Women's Status, Autonomy, and Fertility in Transitional Egypt
- Author(s): Samari, Goleen
- Advisor(s): Pebley, Anne R
- et al.
Among the 22 Arab countries, Egypt ranks amongst the worst for the treatment of women. Additionally, in the last 6 years, fertility surged to a 20-year high of 3.5 births per woman. Poorer women’s status and autonomy is often linked to high fertility; however, little is known about the factors that shape women’s autonomy and fertility in Egypt. This study evaluates determinants of women’s autonomy and the relationship between autonomy and fertility over time in a representative, longitudinal sample of women amidst a context of social transition: Arab Spring Egypt.
Theory suggests that certain life course events, like educational achievement are important in shaping women’s status and autonomy. Household and community effects on women’s autonomy have yet to receive needed research attention. The research is guided by the theory of gender and power and the life course perspective focusing on important events that shape women’s autonomy at multiple levels over the life course. Furthermore, the relationship between women’s autonomy and subsequent fertility behaviors is often assumed, but rarely studied over time. In this study, I look at women’s autonomy and fertility over time in Egypt.
Data come from the 2006 and 2012 Egyptian Labor Market Panel Survey (ELMPS), a nationally representative sample of households in Egypt and the 2008 Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS). I use multilevel and standard OLS and Logistic regression models to show the relationship between individual, household, and community characteristics and measures of women’s autonomy and the relationship between women’s autonomy and fertility. Across all autonomy outcomes, region of household and household wealth are consistently associated with women’s autonomy. As expected, due to the greater social conservatism in Upper Egypt, the women in rural and urban Upper Egypt have less autonomy as compared to women in the Cairo region. The rural/urban differences in autonomy with women in rural areas being associated with less autonomy are also consistent with work that shows more patriarchal views in rural Egypt.
Results show the importance of women’s social context in Egypt in her level of control and ability to exercise autonomy in the household and greater community. Results indicate that women’s autonomy was greater in 2012 as compared to 2006, and that after the initial uprisings, women reported more household autonomy. While improvements in autonomy in 2012 could be temporary and the data need to cover a longer period of time to capture social changes, this shows some change in women’s status and behavior in the midst of social and political change. Regional variation shows more autonomy in Cairo and less in Upper Egypt. While these improvements could be temporary and the data need to cover a longer period of time, this shows some change in women’s status in the midst of social and political change. Contrary to what was expected, more autonomous women have a higher number of births. It may be that more autonomous women fulfilled social expectations of high fertility, although they personally desired smaller families.
This study makes significant contributions to the research on social and gender dynamics in modern Egypt. Additionally, this research uses a range of measures to operationalize autonomy, recognizing that each captures something different about a woman’s household experience. This study is one of the first to describe the household and social determinants of women’s autonomy and fertility in a transitional Egypt, specifically for a sample of women across the life course.