Sweeping UN study finds that 9 out of 10 people worldwide are biased against women
Photo by Joe Gardner on Unsplash

As the U.S. ramps into an all-too-familiar presidential election cycle where the only viable candidates left on the ballot are men, the UN announces a study that may—at least partially—explain why.

The Gender Social Norms Index released yesterday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offers a look at gender equality as measured by people's personal gender bias. The data, which was collected from 75 countries covering 81% of the world's population, found that 91% of men and 86% of women show at least one clear bias against women in the areas of politics, economics, education, and physical integrity.

In other words, 9 out of 10 people worldwide—both men and women—are biased against women in vital areas that impact the world in major ways. Splendid.


It would be easy to assume that these numbers are skewed by countries where women are blatantly oppressed, and that is somewhat true. However, a majority was found to hold no gender biases in just six of the 75 countries studied—and no, the U.S. was not among them. Nope, not Canada either.

Andorra, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden were the only countries where a majority of people showed no clear gender bias. (Andorra came out on way on top, with 73% of its population showing no bias—the only country to top 70%. Go Andorra.)

Where did the U.S. and Canada stand? According to the study, 43% of Americans hold no gender bias while Canada clocks in at 48%. Basically, if you're sitting in a stadium full of people as a woman in North America, half of the people you're looking at likely harbor some kind of clear bias against you. Same goes if you're a woman competing in a sport, giving a talk at a conference, or—ahem—running for public office.

Perhaps the most unnerving stats from the report are these:

- About 50% people—both men and women—think men make better political leaders than women

- About 40% of people think men make better business leaders than women

- Close to 50% of men believe that men have more right to a job than women

- About 30% believe that it's justifiable for a man to beat his intimate partner

Ummm, that last one? Holy moly.

What's just as concerning is that despite decades of progress on women's rights, bias against women is increasing in some countries among both men and women. And this is the case even among some countries that scored well on the index—bias in top-six Sweden, for example, actually increased over the nine years the study covered.

"The share of both women and men worldwide with moderate to intense gender biases grew from 57 percent to 60 percent for women and from 70 percent to 71 percent for men," the report states, adding: "Surveys have shown that younger men may be even less committed to equality than their elders."

That last part is worth repeating. Evidence points to young men being less committed to gender equality than older generations. That is not good news for the future, folks.

Of course, we have made big strides across the globe in terms of increasing access to education, improving healthcare for women, and other areas. But women still don't have a place at most of the decision-making tables, and we obviously still have social norm hurdles to overcome to achieve true gender equality.

"We have come a long way in recent decades to ensure that women have the same access to life's basic needs as men," said Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP's Human Development Report Office. "We have reached parity in primary school enrollment and reduced maternal mortality by 45 percent since the year 1990. But gender gaps are still all too obvious in other areas, particularly those that challenge power relations and are most influential in actually achieving true equality. Today. the fight about gender equality is a story of bias and prejudices."

Results of the study indicate a backlash to the push for gender equality, the report states. Indeed, change is uncomfortable for many people and progress is often a two steps forward, one step back process. For sure, social norms are more complex and challenging to change than laws.

"Policymakers often focus on the tangible—on laws, policies, spending commitments, public statements and so on," the report states. "This is driven partly by the desire to measure impact and by sheer impatience with the slow pace of change. Yet neglecting the invisible power of norms would miss a deeper understanding of social change."

Social norms also directly impact progress made in all areas. Currently, no country in the world is on track to meet the gender equality goals by Sustainable Development Goal target of 2030. With stats like these, that's not shocking.

Clearly, something to keep in mind as we advocate for gender equality is how to effectively address people's core beliefs about women and equality in general. Legal progress without social progress is shaky at best, and true gender equality won't become reality unless people believe that it should.

It appears we have some serious work ahead of us on that front.


This article originally appeared on 03.06.20

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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