Amman, Jordan – Arab women in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen still face significant obstacles when it comes to achieving important political leadership positions. According to a recent poll (PDF) conducted by theArab Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) and the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), both men and women in these three important transition countries support women’s leadership within the civil society sector, but there is less support for women as leaders in elected and appointed office.
“Findings from the poll show the critical role AWLI is playing in addressing societal attitudes and imparting skills to Arab women to run for office” says AWLI Chairwoman Tami Longaberger.
Societal Barriers to Women in Leadership Roles
Some of the barriers women face in the political arena relate to societal attitudes on the role of women. When asked if respondents agreed or disagreed with women participating in elections as voters, the overwhelming majority said they strongly agreed or agreed (94 percent in Tunisia, 90 percent in Libya, 87 percent in Yemen). When asked if they agreed or disagreed with women participating in elections as candidates, the number of respondents who said they strongly agreed or agreed considerably declined (70 percent in Tunisia, 68 percent in Libya, 66 percent in Yemen).
Perhaps most striking, when asked who survey respondents would vote for if two equally qualified candidates, a man and a woman, ran for parliamentary elections, a strong majority of respondents in all three countries said they would vote for a man (71 percent in Tunisia, 74 percent in Libya, 74 percent in Yemen). As a Libyan woman in one of the project’s focus groups put it, “Society still finds it strange for a woman to be a leader given that women traditionally play a greater role than men in familial life. This comes from the way we instruct our children that males are superior to females.”
Respondents Say Governments Must Do More to Promote Women’s Rights
When asked if respondents believed their government was promoting policies and programs to support the rights of women, a majority of men (64 percent in Tunisia, 77 percent in Libya, 69 percent in Yemen) and women (73 percent in Tunisia, 86 percent in Libya, 72 percent in Yemen) in all three countries said no or that they don’t know. A general lack of public support for women as elected leaders is a clear indicator that governments are not implementing gender-related policies and programs sufficiently.
Tunisia Has Better Support for Women’s Rights
The poll showed overall greater support for women’s political leadership in Tunisia versus Libya and Yemen. Women’s rights advocates’ success in Tunisia can be seen in the recently passed Tunisian constitution, which now includes specific articles stating women’s equality under the law. Nevertheless, data from the AWLI poll clearly shows that while Tunisia is more progressive towards women in political life, there are still areas in which public favor of women’s political participation is lacking in all three countries.
Awareness of Women’s Organizations Must Be Strengthened
While general support for women’s leadership within the civil society sector in the Middle East and North Africa exists, little knowledge is known about specific women’s empowerment organizations or the true impact these organizations have. When asked if they knew of any organizations that work specifically in the field of women’s rights, an overwhelming majority of respondents in all three countries said no (69 percent in Tunisia, 91 percent in Libya, 86 percent in Yemen).
Respondents were asked if they thought women’s organizations contributed positively towards women’s political participation in their countries. In Yemen, 45 percent of people said they didn’t know followed by 20 percent of people who said no. In Libya, 49 percent said to some extent followed by 22 percent that said no. Tunisia showed stronger support with 45 percent saying yes, followed by 24 percent saying to some extent. As a woman focus group participant in Yemen said, “Organizations could play a positive role as they attempt to empower women and encourage her to go out, be creative, take initiative and suggest ideas, and be part of an active society.”
It is clear from the data that women’s organizations in the Middle East and North Africa must focus their efforts to develop better communications strategies about their mission and work.
In 2008, IRI established AWLI, which assists Arab women achieve their leadership aspirations. AWLI is a strong network of Arab women, supported through practical skills-building trainings, mentoring and networking opportunities.
Women’s political empowerment and training programs such as AWLI are critical for Arab women to achieve impactful leadership positions as elected and appointed officials.
The national survey was conducted by AWRAD in cooperation with local partner polling firms: Elka Consulting in Tunisia, the Center for Strategic and Futuristic Studies in Libya and the Percent Corporation for Polling Research & Transparency Promotion in Yemen. A total of 84 representatives from all four organizations conducted face-to-face interviews from October 25 – November 8, 2013. Respondents were a random sample of 1,248 Tunisians, 1,200 Libyans, and 1,110 Yemeni citizens. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus three percent.
The poll was funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. This is AWLI’s first published survey since the program’s inception in 2008.