys in SurveyMonkey, one in each language

We disseminated the questionnaire by email, pasting in a link for every one of the three-language formats.

In our emails, we offered additional security advice in case respondents felt that they could put themselves in danger by taking the poll.

For five weeks, starting in August 2013, the data team focused on distributing the questionnaire. 

They ensured that at least 10 respondents answered from each state, with bigger representation for larger nations such as Egypt and Iraq. 

STAGE 5 - ANALYSISBack to top


  • The poll closed in the third week of September 2013.
  • French and Arabic responses were downloaded from SurveyMonkey as spreadsheets and translated into English by a native Arabic speaker and by a French-speaking reporter.
  • Microsoft Excel 2007 was the main software used for data analysis.
  • Data was cleaned so it was in the same form and size.
  • The translated French and Arabic responses were added to the main spreadsheet, next to the English survey responses, to create a master spreadsheet containing all responses from all three surveys filed in all three languages.
  • Next, we filtered out all incomplete responses – for example, those that did not contain answers for compulsory questions under section 7 (violence against women).
  • We then divided our analysis into two steps: Likert scale questions and rating questions. Both types were analysed country by country. We created a spreadsheet with 23 sheets - the master spreadsheet and one sheet for each of the 22 states.
  • In the master spreadsheet, we filtered responses country by country and copied records into each country sheet accordingly.
  • For Likert scale questions, we assigned values to scores: a negative meaning generated a high score and a positive meaning generated a low score. So the higher the score, the worse the situation for women. We used this table to run a VLookUp function on the Likert scale questions to transform statements into scores.
  • For rating questions, we calculated the average score of each question.
  • We then averaged all the scores – per question and per theme – for each country.
  • Next, we grouped the results per category, per country. We calculated the average score for each category for each of the 22 states. We ended up with six numbers for each country (one number for each theme).
  • Then we averaged the six scores, to come up with a unique number. This number constituted the final country score.
  • We filtered the countries based on this score, from largest to smallest. The largest score represents the worst country for women in Arab league states and the lowest score represents the best.
  • The Reuters polling team validated the methodology and ran the results by Thomson Reuters statisticians in Bangalore, India, who further validated our results.
  • All questions had the same weight, as they were all based on CEDAW articles. We did not attempt to assume any relative importance to different CEDAW articles. For example, we did not try to determine whether female genital mutilation was any “better” or “worse” than marital rape as a form of violence against women.

Observations:Back to top

  1. A perception poll represents a snapshot of the opinion of a particular group of people at a certain moment in time. We are aware that results may have been influenced by events taking place over the period the survey was conducted (August to September 2013).
  2. Some states had very similar scores on certain issues so it is important to recognise that final rankings may indicate only slight variations in expert perceptions. 
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  •  alt winner  alt winner

    Sukurbanu (65) is living in Rupnagar slum since her childhood. She has fallen from the hanging toilet one week ago. Most often she badly suffered from water diseases because of poor hanging toilet. Her three daughters have to face long queue before they go to work. Life become miserable to her because of toilet crisis. GMB Akash, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Isabela Pires Baptista, 33, lives on her own in a penthouse in one of Rioâs well-off neighbourhoods, Barra da Tijuca. She has a MBA in Environmental Law but works as a fine artist. âMy toilet means comfort to me. But I know what is behind it: water supply, sewerage, pollution of lakes and oceans... It could mean life and death, if I go deeper. The fact is that I do like to have a good shower, and for a Brazilian girl like me, it means at least 10 minutes of clean water being wasted. It's a privilege. I have a clean water supply, hot water, a comfortable toilet seat. But in my neighbourhood, sewage is thrown into the lakes and beaches, so I can feel the smell; sometimes the fish die without oxygen. I often see solid waste floating in Barraâs canals and lagoons. And loads of rubbish, making many parts of the beach inappropriate for swimming. Now that they built Barraâs emissary, sending untreated sewage into the ocean, the next step was to treat it before disposal. The facilities are under construction and the target is to have all these neighbourhoods connected to the sewerage system until 2015. But of course they won't make it when only 14% of the budget has been put in place so far. Eduardo Martino, Panos Pictures for WSUP   Isabela Pires Baptista, 33, lives on her own in a penthouse in one of Rioâs well-off neighbourhoods, Barra da Tijuca. She has a MBA in Environmental Law but works as a fine artist. âMy toilet means comfort to me. But I know what is behind it: water supply, sewerage, pollution of lakes and oceans... It could mean life and death, if I go deeper. The fact is that I do like to have a good shower, and for a Brazilian girl like me, it means at least 10 minutes of clean water being wasted. It's a privilege. I have a clean water supply, hot water, a comfortable toilet seat. But in my neighbourhood, sewage is thrown into the lakes and beaches, so I can feel the smell; sometimes the fish die without oxygen. I often see solid waste floating in Barraâs canals and lagoons. And loads of rubbish, making many parts of the beach inappropriate for swimming. Now that they built Barraâs emissary, sending untreated sewage into the ocean, the next step was to treat it before disposal. The facilities are under construction and the target is to have all these neighbourhoods connected to the sewerage system until 2015. But of course they won't make it when only 14% of the budget has been put in place so far. Eduardo Martino, Panos Pictures for WSUP

