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.

Pexels.com
True

June 26, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter. Think of the Charter as the U.N.'s wedding vows, in which the institution solemnly promises to love and protect not one person, but the world. It's a union most of us can get behind, especially in light of recent history. We're less than seven months into 2020, and already it's established itself as a year of reckoning. The events of this year—ecological disaster, economic collapse, political division, racial injustice, and a pandemic—the complex ways those events feed into and amplify each other—have distressed and disoriented most of us, altering our very experience of time. Every passing month creaks under the weight of a decade's worth of history. Every quarantined day seems to bleed into the next.

But the U.N. was founded on the principles of peace, dignity, and equality (the exact opposite of the chaos, degradation, and inequality that seem to have become this year's ringing theme). Perhaps that's why, in its 75th year, the institution feels all the more precious and indispensable. When the U.N. proposed a "global conversation" in January 2020 (feels like thousands of years ago), many leapt to participate—200,000 within three months. The responses to surveys and polls, in addition to research mapping and media analysis, helped the U.N. pierce through the clamor—the roar of bushfire, the thunder of armed conflict, the ceaseless babble of talking heads—to actually hear what matters: our collective human voice.

Keep Reading Show less

Here we are, six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and people are tired. We're tired of social distancing, wearing masks, the economic uncertainty, the constant debates and denials, all of it.

But no one is more tired than the healthcare workers on the frontline. Those whom we celebrated and hailed as heroes months ago have largely been forgotten as news cycles shift and increased illness and death become "normal." But they're still there. They're still risking themselves to save others. And they've been at it for a long time.

Mary Katherine Backstrom shared her experience as the wife of an ER doctor in Florida, explaining the impact this pandemic is having on the people treating its victims and reminding us that healthcare workers are still showing up, despite all of the obstacles that make their jobs harder.

Keep Reading Show less
Mozilla
True
Firefox

When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

Two years ago, I got off the phone after an interview and cried my eyes out. I'd just spent an hour talking to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that helps fight child sex trafficking, and I just couldn't take it.

Ballard told me about how the training to go undercover as a child predator nearly broke him. He told me an eerie story of a trafficker who could totally compartmentalize, showing Ballard photos of kids he had for sale, then switching gears to proudly show him a photo of his own daughter on her bicycle, just as any parent would. He told me about how lucrative child trafficking is—how a child can bring in three or four times as much as a female prostitute—and how Americans are the industry's biggest consumers.

Keep Reading Show less

Kids say the darnedest things and, if you're a parent, you know that can make for some embarrassing situations. Every parent has had a moment when their child has said something unintentionally inappropriate to a stranger and they prayed they wouldn't take it the wrong way.

Cassie, the mother of 4-year-old Camryn, had one of the those moments when her child yelled, "Black lives matter" to a Black woman at a Colorado Home Depot.

But the awkward interaction quickly turned sweet when the Black woman, Sherri Gonzales, appreciated the comment and thanked the young girl.

Keep Reading Show less