Bias against women has remained unchanged – and overwhelming.
That’s according to a new report from the United Nations, which announced the findings in its recent Gender Social Norms Index. Researchers say they were “shocked” that nine out of 10 people harbor some form of gender bias, a figure that hasn’t changed since the UN’s last investigation over a decade ago.
“My expectation was that we would see some progress, because – nine out of every 10, I mean, how can it get any worse?” Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP’s human development report office, told The Guardian. He added that, with increased visibility around women’s struggles, and movements such as #MeToo, he had anticipated a positive shift.
“Unfortunately, doing this exercise has been an experience of shock after shock,” he continued. “The first time that we released it, I was shocked with the magnitude [of biases]. And this time around, I was shocked with the lack of progress.”
To get specific: Among citizens in the 80 countries studied between 2017 and 2022, roughly half assert that men would make better political leaders, 40% feel men are better business leaders, and roughly 25% – and this is especially galling – think it is permissible for men to assault their wives. (A second, smaller report out of Germany affirms those last findings.)
These biases manifest themselves in every facet of women’s lives the world over – from their careers, to the political climates they live in, to the very human rights they have (or don’t have) access to. UN officials and others involved in the study point to global examples of a “serious backlash and rollback of women’s rights” such as the restriction on girls’ educations in Afghanistan, and the election of former President Donald Trump here in the U.S.
“At the current rate of progress, it will take 186 years to close gaps in legal protections,” Anam Parvez, head of research at Oxfam GB, says. “It also explains why, while there has been some progress on enacting laws that advance women’s rights, social norms continue to be deeply entrenched and pervasive.”
Experts and researchers say mass education is a critical part of the solution – especially around women’s tangible yet unpaid and invisible contributions to our societies and economies.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, explained to The Guardian that these perceptions “persist because of social and cultural norms that devalue women and reinforce men’s power, control and feelings of entitlement.”
Trivializing abuse – if not outright blaming victims – is an especially significant contributing factor to the broader problem. She added, “It is these attitudes that can drive violent acts and behaviors – and we can only truly prevent this violence by shifting” them.