Are more religious Muslims always opposed to gender egalitarianism?

The integration of Muslim minorities into Western societies is hotly debated on both sides of the Atlantic. Different values regarding gender roles are often cited as main obstacle for the inclusion of Muslim minorities. Their lack of support for gender equality would separate Muslims from non-Muslims and hinder their integration into Western societies that consider the (legal) equality of men and women as one of their fundamental principles. Religions in general, and Islam in particular, is often argued to encourage traditional gender roles in their scriptures and/or their most common interpretations. Therefore, more religious individuals are assumed to be inclined towards traditional gender ideology. Previous studies among the foreign-born first generation indeed show a strong connection between religiosity and traditional gender ideology. However, things seem to change by the second generation. Research shows that, on the one hand, religiosity stays remarkably stable across generations among Muslim minorities in the West; on the other hand, the local-born second generation embraces gender egalitarianism to a much larger extent than their parents. Could it be then, that in the second generation, religiosity is less consequential for individuals’ gender ideology?

my hijabWe tested this idea among large random samples of local-born children of “guestworkers” from Morocco and Turkey in Belgium – these are two of the most numerous Muslim minorities in Europe, and with its history of labour migration Belgium is a good test case for immigrant integration in Europe. We found no association between religiosity and gender ideology among second-generation women of Turkish and Moroccan descent. No matter how religious they were, they strongly favoured egalitarian over traditional gender roles, embracing the right to work for mothers of young children and equal access to education and careers across genders. As in most studies, young men were less supportive of gender egalitarianism; and they were less so, the more religious they were. However, the relation between religiosity and gender ideology was only weak. This suggests that the strong association between religiosity and gender traditionalism is fading in the second generation, particularly among women. If integration is defined in terms of embracing gender egalitarianism, Islamic religiosity does not stand in the way of successful integration into Western societies.

By Fanella Fleischmann on her co-authored article titled “Gender Islamic Religiosity in the Second Generation: Gender Differences in Religious Practices and the Association with Gender Role Values Among Moroccan and Turkish-Belgian Muslims, published in the June 2013 issue of Gender & Society.

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