    Isabela Pires Baptista, 33, lives on her own in a penthouse in one of Rioâs well-off neighbourhoods, Barra da Tijuca. She has a MBA in Environmental Law but works as a fine artist. âMy toilet means comfort to me. But I know what is behind it: water supply, sewerage, pollution of lakes and oceans... It could mean life and death, if I go deeper. The fact is that I do like to have a good shower, and for a Brazilian girl like me, it means at least 10 minutes of clean water being wasted. It's a privilege. I have a clean water supply, hot water, a comfortable toilet seat. But in my neighbourhood, sewage is thrown into the lakes and beaches, so I can feel the smell; sometimes the fish die without oxygen. I often see solid waste floating in Barraâs canals and lagoons. And loads of rubbish, making many parts of the beach inappropriate for swimming. Now that they built Barraâs emissary, sending untreated sewage into the ocean, the next step was to treat it before disposal. The facilities are under construction and the target is to have all these neighbourhoods connected to the sewerage system until 2015. But of course they won't make it when only 14% of the budget has been put in place so far. Eduardo Martino, Panos Pictures for WSUP

  •  ecuador bolívar esmeraldas  ecuador bolívar esmeraldas

    Keyla Realpe is 4 years old. She lives in Bolivar, Esmeraldas (Ecuador) in her grandmother's house along with her mother, two siblings, and her aunts, uncles and grandparents. There are 13 people living in the house and they have two bathrooms with no doors. There is a septic tank system for the toilets which was installed ten years ago. They have no running water in this town, just one well were they carry the water from. To wash their hands they use water from a bucket. Maria Cagua, Keyla's grandmother, built this bathroom herself and feels very proud of it. Keyla calls her grandmother Mamá María. Keyla loves her dolls, she wishes she could go to school already, she likes to dance and to dress up in many different clothes. Karla Gachet, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •  africa family woman women familie toilet wash afrika problems economy hygiene lavatory vrouw gender vrouwen economie problemen  africa family woman women familie toilet wash afrika problems economy hygiene lavatory vrouw gender vrouwen economie problemen

    Meseret at her home in Addis Ababa. Her husband was shot during the aftermath of the 2005 elections. Since she has been a widow for nine years now she is trying to live an cost-conscious live. Together with her two children, her two little sisters and her mother she shares a one bedroom government house. The house rent is seven Ethiopian Birr, which is close to a third of a dollar. Still, as a restaurant manager she finds it difficult to survive. Her shared toilet is far out of the compound. Too far, according to Meseret. That is why the family uses the little side yard next to the house. Though it is not a toilet, the entire family uses it for their defecation. After use, defation is covered by sand and flushed away with some water. Petterik Wiggers, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •  haiti caphaïtien  haiti caphaïtien

    "I have always defecated on the ground. As a woman, I know this is a shameful and undignified thing to do, but I had no choice. It’s what we’ve all done for years. It was really difficult at night, especially when it rained. I either used a bush or went in a bag. Last year, an NGO supported us to build a community toilet in Limonade. Now, I can use this during the day which is great. However, at night I am not able to use the toilet because it’s quite a distance from my house and I’m scared to walk alone. Shiho Fukada, Panos pictures for WSUP

