Veronika Kostenko, Research Fellow, Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, HSE Campus in St. Petersburg
Muslim immigrants coming to Europe are not as patriarchal in their attitudes as is commonly believed. In certain EU host countries, immigrants' ideas on the role of women in society are similar to those held by locals, according to a study by Veronika Kostenko.
In terms of their attitudes and values, immigrants to Europe are closer to host country residents than to people in their country of origin. However, immigrants from Muslim countries can take more time to assimilate in Europe: while their attitudes are often more progressive than those of their communities of origin, they still tend to be more patriarchal than people in host countries.
Using data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the European Values Study (EVS), the author examined the attitudes held by Muslim immigrants to Western Europe towards gender equality in the labour market, measured by their agreement/disagreement with the statement 'When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women'. At the same time, recent immigrants' attitudes were compared to those held by Europeans and those typical for residents of 12 Muslim countries of origin, including Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.
The findings reveal that female immigrants favour gender equality more compared to males; indeed, the respondent’s gender has more bearing than their religion on whether or not they believe that men should have an advantage in employment. Other factors include age and education – the elderly and people without a college degree tend towards more patriarchal views. Immigrants who are single or divorced are usually more progressive in their attitudes than those having a family.
The study also reveals that immigrants from countries with higher literacy, living standards and life expectancy are more likely to support gender equality.
More generally, it follows from Kostenko's findings that the Muslim faith is not the main factor contributing to discrimination of women in the labour market: gender, age, education, economic circumstances and other characteristics each play a role in gender attitudes. That said, religion is still important: the more religious they are and the more often they attend religious services, the less likely they are to support gender equality, according to Kostenko.
Immigrant women are highly active in the European labour market and account for more than half of the migration flow to Europe. Women tend to be less affected than men by their host society's anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiments. According to some scholars, the reason is that in Europe, immigrant women are often employed as caregivers of children and elderly people.
From Kostenko's paper
Situation Differs across Europe
Kostenko's study confirms that overall, Muslim immigrants show attitudes which are similar to those held by their host society – except for a few countries where local attitudes are vastly different from those characteristic of recent immigrants. Examples include Sweden and the Netherlands, where support for gender equality is one of the world's highest, according to Kostenko, and immigrants' attitudes appear strikingly patriarchal by contrast. However, a comparison between immigrants to Sweden and the Netherlands and local residents of more conservative European countries, such as Portugal, reveals that the former are even more accepting of gender equality than Portuguese society.
According to the study author, the reason may be that immigrants from the East choose countries of destination based on their own values and attitudes. Kostenko goes on to emphasise that immigrants are heterogeneous in terms of their value profiles and thus lumping them together as a single group does not make sense.
The study confirms that labour migrants from Muslim countries tend to make fast progress in terms of assimilating in their host communities. "Meanwhile, the situation with gender inequality is often used to justify anti-immigrant sentiments," according to Kostenko. Some widespread European perceptions of the situation of women in Islamic countries are extrapolated to immigrants from this region.
Admittedly, support for gender equality is higher in democratic societies. Also, an Islamic majority in society can lead to patriarchal gender attitudes. However, according to the study author, there is no reason to believe that Islam itself is not changing.
It should be noted that both WVS and EVS national samples do not include refugees, people who do not speak the survey language and illegal immigrants who tend to avoid any contact with authorities. In addition to this, Kostenko notes that immigrants' responses can be influenced by the social environment. But she considers this a subtle issue: the fact that people understand how to respond correctly indicates that they are in the process of adapting their values to those of the host community.