October 4, 2007

World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration

Chapter 5. Views on Gender Issues

Publics around the world express egalitarian views about gender roles in education and, to some extent, political leadership. Overwhelming majorities in the 47 countries surveyed say it is equally important for boys and girls to receive an education. Views about women in politics are more mixed – majorities in 35 of the 47 countries included in the poll say that, in general, women and men make equally good political leaders, but majorities in six countries and significant minorities in many more say men are better leaders.

When it comes to marriage, opinion is largely in favor of women choosing their own husbands. Majorities in 28 of the 36 countries where people were asked if a woman should choose whom she marries or if it is better for her family to choose for her say women should choose. But majorities in Egypt (53%) and Bangladesh (52%) and considerable minorities in several other countries say both a woman and her family should have a say, and a majority of Pakistanis (55%) say a woman’s family should choose her husband.

The survey also finds that Muslims in the Middle East, Asia and Africa generally support a woman’s right to decide whether or not to wear a veil, but a majority of Ethiopians (59%) and nearly half of Nigerians (48%) disagree that women should have that right. At the same time, large proportions of Muslims in most countries with sizable Muslim populations included in the poll believe there should be restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace.

Widespread Support for Educating Boys and Girls

The view that it is equally important for boys and girls to be educated receives nearly unanimous support around the world, even in regions where girls have traditionally not had the same access to education as boys. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than nine-in-ten in Ivory Coast (95%), Kenya (94%), Uganda (94%), South Africa (93%) and Tanzania (91%) say it is just as important for girls to get an education as it is for boys. That opinion is also widespread in South Asia and the Middle East. In Morocco, for example, where men are more than one and a half times more likely than women to be literate, 89% say it is equally important for boys and girls to receive an education.

Egyptians, Jordanians, Pakistanis, Palestinians and Malians are the least likely to say that education is equally important for boys and girls. Still, nearly three-quarters in those countries share that view. About one-in-five in Pakistan (17%), Jordan (19%) and Egypt (22%) think it is more important for boys to be educated. In no country do more people say it is more important to educate girls than say it is more important for boys to receive an education.

In Egypt, the opinion that it is more important for boys to be educated is considerably more popular among men. Nearly three-in-ten Egyptian men (27%) share that view, compared with 18% of women. Gender differences on the issue of educating boys and girls are less pronounced but also significant in the Palestinian territories, where 17% of men and 10% of women say it is more important for boys to be educated. In the other countries surveyed, gender is generally not an important factor in people’s views about educating children.

Women and Political Leadership

Publics in most countries surveyed say that women and men make equally good political leaders, but majorities in six countries and significant minorities in about half of the countries surveyed say men are better political leaders. Opinions about political leadership are often split along gender lines, with men more likely than women to say men make better political leaders and women more likely than men to say women make better leaders or that both are equally good.

Western European and North and Latin American publics top the list of those who see men and women as equally good political leaders. Eight-in-ten in Canada and even a greater proportion in France (81%), Venezuela (82%), Spain (83%), Britain (83%), Peru (83%), Bolivia (85%) and Sweden (90%) express that view. Three-quarters of Americans say men and women make equally good political leaders, while 16% say men are better leaders and only 6% say women are better than men.

By contrast, majorities in Mali (65%), the Palestinian territories (64%), Kuwait (62%), Pakistan (54%), Bangladesh (52%) and Ethiopia (51%) say men make better political leaders than women, as do nearly half of Jordanians (49%) and Nigerians (48%). Russians are also divided – 44% say men and women make equally good leaders while 40% say men are better. Only in Brazil do more people say women make better political leaders than say men do – 15% of Brazilians say women make better political leaders and 10% say men are better leaders.

Throughout Africa, as well as in several Asian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European countries, views about political leadership vary by gender. In Senegal, for example, a majority of men (51%) say men make better political leaders than women, but fewer than a quarter (23%) of Senegalese women share that view. Women in that country are much more likely to say both men and women are equally good (59% of women express that opinion vs. 37% of men).

In the United States, where Hillary Clinton currently leads the Democratic primary field, opinions about gender and political leadership reflect partisan rather than gender differences. Nearly three-in-ten (29%) Republicans say men make better leaders, compared with one-in-ten Democrats. A similar proportion of Democrats also say women would make better leaders (9%), and nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say both men and women are equally good. By contrast, only 2% of Republicans say women make better political leaders and about two-thirds (65%) say both are equally good.

Should Women Choose Their Own Husbands?

Majorities in every Latin American, Eastern European and African country surveyed as well as in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Morocco say women should choose their own husbands. That view is less popular in South Asia and in most Arab countries, but only in Pakistan does a majority say a woman’s family should choose whom she marries.

The view that women should choose their husbands is nearly unanimous in the Czech Republic (98%), Slovakia (98%), Brazil (97%), Bulgaria (93%), Poland (92%) and Chile (92%). Large majorities in most other countries where the question was asked also share that view, but considerable minorities in most of those countries also say that both a woman and her family should have a say about whom she marries. For example, while 57% in Malaysia, 58% in Turkey, and 65% in Venezuela believe that a woman should choose her own husband, more than three-in-ten in those countries say both a woman and her family should have a say.