  •  india  india

    Geeta who lives in Katra, Uttar Pradesh, walks almost six kilometres every day, in the early morning and late evening, to go to the toilet in local fields. In May 2014 two girls in her local area left home to visit a nearby field that they used as a toilet. They were found dead the next day. They had been raped and were hanging from a tree. Atul Loke, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Eiko Aoki 61 washes her hands after toilet. The toilet booths at female bathroom of a department store near her home in Tokyo. The bathroom has spacious with soft lighting, WiFi access, 3D surround music, heated seat and washlet / electric toilet seats with water spray for washing anal and genital cleansing. Sound concept of this bathroom is world fantasy. Each individual room has a unique design and concept such as amazon, aurora, forest. Eiko, a house wife in Tokyo says "Since this department store is close to my home, I often come here for shopping. When I was a child, public toilet was not clean and smelled not good most of the time. But now every time I use a public toilet in Tokyo, its very clean and has washlet. I myself use toilet with washlet and heat seat in my home almost 25 years ago. Noriko Hayashi, Panos Pictures for WSUP.   Eiko Aoki 61 washes her hands after toilet. The toilet booths at female bathroom of a department store near her home in Tokyo. The bathroom has spacious with soft lighting, WiFi access, 3D surround music, heated seat and washlet / electric toilet seats with water spray for washing anal and genital cleansing. Sound concept of this bathroom is world fantasy. Each individual room has a unique design and concept such as amazon, aurora, forest. Eiko, a house wife in Tokyo says "Since this department store is close to my home, I often come here for shopping. When I was a child, public toilet was not clean and smelled not good most of the time. But now every time I use a public toilet in Tokyo, its very clean and has washlet. I myself use toilet with washlet and heat seat in my home almost 25 years ago. Noriko Hayashi, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

    Eiko Aoki 61 washes her hands after toilet. The toilet booths at female bathroom of a department store near her home in Tokyo. The bathroom has spacious with soft lighting, WiFi access, 3D surround music, heated seat and washlet / electric toilet seats with water spray for washing anal and genital cleansing. Sound concept of this bathroom is world fantasy. Each individual room has a unique design and concept such as amazon, aurora, forest. Eiko, a house wife in Tokyo says "Since this department store is close to my home, I often come here for shopping. When I was a child, public toilet was not clean and smelled not good most of the time. But now every time I use a public toilet in Tokyo, its very clean and has washlet. I myself use toilet with washlet and heat seat in my home almost 25 years ago. Noriko Hayashi, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Eunice is the Co-Founder of Kasarani Academy in Naivasha. Previously, the school only had two toilets which were used by 250 pupils. Tenants living nearby used the toilets as well and left them in a poor condition. Because of this, Eunice found that the children preferred to practice open defecation in the grounds around the school, which quickly became a public health issue. Eunice and her husband Paul have now invested in child-friendly toilets. These tiny toilets have prevented adults using them as they cannot fit through the doors. Frederic Coubert, Panos Pictures for WSUP.   Eunice is the Co-Founder of Kasarani Academy in Naivasha. Previously, the school only had two toilets which were used by 250 pupils. Tenants living nearby used the toilets as well and left them in a poor condition. Because of this, Eunice found that the children preferred to practice open defecation in the grounds around the school, which quickly became a public health issue. Eunice and her husband Paul have now invested in child-friendly toilets. These tiny toilets have prevented adults using them as they cannot fit through the doors. Frederic Coubert, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

    Eunice is the Co-Founder of Kasarani Academy in Naivasha. Previously, the school only had two toilets which were used by 250 pupils. Tenants living nearby used the toilets as well and left them in a poor condition. Because of this, Eunice found that the children preferred to practice open defecation in the grounds around the school, which quickly became a public health issue. Eunice and her husband Paul have now invested in child-friendly toilets. These tiny toilets have prevented adults using them as they cannot fit through the doors. Frederic Coubert, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Vanessa, 17, is a student who lives in Antananarivo. She says she worries when she is on her period at school.<br /> <br /> "At home, I have a shower outside my house and I can keep clean but when I’m at school, I feel embarrassed during my periods as there is no space to change or wash. I worry that my sanitary napkin will leak if I keep it on for too long while I’m waiting to come back home to change it." Frederic Coubert, Panos Pictures for WSUP.   Vanessa, 17, is a student who lives in Antananarivo. She says she worries when she is on her period at school.<br /> <br /> "At home, I have a shower outside my house and I can keep clean but when I’m at school, I feel embarrassed during my periods as there is no space to change or wash. I worry that my sanitary napkin will leak if I keep it on for too long while I’m waiting to come back home to change it." Frederic Coubert, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

    Vanessa, 17, is a student who lives in Antananarivo. She says she worries when she is on her period at school.

    "At home, I have a shower outside my house and I can keep clean but when I’m at school, I feel embarrassed during my periods as there is no space to change or wash. I worry that my sanitary napkin will leak if I keep it on for too long while I’m waiting to come back home to change it." Frederic Coubert, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Luria, 12, is a Grade 7 pupil at Maguiguana Primary School in the Maxaquene Bairro of Maputo. Her parents live in a town in the countryside. Luria was sent to Maputo to live with her uncle so that she could attend school there.<br /> <br /> "I try not to use the toilet at school. It’s really bad." James Oatway, Panos Pictures for WSUP.   Luria, 12, is a Grade 7 pupil at Maguiguana Primary School in the Maxaquene Bairro of Maputo. Her parents live in a town in the countryside. Luria was sent to Maputo to live with her uncle so that she could attend school there.<br /> <br /> "I try not to use the toilet at school. It’s really bad." James Oatway, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

    Luria, 12, is a Grade 7 pupil at Maguiguana Primary School in the Maxaquene Bairro of Maputo. Her parents live in a town in the countryside. Luria was sent to Maputo to live with her uncle so that she could attend school there.

