Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Egypt really the worst Arab state for women?

After Amman was the rated the third "Ugliest City in the World" and Beirut the 20th "Top City in the World", using vague criteria such as "dirty, chaotic streets and ugly buildings looking like they're crumbling on top of each other" (in reference to Amman not Beirut!), the polling community has come up with a new ranking system: worst Arab states for women. And Egypt won, apparently due to a "surge in violence and Islamist feeling", whatever that means.

Now I am not going to make the argument that Egypt doesn't deserve the title when there are countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen in contention. I am not an expert on how it is to be a woman in Egypt these days, enduring harassment in the street on a daily basis, nor have I ever been a female citizen of Saudi or Yemen. But I am almost certain that as a Lebanese woman, it in no way feels like I am supposed to be worse off than a woman living in Somalia, a country that still refuses to sign the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. I do not believe that as a woman living in Tunisia, with full citizenship rights, I would be worse off than a Jordanian woman, exposed to "honor" crimes and denied the right to pass my citizenship to my children, where the glass ceiling feels like fortified cement. Something doesn't add up here.

This strangely designed poll by the Thomas Reuters Foundation is reminiscent of the annual Transparency International  poll in which people from different countries are asked about the perception of corruption in their country. The headlines always goes something like "Lebanon most corrupt country in Middle East". In fact, it is simply an indicator of people's perception about corruption, because there is no other way of actually measuring corruption (you can't just go up to a politician and ask them if they accept bribes - well let's just say it gets more complicated). This poll basically asked "336 specialists" their own opinion on whether statements like "Women and men have equal access to run for all elected positions in public office" or "Girls are expected to give up their education sooner than boys" in their country. As complicated as the statements were to confirm, more problematic were answering questions like: "Current inheritance laws are biased towards men.", an issue that has a basis in religion.

What bothered me about this poll is first, the obviously strange and inexplicable results. The second thing is that many of the questions, such as "Marital rape is recognised by law and punished" or "Female genital mutilation is a common practice in this country" can be clearly answered through a little bit of research. They are not really perception based. Another problem is using the indicator of access to health care, as Karl noted, which may not be a sign of a gender equal society but of a rentier state, compared to a country that does not provide public health care to any of its citizens.

I am not sure why the Thomas Reuters foundation decided to conduct their study in this manner, but it has not shed any light on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab world, as we ended up with one more useless list of countries ranked at someone else's whim.

1 comment:

callipyge said...

She's back! Great post. Opinion polls are so inherently flawed and I wouldn't rely on one to rank a list of countries unless the article is called something like " top 10 countries Texans like to travel to" (instead of "10 best places to see in the world!")

I was researching the pitfalls of opinion polls and stumbled upon this article http://www.pregnantpause.org/numbers/gallup01.htm
interesting read for data nerds.