The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ranking Arab Women

Last week, Thomson-Reuters put out an annual poll ranking women's rights in various Middle Eastern countries. The surprise this year: Egypt was ranked the worst country in the region (followed by Iraq and Saudia Arabia) and the Comoros Islands were ranked the best (followed by Oman and Kuwait).  

The methodology of this poll is very odd. It consists in asking anonymous gender experts from the region to "respond to statements and rate the importance of factors affecting women's rights across the six categories." (The categories are: violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy.) The experts' responses "were converted into scores, which were averaged to create a ranking." So the poll isn't based on any analysis of data or legislation; it measures how 336 unidentified gender experts feel about women's rights. In which case, I'm not surprised Egypt came out on top this year: it's a reflection of the extreme disappointment and indignation over women's exclusion from the political process, their lack of security, their targeting for terrible sexual violence in the middle of street protests. It also probably reflects the preoccupation of women-right's advocates over the rise of Islamist political groups that clearly did not believe in gender equality. 

What facts the report then quotes to contextualize or bolster its ranking are often wrong. Women in Tunisia were shocked to be told, incorrectly, that poligamy is legal and abortion is prohibited in their country (it's the exact opposite). With regards to Egypt, the report mentions "a rollback of legal rights since the 2011 revolution." Which rights would those be? Islamists may have wanted to revoke khula' divorce or lower the age of marriage, but they fact is they didn't. The only thing I am aware of is the language of the Islamist constitution, which enjoined the state to help women balance between work and their family obligations (a balance men were not tasked with finding). 

Ursula Lindsey