Arab Women and Men See Eye to Eye on Religion's Role in Law

Arab Women and Men See Eye to Eye on Religion's Role in Law

by Dalia Mogahed

Religious Arabs more likely to support women's right to initiate divorce

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Many observers of the Arab uprisings are growing concerned about women's rights as Islamist parties that generally favor a more assertive role for religion in public life gain influence across North Africa. Gallup surveys in five Arab countries found Arab women are as likely as Arab men in their countries to favor Sharia as a source of legislation.

Arab Women Are as Likely as Arab Men to Want Sharia as Source of New Legislation

The majority of women and men across countries experiencing political upheaval do want some level of religious influence in law, though people's views of the specific role for Sharia vary widely from one country to another. Those who want no legislative role at all for Sharia are in a small minority in every country.

These findings are based on a newly released Gallup report, "After the Arab Uprisings: Women on Rights, Religion, and Rebuilding," which examines ordinary citizens' views on the issues vital to rebuilding after the revolution. The report focuses on several countries that experienced upheaval in 2011, exploring the perspectives of women and men on the role of religion in legislation, women's rights, life perceptions, and the economy.

Religious Arabs Are Slightly More Likely to Support Women's Rights

Gallup finds few differences between those who rate religion as "important" and those who rate it as "not important" in regard to their attitudes toward women's rights. However, religious Arabs (69%) are more likely to support women's right to initiate divorce than Arabs who say religion is not important (46%).

Women should have the right to initiate a divorce.

Economic Troubles, Not Religion, May Negatively Affect Views of Women's Rights

Across the Arab world, men's support for women's equal legal status and right to hold any job they are qualified for was positively linked to men's life evaluations, employment, and other measures of economic and social development. Gallup also found that there is no link between men's support for Sharia as the only source of legislation and antagonism toward equal rights for women.

The more men support women's participation in the workforce in a given country, the more women are likely to work in professional jobs. If the economy continues to suffer, women's rights may as well. This suggests that economic trouble may be a greater threat to women's rights than public support for religious legislation.


Men's views of women's rights matter -- and Gallup's analysis shows far more pragmatic factors than religion drive men's support for women's equality. The more men are thriving, employed, and educated, the more they support women's rights. Arguments for minimizing Arab women's roles in public life and society, however, are often cloaked in religious rhetoric. Arab men and women must work together to keep economic problems from turning into religiously justified limits on women's rights.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

This report focuses on gender differences in countries affected by the Arab Spring, including analysis of data from Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya. In each country, Gallup conducted multiple surveys with approximately 1,000 individuals each time, using a standard set of core questions that have been translated into the major languages of the respective country. For this study, supplemental, region-specific questions were asked in addition to core questions. Interviews were conducted face-to-face with adults aged 15 and older, with interviews lasting approximately one hour.

World Poll Methodology

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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