What Muslim women want

Hint: It isn't Western culture.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published June 9, 2006 10:51PM (EDT)

Along came a poll this week that -- startlingly -- went directly to the source to determine how Muslim women view themselves, their culture and the West. According to the New York Times, the survey relied mostly on open-ended questions, allowing the women to frame the issues most important to them.

Hold on to your seats: Despite the prevailing focus on the veil in Western feminist discourse, it was nary mentioned by the respondents. And, as it turns out, the cultural smugness isn't one-sided. In response to the question, "What do you admire least about the West?" most pointed to the moral decline. Respondents pointed to sexual immorality, pornography and the "Hollywood image" as degrading to Western women.

The survey, "What Women Want: Listening to the Voices of Muslim Women," is part of the Gallup World Poll and was conducted in 2005 throughout eight predominantly Muslim countries. Of the more than 8,000 women interviewed, most respondents associated sexual and legal equality with the West, but did not feel that adopting these values would spur financial or political growth in the Muslim world. But an encouraging majority of Muslim women believe in their right to vote, including 97 percent of women in Lebanon and 95 percent in Egypt and Morocco.

Most exciting, really, is that surveys of this ilk are being conducted at all. Dalia Mogahed, the strategic analyst of Muslim studies at the Gallup World Poll, told the Times: "Women's empowerment has been identified as a key goal of U.S. policy in the region." Whats been missing, she said, is empirical evidence as to what Muslim women actually want.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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