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Sweeping UN study finds that 9 out of 10 people worldwide are biased against women

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.

two woman sitting on beach sand while facing sunlightPhoto by Briana Tozour on Unsplash

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

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Gen Z is navigating a career landscape unlike any other.

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Every adult generation has its version of a “kids these days” lament, labeling the up-and-coming generation as less resilient or hardworking compared to their own youth. But Gen Z—currently middle school age through young adulthood—is challenging that notion with their career readiness.

Take Abigail Sanders, an 18-year-old college graduate. Thanks to a dual enrollment program with her online school, she actually earned her bachelor’s degree before her high school diploma. Now she’s in medical school at Bastyr University in Washington state, on track to become a doctor by age 22.

a family of 6 at a graduation with two graduatesAll four of the Sanders kids have utilized Connections Academy to prepare for their futures.

Abigail’s twin sister, Chloe, also did dual enrollment in high school to earn her associate’s in business and is on an early college graduation path to become a vet tech.

Maeson Frymire dreams of becoming a paramedic. He got his EMT certification in high school and fought fires in New Mexico after graduation. Now he’s working towards becoming an advanced certified EMT and has carved his career path towards flight paramedicine.

Sidny Szybnski spends her summers helping run her family’s log cabin resort on Priest Lake in Idaho. She's taken business and finance courses in high school and hopes to be the third generation to run the resort after attending college.

log cabin resort on edge of forestAfter college, Sidny Szybnski hopes to run her family's resort in Priest Lake, Idaho.

Each of these learners has attended Connections Academy, tuition-free online public schools available in 29 states across the U.S., to not only get ready for college but to dive straight into college coursework and get a head start on career training as well. These students are prime examples of how Gen Zers are navigating the career prep landscape, finding their passions, figuring out their paths and making sure they’re prepared for an ever-changing job market.

Lorna Bryant, the Head of Career Education for Connections Academy’s online school program, says that Gen Z has access to a vast array of career-prep tools that previous generations didn’t have, largely thanks to the internet.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, young people largely relied on what adults told them about careers and how to get there,” Bryant tells Upworthy. “Today, teens have a lot more agency. With technology and social media, they have access to so much information about jobs, employers and training. With a tap on their phones, they can hear directly from people who are in the jobs they may be interested in. Corporate websites and social media accounts outline an organization’s mission, vision and values—which are especially important for Gen Z.”

Research shows over 75% of high schoolers want to focus on skills that will prepare them for in-demand jobs. However, not all teens know what the options are or where to find them. Having your future wide open can be overwhelming, and young people might be afraid of making a wrong choice that will impact their whole lives.

Bryant emphasizes that optimism and enthusiasm from parents can help a lot, in addition to communicating that nothing's carved in stone—kids can change paths if they find themselves on one that isn’t a good fit.

Dr. Bryant and student video meeting Dr. Bryant meeting with a student

“I think the most important thing to communicate to teens is that they have more options than ever to pursue a career,” she says. “A two- or four-year college continues to be an incredibly valuable and popular route, but the pathways to a rewarding career have changed so much in the past decade. Today, career planning conversations include options like taking college credit while still in high school or earning a career credential or certificate before high school graduation. There are other options like the ‘ships’—internships, mentorships, apprenticeships—that can connect teens to college, careers, and employers who may offer on-the-job training or even pay for employees to go to college.”

Parents can also help kids develop “durable skills”—sometimes called “soft” or “human” skills—such as communication, leadership, collaboration, empathy and grit. Bryant says durable skills are incredibly valuable because they are attractive to employers and colleges and transfer across industries and jobs. A worldwide Pearson survey found that those skills are some of the most sought after by employers.

“The good news is that teens are likely to be already developing these skills,” says Bryant. Volunteering, having a part-time job, joining or captaining a team sport can build durable skills in a way that can also be highlighted on college and job applications.

Young people are navigating a fast-changing world, and the qualities, skills and tools they need to succeed may not always be familiar to their parents and grandparents. But Gen Z is showing that when they have a good grasp of the options and opportunities, they’re ready to embark on their career paths, wherever they may lead.

Learn more about Connections Academy here and Connections’ new college and career prep initiative here.

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