Publics in South Asia and in Arab countries, with the exception of Morocco, are considerably more likely to say a woman’s family should choose her husband or that both should have a say. The Lebanese are the most divided – 47% say a woman should choose and the same number say her family should also have a say. Only 6% in Lebanon believe a woman’s family alone should choose whom she marries. Lebanese Christians are somewhat more likely than Muslims in that country to say a woman’s family should choose – 12% of Christians hold that view, compared with only 3% of Muslims.

Only in Pakistan does a majority (55%) say that it is better for a woman’s family to choose her husband. Women in that country are slightly more likely than men to express that opinion – 57% of women and 53% of men say a woman’s family should choose whom she marries. This view is especially prevalent among married women. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) married Pakistani women say it is better for a woman’s family to choose, while about a third (32%) say both a woman and her family should have a say. Women who have never been married are more divided; 42% say a woman’s family should choose her husband and 42% say both should have a say. Pakistani women who have never been married are nearly twice as likely as married women in that country to say a woman should choose her own husband (13% of unmarried vs. 7% of married women).

Morocco is the only Arab country included in the survey where a majority (63%) says it is better for a woman to choose her husband and the only country where there is a double-digit gender gap on the subject. Nearly three-quarters of Moroccan women (73%) say women should choose whom they marry; just over half of men in that country (53%) agree. Moroccan men are about two and a half times more likely than women to say it is better for a woman’s family to choose (27% of men say that is the case vs. 11% of women) and virtually the same proportion of Moroccan men and women say both should have a say (17% of men and 16% of women). The gender gap is considerably less pronounced in other countries.

Differences of opinion in Morocco also reflect a generational divide. Seven-in-ten 18-29 year-olds in that country say that women should choose their own husbands, while six-in-ten (62%) 30-49 year-olds and just over half (53%) of those fifty or older share that view. The generational gap is even wider in Kenya, where fully 85% of 18-20 year-olds think women should choose whom they marry, compared with seven-in-ten 30-49 year-olds and 59% of those fifty or older. Young people in Bolivia, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Lebanon, Indonesia, Ghana and Senegal are also considerably more likely than older generations to say that women should choose their own husbands.

Wearing the Veil: Who Should Decide?

With the exception of Ethiopia, majorities of Muslims in countries with sizable Muslim populations included in the survey agree with the statement “Women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil.” Turkish and Indonesian Muslims are the most likely to hold that view. In Turkey, where women are banned from wearing a head scarf in public buildings, 93% say women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. In Indonesia, where wearing a head scarf is mandatory in the Aceh province and encouraged in several others, a similar proportion agrees that women should have the right to decide (91%).

Nigerian Muslims are the most divided on whether women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. Just over half (51%) say women should have that right and 48% disagree. Only in Ethiopia does a majority of Muslims disagree that women should have the right to decide whether or not to cover their heads. Nearly six-in-ten in that country (59%) disagree and only 39% agree that women should have that right.

Muslim women are generally more likely than Muslim men to say that women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. Gender differences are especially notable in Morocco, where women express that opinion nearly unanimously (96%), while 71% of men agree. In Ethiopia, where Muslim men are solidly opposed to women having the right to decide – 71% disagree that women should have that right and 28% agree – women are divided. Half of Muslim women in that country disagree and 49% agree that women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil.

The opinion that women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil is more popular than it was five years ago in most countries where trends are available. The change is especially dramatic in Bangladesh, where Islamic fundamentalists have threatened to attack women with sulfuric acid for not covering their faces. In 2002, about six-in-ten Bangladeshi Muslims (59%) said women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. Today, that number is up to 89%. In Pakistan, where a government official and women’s rights activist was shot dead earlier this year for refusing to cover her head, seven-in-ten Muslims say women should have the right to decide, up from just over half (52%) five years ago.

Divided Views on Women and Men Working Together

When it comes to men and women working together, Muslim publics offer mixed opinions. Solid majorities of Muslims in Indonesia (77%), Tanzania (75%), Turkey (73%), Senegal (69%), and Lebanon (60%) disagree with the statement “There should be restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace.” In contrast, clear majorities in Malaysia (80%), the Palestinian territories (77%), Ethiopia (70%), Pakistan (61%), Jordan (60%) and Kuwait (57%) say such restrictions should be in place. In Mali, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Egypt, Muslims are more divided over whether or not there should be restrictions on men and women working together.

Morocco is the only country included in the survey where neither position is endorsed by a majority, but the balance of opinion in that country is in favor of restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace. Close to half of Moroccan Muslims (47%) agree that restrictions should be in place, while 37% do not.

While there is no clear consensus among Moroccan Muslims on the question of men and women working in the same workplace, Muslim women in that country are clearly in favor of workplace restrictions. Fully 57% of Muslim women in Morocco express that view, compared with 38% of Muslim men. Women in Lebanon, Tanzania and Nigeria are also considerably more likely than men in those countries to say there should be restriction on men and women being employed in the same workplace.

On the other hand, Muslim women in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Mali are significantly more likely than Muslim men to disagree with such restrictions. For example, in Kuwait, Muslim women are divided, with 48% saying there should be restrictions and 47% saying there should not. Among Muslim men in that country, however, 64% agree that there should be restrictions and 35% disagree.

In five of the eight countries for which trends are available, Muslims today are less likely to agree that there should be restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace than they were five years ago. The sharpest drop has been in Tanzania, where about a third of Muslims (34%) agreed with workplace restrictions in 2002 and fewer than one-in-five (19%) express that view today. But in Bangladesh, Jordan and Pakistan more say they agree that there should be restrictions on men and women working together.