    "I try not to use the toilet at school. It’s really bad." James Oatway, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Rural dweller Renee, an artist, left her former home in the densely populated suburbs of Sydney to live a quieter life in bush surrounds an hours north of the city. She has built a shed on 10 acres of land and also included an outside toilet/bathroom. She says she's not concerned about privacy as she's surrounded by bush and no one can see in. As she's away from the town water /sewage system her toilets and other wastes are flushed into septic holding tanks. Warren Clarke, Panos Pictures for WSUP   Rural dweller Renee, an artist, left her former home in the densely populated suburbs of Sydney to live a quieter life in bush surrounds an hours north of the city. She has built a shed on 10 acres of land and also included an outside toilet/bathroom. She says she's not concerned about privacy as she's surrounded by bush and no one can see in. As she's away from the town water /sewage system her toilets and other wastes are flushed into septic holding tanks. Warren Clarke, Panos Pictures for WSUP

    Rural dweller Renee, an artist, left her former home in the densely populated suburbs of Sydney to live a quieter life in bush surrounds an hours north of the city. She has built a shed on 10 acres of land and also included an outside toilet/bathroom. She says she's not concerned about privacy as she's surrounded by bush and no one can see in. As she's away from the town water /sewage system her toilets and other wastes are flushed into septic holding tanks. Warren Clarke, Panos Pictures for WSUP

  •  romania buzescu  romania buzescu

    Pana Dumitra, 49, from Buzescu, lives as almost half of the Romanian population do in the country side. There is no running water neither sewage from the municipality. People have wells, they extract electrically the water which is used for kitchen and sometimes they also build inside toilets. Dumitra is also having a inside small toilet, but it's been used only by her nephews, when they pay a visit. She is using only the outside toilet, even in the winter time. Petrut Calinescu, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •   Nombini has two Porta Potties, which are used by the 12 people who live in her home. When she first moved to Khayelitsha in 2005, she did not have a toilet so she had to go in the bush, across a main road.<br /> <br /> "It was terrible in the bush, the cars hit you. When we were given a Porta Potty in 2009, it was much better than going in the bush. Flush toilets are first class compared to the Porta Potty though. My dream is to have a flush toilet." Eric Miller, assisted by Social Justice Coalition.   Nombini has two Porta Potties, which are used by the 12 people who live in her home. When she first moved to Khayelitsha in 2005, she did not have a toilet so she had to go in the bush, across a main road.<br /> <br /> "It was terrible in the bush, the cars hit you. When we were given a Porta Potty in 2009, it was much better than going in the bush. Flush toilets are first class compared to the Porta Potty though. My dream is to have a flush toilet." Eric Miller, assisted by Social Justice Coalition.

    Nombini has two Porta Potties, which are used by the 12 people who live in her home. When she first moved to Khayelitsha in 2005, she did not have a toilet so she had to go in the bush, across a main road.

    "It was terrible in the bush, the cars hit you. When we were given a Porta Potty in 2009, it was much better than going in the bush. Flush toilets are first class compared to the Porta Potty though. My dream is to have a flush toilet." Eric Miller, assisted by Social Justice Coalition.

  •  ghana kumasi ashantiregion  ghana kumasi ashantiregion

    Ima, 47, is a public toilet attendant in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. She lives in a rented room with her husband and four children aged 14-22. She is a very dedicated worker and relies on the income from her job to fund her children's education. She does not have a toilet at home. During the day, she uses the public toilet where she works, but at night she is forced to use plastic bags as it is not safe to walk long distances in the dark. Nyani Quarmyne, Panos Pictures for WSUP.

  •  usa newyork  usa newyork

    Mary is a writer who lives in New York City.

    "Living with two housemates, it is important to schedule our bathroom time and take turns cleaning it. I used to live in Beijing, where I had to use a public bathroom as my apartment didn't have a private toilet. While it was safe and relatively clean, I used to hate putting my coat on just to go to bathroom in the middle of night during winter. That experience made me really appreciate the privacy and comfort of having a clean toilet at home": Shiho Fukada, Panos pictures for WSUP.

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