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Only one in four Middle East men backs equality, study suggests

Only one in four men in the Arab world supports equality for women in some areas, and most still believe a woman’s primary role is at home, a survey suggests.

Interviews in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian territories also found that younger men mostly appeared to be as conservative as their fathers.

But men in the region are said to face “tremendous stress” to be providers.

This was especially true in places affected by conflict, the report says.

The survey of 10,000 people co-ordinated by Promundo and UN Women found that between 20-50% of men across the four locations were ashamed to face their families due to a lack of work or money.

“There is the perception about the Arab region that the patriarchy clearly dominates and that it is fantastic for men,” Shereen El Feki, who led the study, told the BBC.

But “the patriarchy works for the very small minority who are on the top of that pyramid,” she added.

“For the rest down below, lots of women, but also from the results of the survey, many, many men, life is very tough”.

The International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA) found that the majority of men – up to 90% in some places – expected to control their wives’ freedoms, from clothing to how often the couple had sex.

Only about half of men, or fewer, believe married women should have the same right to work as men. At the same time, a majority in all four survey locations said they would accept having a female boss.

However, the report said that it appeared men were only prepared to accept women working as long as the man remained the breadwinner and the woman remained primarily responsible for caring for the household.

A quarter or more of the 4,830 men aged between 18 and 59 surveyed showed support for some dimensions of gender equality.

“These men question violence against women, agree with certain laws that safeguard women’s rights, support women in leadership positions, and often want to spend more time caring for their children,” the report says.

Ms El Feki said it was surprising that women themselves upheld traditional notions around gender roles.

For example, more than 70% of women said they wanted the right to work but the majority also agreed that when work is scarce men should have priority, she said.

IMAGES studies carried out in more than two dozen countries have found that younger men have more liberal attitudes towards gender equality than their elders, but in the Middle East and North Africa, apart from Lebanon, this did not appear to hold.

“Younger women [are] much more open than their mothers or grandmothers, but younger men seem to be as conservative, perhaps even more so than their elders,” Ms El Feki said.

High unemployment and the struggle to find a job could be producing a “backlash” against gender quality, the report suggests, adding that a “general climate” of religious conservatism that young men have grown up in may also play a role.

Yet if young men’s fathers had more liberal attitudes, they are more likely to as well, the study says.

“The minority of men who do get their hands dirty in the kitchen… what you find is that those are the men who saw their fathers doing this at home,” said Ms El Feki.

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