Shattering Stereotypes In The Arab Region: For Women And For Men

While we all try to convince ourselves that we do not harbor stereotypes, we do. Whether founded in our experiences or perpetuated by media, there is a certain pre-conceived notion of how we understand each other as fellow human beings, and yes, also as men and women.

This notion shapes our understanding of the community in which we live, and the way in which we engage with one another, it sets our boundaries, and our limitations, it confines us to an identity that we may not necessarily see ourselves in.

We challenge that notion. To break through the glass ceiling, we need to have a discussion, and honest reflection on privileges, differences, and our common understanding of each other.

UN Women, in partnership with PROMUNDO conducted the first International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in the Middle East and North Africa region, surveying 10,000 men and women in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and Morocco. We asked them about stereotypes. We asked them what they do in the home, we got personal and asked about violence, about their relationships with their spouse and their children.

What we found were women who perpetuate stereotypes, women who do not have faith in their ability to lead, or that of other women to lead. We found men who do their share of household chores, men who would love the opportunity to have paternity leave. We found men who identify as being vulnerable, depressed, who feel pressure to behave in a certain way but cannot. We found men who did not identify that they are violent towards their spouse, and women who said they experience a significant amount of violence.

We found evidence of the stereotypes we harbor, and we found evidence of what we know, that women and men are individuals first and foremost. They are, in some cases, a product of a pre conceived notion of an identity, and in some cases they have bought this notion and are themselves perpetuating it. This was clear in the overwhelming response around the role of women, where a majority of men and women, identified a woman´s role as being in the household. Yet at the same time, more than half of the men surveyed agreed that a woman should also be able to work outside the home.

We are now able to address stereotypes to open a discussion, we have identified men who challenge these every day, men who are willing to publicy have this conversations - and that is a start to break down the barriers that confine us all to a very narrow identity.

We have started a conversation on a topic that many said could not be touched in the four countries - masculinity, we have seen the possibilities that emerge when people are simply given the space, not as men or women, but as individuals, to be heard; and we have found that there is no common definition or identity. Rather, there is a shared humanity. Starting the conversation is often the hardest part, and that is what this survey has done; now we will keep it going, and continue to give women, and men the space to speak up and to challenge stereotypes they have been assigned.