The Status of the Women in the Middle East and North Africa: A Grassroots Research and Advocacy Approach Preliminary Findings from Surveys in Lebanon and Morocco
Last week at the annual World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) Conference, Rola Abdul-Latif and Lauren Serpe of IFES’ Applied Research Center presented their paper, “The Status of the Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA): A Grassroots Research and Advocacy Approach.” The paper highlights comparative data from surveys in Lebanon and Morocco conducted under IFES’ SWMENA project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The distinctive aspect of this project is the engagement of local women-focused NGOs and experts in identifying existing data gaps and defining research and measurement concepts. After data collection, local women’s advocates are then trained on how to best use this data in their advocacy efforts. The SWMENA survey evaluates the status of women in four key areas: political and civic participation, economic participation and well-being, social autonomy (access to education, role in household decisionmaking, control over household resources), and access to healthcare. The surveys also elicited opinions towards different laws and rights, violence against women, and the role of women in society.
The paper covers only preliminary findings from the Morocco survey and the full release of the Morocco data will be in late June.
Women of the Middle East and North Africa lag behind much of the world, and behind men in their region, in areas such as their social and economic autonomy, labor force participation, political representation and health. The paucity of accurate and comprehensive national data on these areas poses another problem that makes it difficult to adequately evaluate the status of women in these countries. It also hinders the ability of local NGOs and women’s groups in effectively influencing legislators and other policy makers and advocating on behalf of women.
While the evaluation of the status of women in more developed countries would rely mainly on national census-type data that is normally gathered by differently government agencies, the Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA) project fills the gap through survey research tools by employing survey data as a proxy for the lacking national statistics.
Information on the status of women that is gathered by women, for women, and engages them in the strategic process, can significantly empower women in these countries in bringing about new programs and advances in their civic, economic, and domestic lives—especially when combined with capacity building specifically addressing their ability to directly influence legislators and other policy makers.
The SWMENA project is a comparative study of the status of women in three Arab countries representing the three sub-regions of the MENA region: Lebanon (the Levant), Morocco (North Africa) and Yemen (the Gulf). While women in these countries may experience similar obstacles to their advancement, each country also presents a different set of challenges for women.
The project goal is to improve women’s status through research and capacity building for advocacy by encouraging different stakeholders working on women’s issues to use solid data in their advocacy efforts, so as to have more credibility in their demands and build local data collection and analysis capacity.
The distinctive aspect of this project is that it engaged local NGOs and researchers on women’s issues in identifying gaps in existing data and defining research and measurement concepts. Pre-survey meetings with local women advocates and researchers revealed that health is one of the best-documented categories of social indicators for women in the region. Domestic violence is probably one of the least measured but anecdotally most widely reported phenomena across all three nations. The topics of highest importance specific to Lebanon are the personal status laws and the proposed quota system. Moreover, Lebanese researchers considered any data on the status of women to be highly desirable given the absence of an official census in Lebanon since 1932. In Morocco, there has been a more consistent gathering of national data by the Higher Planning Commission but opinion data was mostly lacking. Consequently, data on social attitudes and opinions were higher on local researchers’ list.
Collection of new data was done through opinion surveys. Survey instruments included a core section that is standard across the three countries and a distinct country module that dealt with country-specific gender issues.
The SWMENA survey evaluates the status of women in four key areas: political and civic participation, economic participation and well-being, social autonomy (access to education, role in household decision-making, control over household resources), and access to healthcare. The surveys also elicited opinions towards different laws and rights, violence against women, and the role of women in society.