Gendering the Costs and Benefits of the Arab Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt

This blog is written by Dr. Rania Salem, University of Toronto

Existing treatments of gender and the Arab uprisings have predominantly focused on three questions. First, they have sought to highlight the role played by women activists and women’s organizations in attempts to topple authoritarian regimes, and their continued struggles in the pursuit of “bread, freedom, and social justice.” Second, they have asked what the electoral success of Islamist political parties in several Arab countries means for women’s status. In many cases, these treatments have assumed or asserted thRania Salemat Islamist political agendas will exclude or disadvantage women. Third, these treatments have expressed concern for the legitimacy of women’s political claims-making in the post-uprising era, given the patronage women’s organizations received from the deposed authoritarian regimes in some countries.

Little is known about ordinary women’s perceptions of and responses to the broad social, political, and economic transformations witnessed since the Arab ‘Spring.’ People’s experiences and perceptions of the costs and benefits of the uprisings will likely be shaped by gender to the extent that gender affects individuals’ roles, vulnerabilities, and priorities.

My study addresses the following questions, with specific application to Tunisia and Egypt:

  • Have assessments of the economic and political situations improved or deteriorated since the uprisings, and does this differ by gender?
  • How does gender affect ordinary people’s assessments of the economic and political situations, and does this differ before and after the uprisings?

The Tunisian uprising began around December 2010, and the Egyptian uprising began in January 2011. It appears that ordinary citizens’ perceptions of the economic situation before the uprisings was more positive in Tunisia compared to Egypt. In Tunisia, respondents reported deteriorating economic conditions after the uprising. In Egypt, economic perceptions were relatively flat, albeit poor. Perceptions of the political situation in Tunisia declined rapidly after the Jasmine Revolution (increasing corruption scores indicate reports of more perceived corruption), whereas Egypt presents a mixed picture.

We can see a slight difference between men and women. However, are these gender gaps in perceptions due to the fact that women are less likelGendering Costs and Benefits Egypt Tunisiay to be employed or have lower education in these countries? I test the effect of gender on attitudes while controlling for factors including age, education, urban residence, employment status, marital status, and income (see table 1). I find that in the final wave of data available to us, women in Tunisia and Egypt had more negative assessments of the political situation in their countries compared to men. The one exception to this was in the realm of corruption, where men reported more corruption than women. The findings regarding gender differences in assessments of the post-uprising economic situation are mixed, but generally women are more positive than are men in their evaluation of their financial wellbeing.

So what do we conclude?

It is not surprising that women express greater concern over law and order in Tunisia and Egypt, given that in Arab culture, threats to women’s physical security also endanger their reputations and honor. It is also not surprising that men report greater perceived corruption. Because Arab men have higher rates of labor force participation and often are the family members designated to deal with government agencies and civil servants, they may observe more corruption than do women. However, it is difficult to interpret the finding that women have more negative assessments of national institutions and more positive assessments of financial well-being. These findings call for further research to unpack the causal forces underlying such gender differences.

In conclusion, in Tunisia and Egypt it appears that the costs of the uprisings have outweighed the benefits in the eyes of ordinary people. This reinforces previous research indicating that the downfall of authoritarian regimes does not necessarily improve the condition of women, or indeed of average citizens.


Dr. Rania Salem’s paper “Gendering the Costs and Benefits of the Arab Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt Using the Gallup Surveys” was presented at the ERF‘s workshop “The Pulse of the Arab Streets” in Paris, October 2014.

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