Poll: Majorities for Gender Equality

By Jim Lobe

Women in Afghanistan wearing their harvest. Muzafar Ali/ UN Photos

WASHINGTON (IPS) – While the goal of gender equality is embraced by almost all countries, the perception that men are – and should be – favoured in employment and education remains widespread, especially in poor nations or predominantly Muslim countries, according to a survey released  by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project (GAP).

The poll, which was conducted in April and May 2010 in 22 of the world’s most populous and influential nations, also found majority – and mostly overwhelming – support in every country for the proposition that women should be able to work outside the home.

With the exception of Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan, strong majorities ranging from 60 percent to 92 percent of respondents in each country said they thought a marriage where both spouses have jobs and take care of the house and children was more satisfying than a more traditional arrangement in which there was a stricter division of labour between husbands and wives.

But the survey also found sometimes substantial differences between men and women, both on these questions and on the degree to which the ideal of gender equality was actually being achieved in their countries.

Pluralities or majorities of respondents in the wealthier countries, as well as in some developing countries, for example, said that men generally have a “better life” than women. In only two countries, Japan and South Korea, pluralities of just under 50 percent said women had a better life.

And in 13 of the 22 countries, substantially more women respondents than men – ranging from 10 percent to 27 percent more – said that men enjoyed a better life in their countries.

It was 15 years ago that U.N. Conference on Women’s Beijing Platform for Action declared that “shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities”.

The survey, which was co-sponsored by the International Herald Tribune, sought to test how widely this proposition has been accepted around the world.

Overall, some 24,000 respondents were asked a series of questions about gender relations as part of a much larger survey by GAP about their attitudes on a variety of topics ranging from U.S. President Barack Obama to China’s global influence to global warming.

In addition to Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, South Korea, and Japan, countries covered by the survey included India, Indonesia, and China in Asia; Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in Latin America; and Kenya and Nigeria in sub-Saharan Africa.

It also covered Turkey and Lebanon in the Greater Middle East; Spain, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Poland in Europe; and the United States.

In India, China, and Pakistan, urban dwellers made up a much higher percentage of respondents than in the other 19 countries where the survey covered a more representative sample of their national populations.

On the question of whether women should have equal rights with men, from 85 percent to 99 percent of respondents answered affirmatively in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Turkey, Lebanon, and most of Asia.

In only six countries was support for equality less than 85 percent: Pakistan (where 79 percent favoured equal rights), Kenya (73 percent), Indonesia (64 percent), Jordan (61 percent), Egypt (60 percent), and Nigeria (45 percent).

In all six countries, however, the survey found major gaps in the views of men and women respondents – the widest in Egypt, where 76 percent of women supported equal rights, compared to 45 percent of Egyptian men. Nigeria, the only country where an overall majority (54 percent) of respondents rejected gender equality, a majority of women respondents (56 percent) said they favoured the idea.

Despite the strong consensus for equal rights in 21 of the 22 countries, strong majorities of 60 percent or more in 14 countries of the 22 countries – the U.S., the four Western European countries, the three Latin American and two African countries, Turkey, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea – said that more needed to be done in their nations to achieve equality.

By contrast, majorities in Jordan, China, India, and Indonesia said most changes ensuring equality in their countries had already been made.

Majorities ranging from 58 percent (Jordan) to 97 percent (U.S., Western Europe, and China) in all 22 countries said women should be able to work outside the home.

When asked, however, whether men should have preference in getting jobs during difficult economic times, many respondents outside the U.S. and Western Europe agreed. Agreement with that proposition was highest in India (84 percent), followed closely by Pakistan (82 percent). Some three out of four respondents in Nigeria, Egypt Indonesia, and China also agreed that men should be given preference.

As with similar questions, however, the gender gap on this question was also quite wide. While 91 percent of male respondents in Egypt said men should be given preference during tough times, only 58 percent of Egyptian women agreed; in Russia, the gap was 59 percent to 38 percent, and in Jordan, 77 percent to 57 percent.

Remarkably, it was the reverse Japan where 48 percent of women said men should be given preference, but only 33 percent of men agreed.

Strong majorities in 18 of the 22 countries disagreed with the notion that a university education is more important for a boy than a girl. Disagreement was particularly intense in Lebanon (97 percent) and Spain (93 percent).

On the other hand, a solid majority in India (63 percent), while about half in Pakistan (51 percent), Egypt (50 percent), and China (48 percent) agreed that a university education is more important for a boy than a girl, while sizeable minorities in Jordan (44 percent) and more than a third in Japan, Poland, and Nigeria took the same view.

Significant gender gaps on this question appeared in the survey, especially in predominantly Muslim countries. The biggest gaps – 25 percentage points – were found in Egypt and Jordan.

In 19 of the 22 countries, a marriage where both spouses have jobs and share responsibilities in the home was preferred by majorities ranging from 56 percent (Indonesia) to more than 90 percent (Lebanon, Spain, and France).

Pluralities in Egypt and Jordan of nearly 50 percent also preferred more egalitarian marriages, but, nearly four out of five respondents in Pakistan said they preferred a moretraditional marriage.

Remarkably, support for more egalitarian marriage in the U.S and Britain (71 percent) was not as great as in a number of poorer countries, including Russia (74 percent), Turkey (72 percent), China (78 percent), Brazil (84 percent), Mexico (76 percent), and Kenya (81 percent).

The desirability of more egalitarian marriages has increased in seven of the 11 countries that were surveyed on the same question in 2002 – by between five and nine percentage points four of the five European countries and in Mexico, by 10 points in Jordan, 13 points in the U.S. and by a whopping 28 points in Lebanon.

During the same period, however, support for more traditional marriage grew in three countries – China, from 12 percent to 21 percent; Pakistan, from 63 percent to 79 percent; and Nigeria, from 21 percent to 38 percent.

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