clash of gender attitudes

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may know that I don’t hold Samuel Huntington’s theory of the “clash of civilizations” in very high regard. A Google search will yield plenty of critiques of the theory, both in support and in rejection of its contentions.
But in this Foreign Policy article, Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris propose a new take on the theory. They correctly point out that there has been little empirical evidence to support Huntington’s thesis. Citing the cumulative results of the two most recent waves of the World Values Survey (WVS), conducted in 1995-96 and 2000-2002, they show that democracy has a quasi-universal appeal:

“With the exception of Pakistan, most of the Muslim countries surveyed think highly of democracy: In Albania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Turkey, 92 to 99 percent of the public endorsed democratic institutions a higher proportion than in the United States (89 percent)…The WVS reveals that, even after taking into account differences in economic and political development, support for democratic institutions is just as strong among those living in Muslim societies as in Western (or other) societies.”

So where does the problem lie? Inglehart and Norris suggest that there is a profound gap in gender attitudes:

“On the matter of equal rights and opportunities for women measured by such questions as whether men make better political leaders than women or whether university education is more important for boys than for girls Western and Muslim countries score 82 percent and 55 percent, respectively. Muslim societies are also distinctively less permissive toward homosexuality, abortion, and divorce.”

I’m fascinated by the schizophrenia that these numbers show. Even though the Muslim world has elected women leaders (Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Tansu Ciller in Turkey, and Hasina Wajed in Bangladesh) only 55% support gender equality in leadership. (Side note: For a history of Muslim women leaders, see Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi’s excellent book: The Forgotten Queens of Islam). Nor are these attitudes restricted to Muslims. In India, which was governed by Indira Gandhi for 15 years, 50% of the population thinks only men should be leaders.

So where does this leave us? Essentially to what the United Nations has been saying about sustainable development for years. Giving women access to education has profound effects on fertility, which in turn leads to a lighter economic burden, greater access to the workplace, and greater visibility and political representation. In other words, free women and the rest will follow.

Thanks to Neils for the link to the Foreign Policy article.

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3 Responses to “clash of gender attitudes”

  1. freddie Says:

    You need to diswtinguis between democracies…if you mean that many people favor a system of voting, then to call that a democracy should include Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia. What makes for a true democracy?

  2. moorishgirl Says:

    Good point. I think that’s essentially the premise of (Newsweek Editor) Fareed Zakaria’s new book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad in which he argues that democracy thrives in many places today, but liberty does not.

  3. erik Says:

    It is also notable, as another blogger I visit sometimes pointed out, that there are hardly any women involved in the discussions around Iraq’s futur. The demonstrations on the streets, the people interviewed for TV, the delegates sent to the discussions are all almost exclusively male. General Garner doesn’t appear to have a problem with that.
    And, as you say, a democracy is only truly a democracy when all people in it are free, not just to express their opinion, but have their wishes acted upon. On that score, all the “western” democracies don’t do very well either, since how many decisions are made more for the benefit of big business than for the benefit of the people?

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