How will the Arab Spring impact women?

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24 2012 3:39 p.m. MDT

FILE - This June 12, 2012 file photo shows a Syrian revolutionary flag waving on top of a building on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. Syria's conflict is the most violent to emerge from last year's Arab Spring.

Khalil Hamra, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Observers of the the 2011 Arab Spring were hopeful that the movement would pave the way for more equitable treatment of women in the Middle East.

While the Arab Spring did result in democratic elections, the parties elected in Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia are Islamist, meaning they favor a more assertive role for religion in public life. There is some concern that the Islamist interpretation of the Muslim religion will seriously curtail women's participation in public life.

A new report released by the Gallup found that in countries touched by the Arab Spring women are as likely as men to favor Sharia, Islamic law, as a source of public legislation.

For example in Egypt 50 percent of men and 44 percent of women said that Sharia should be the only source for law. Approximately 38 percent of men and women said that Sharia should be one of the sources of law. Those who want no legislative role at all for Sharia are in a small minority.

Gallup noted interesting differences between those who rate religion as "important" and those who rate it as "not important" in terms of their views about women's rights. Those who identify as "religious" Arabs are more likely to support women's right to initiate divorce than Arabs who say religion is not important. In fact, 69 percent of Arabs who identify as "religious" supported women's right to divorce while only 46 percent of Arabs who are not religious support it.

Across the Arab world, Gallup found that men's support for women's equal legal status and right to hold jobs they qualify for was positively linked to men's life evaluations, employment, and other measures of economic and social development.

"This suggests that economic trouble may be a greater threat to women’s rights than public support for religious legislation," wrote Duncan Greene on his Oxfam blog From Poverty to Power.

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