Despite gains in gender equality, ingrained biases about males and females still exist. These include the belief that “girls are bad at math,” “girls are better at cooking,” or “boys don’t cry.” These have resulted in a huge bias against women, sobering statistics about the number of female leaders in business and politics, and disturbing truths about the frequency of sexual harassment.
The existing gender bias is rooted in our societal beliefs about men, women, and leadership. For instance, some believe that men should be ‘agentic’ (assertive, decisive, strong) and women should be ‘communal’ (warm, caring, sympathetic). These stereotypes have created what a prototypical leader should be: self-reliant, assertive, dominant and competitive, which are usually associated with a tall, white, middle-class man.
At the current rate of progress, reports show that it will take a century to reach gender parity. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, the biggest gaps to close are in the economic and political empowerment dimensions, which will take 202 and 107 years to close, respectively.
Massive Bias Against Women
We live in a sexist world, according to a recent analysis by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). While there has been progress in closing the equality gap, the Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) showed that 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights. For instance, approximately half of the population feels that men make better political leaders, which is manifested with the current percentage of female political leaders: only 10 of 193 Member States have female heads of government, while 24% of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women.
“What our report shows is a pattern that repeats itself again and again. Big progress in more basic areas of participation and empowerment. But when we get to more empowering areas, we seem to be hitting a wall,” Pedro Conceição, director of the UNDP’s human development report office, said.
According to IISD, an online site that provides information and analysis that supports the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the gender social norm index covered the four dimensions of gender equality: politics, education, economics/work, and physical integrity as well featured survey data on seven indicators from 75 countries, covering more than 80% of the world’s population. The researchers used data from “waves” of the World Values Survey from 2005 to 2014, which followed two methods of aggregation. First, the “union approach” which measured the percentage of people with any bias across the seven indicators. Second, the “intersection approach” which measured the percentage of people with at least two biases across the indicators.
The data gathered showed that perceptions and expectations in society about the role of women. The findings revealed that while the majority of the 75 countries studied has a huge bias against women, the majority of people in six countries held no bias towards women. These nations include Andorra, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden, but there’s still a problem. For instance, the percentage of people who hold at least one bias in Sweden increased over the nine years the data covered. Meanwhile, more than 50% of people in the UK and the US held at least one bias.
“UNDP is very conscious of the backlash against women’s rights. We are aware and we are concerned, so we think the report … is an answer to push back the pushback. We cannot pick and choose, [saying]: ‘These human rights are for women, and these ones are not’,” Raquel Lagunas, acting director of UNDP’s gender team, said.
According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, Lagunas said that the findings of the analysis “may make the road ahead more difficult.” While we may see huge progress in the next years in some countries, we may also see pushback in other nations. “We need to invest and double efforts to address the hardcore areas of power – political power, economic power – and we think, we hope, this publication is going to have an impact in the countries we [UNDP] work, and open conversations with governments, because gender equality is a choice,” she added.
Other Findings in the Analysis
Women across the world continue to spread awareness about gender bias. Lagunas said that there are many women's rights demonstrations such as #MeToo, #NiUnaMenos, #TimesUp, and #UnVioladorEnTuCamino, showing that young feminists are standing firm against gender inequality. However, the index showed that overall progress in gender equality has been slowing in recent years, and even regressing in some countries. This could be normal if we were approaching gender parity, but we’re nowhere close.
One of the findings also showed that almost 30% of people across the world think it’s justifiable for a man to beat his partner. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, women also represent only 12% of top billionaires and only 5.8% of S&P500 CEOs. They are significantly underrepresented in top leadership positions although they are present in many firms now.
This also shows that while both men and women were found to be almost as equally likely to participate in the workforce, men continue to be far more likely than women to be in leadership roles across all sectors. A 2019 study reported that 87% of all 108 economic sectors were found to be biased towards men. “We saw massive segregation of roles in different economic sectors – a level of detail we can’t get in official stats. Some sectors appear as ‘virtual economic ghettos’ of men or women,” Sergi Martorell, co-founder of the Glass AI, said.
Thus, UNDP calls on governments and institutions to implement policies to change these discriminatory beliefs and practices. This can be done through education, by raising awareness and by offering incentives. The international organization also suggested “using taxes to incentivize fairly sharing child-care responsibilities, or by encouraging women and girls to enter traditionally male-dominated sectors such as the armed forces and information technology.”