By Monika Prokop and Dina Alsharif, Senior Strategists at VIRTUE Worldwide
A VICE Media Group (VMG) study gives new insight into the changing face of feminism in the Middle East
Feminism is changing and VICE Insights, the research and intelligence arm of VICE Media Group recently uncovered some invaluable shifts in how young women see themselves and feminism around the world with The Future of Feminism report. The insightful report unveils the nuances of womanhood, the complexities of gender equality, and the modern state of feminism - both on a global and local level.
One of the overarching insights that the report found was that young people around the world are tired of traditional and restrictive demographic labels such as gender, race, and others. They prefer to be identified by more nuanced traits such as their personality - and no more so than here in the Middle East, where 7 in 10 young people agree.
Women in the Middle East are actively spearheading the movement for gender equality and choose to identify themselves as confident, intelligent, and strong, rather than traditional demographics. While not necessarily identifying as feminists per se, 80% of youth in the region believe the feminist movement is alive and that we are two-thirds of the way to achieving full gender equality.
A key takeaway from this study is that above all else, women in the Middle East view their gender as powerful. This is particularly striking when looking at other parts of the world, as only 11% of women in the region saw their gender as a disadvantage compared to twice that globally. In fact, 67% of women in the Middle East agree that people of their gender are regularly seen and heard by others.
Women in the region do not view themselves through traditional stereotypes. The most common identifying characteristics found were confidence (56%), intelligence (54%), and strength (53%), followed by creativity (51%) and emotional intelligence (50%). More traditional “feminine” traits like being caretaker or being passive ranked particularly low, demonstrating the strength of women in the region
Of course, in spite of immense advances in gender equality, there are still many challenges that the region faces. For example, according to the report 95% of women in the Middle East still have to think about their safety when participating in activities such as traveling and engaging with strangers, 92% are still expected to do the household chores and 85% are still having to think about reactions to how they dress in a traditionally conservative society.
And herein is the crux - while being a woman can hinder us, we view feminism as an enabler for us to live the life we choose. It is about inclusion, not exclusion. It offers a freedom of choice. However, feminism can be viewed as a marriage between tradition and modernity, as seen in a previous VICE Insights study titled Spaces in Between, which found that women in the region see both complimenting each other, rather than one pulling against the other. Women describe this as a fluid process where both sides are always present, but they choose the degree to which tradition or modernity dominates, based on any given situation.
Therefore, whether a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home mother, a high-profile businesswoman, both, or somewhere in between - feminism in the region is about actively choosing a lifestyle in accordance with one’s own self-determined values.
However, there are still many considerations that continue to hold women back and curtail their choices. Traditions, cultural and societal norms, as well as religion can weigh heavily. In this region 84% of women report feeling judged by others and 40% of women believe that society needs to work harder to remove stigmas that women face through the increased support from the wider community in the form of advocacy.
Women in the Middle East want people to be celebrated for who they are at their core, regardless of their gender, with 33% wanting more participation from the media and 26% wanting to see more from brands. Women already feel powerful - they feel they have the means to create the change they want to see and they don’t want more labels.
Feminism is about choice and inclusivity. We need to be attuned to the nuances of feminism and the experience of being a woman as well as ensuring that it taps into the positive messages around inclusivity, community and choice. And specifically in the Middle East - tradition does not mean restriction - the modern feminist has been built on past experience, it is part of their identity and empowers their future choices.
VICE Insights full report can be accessed here.