A study completed by the UN Development Program discovered some shocking facts about how we view women in 75 countries across the world. It's time to act.
In the past few decades, women have made great strides forward in order to secure their rights and empower themselves. Now, more women are in positions of leadership than ever before. They also have greater autonomy when it comes to making decisions about their lives. However, the biases against women haven't changed as much as their realities have. As per a study recently conducted by the United Nations Development Program, it appears that nine out of 10 people still hold negative biases against women, The Guardian reports. This is evidently a problem. How are we to further close the prevailing gender gap if our perceptions of women are still stuck in the Dark Ages?
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The study, the first gender social norm index to ever be completed, looked at data from 75 diverse countries. The countries are collectively home to 80 percent of the world's population at present. The findings displayed that 91 percent of men and 86 percent of women hold a minimum of one bias against women with regard to politics, economics, education, violence, or reproductive rights. Almost half of all people, the survey discovered, believe men are better political leaders. Furthermore, more than 40 percent believe men perform better as business executives in comparison to their women counterparts. Shockingly, almost a third of both men and women believe it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife.
Due to the distressing findings of the study, the UN Development Program has called on governments to implement legislation to address existing gaps in gender equality and mitigate prevailing negative prejudices against women. Pedro Conceição, the director of the program's human development report office, stated, "We all know we live in a male-dominated world, but with this report we are able to put some numbers behind these biases. And the numbers, I consider them shocking. 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."
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Moreover, you would assume that with all of the progress we've made across the world with regard to women's rights, perceptions of women empowerment would be moving forward as well. However, that is simply not the case. "While in many countries these biases are shrinking, in many others the biases are actually sliding back," Conceição noted. "If you take the overall average of the information we have, we show that on average we are sliding back – that biases, instead of shrinking, are growing back." This is perhaps owing to the backlash of women gaining equal rights. When those in power are no longer allowed to subjugate others, they can harbor negative feelings.
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There were very few outlier countries where no biases are held against women. In others, regardless of factors such as GDP, gender ratio, and others, negative prejudices are commonplace. In Sweden, South Africa, India, Rwanda, and Brazil, for instance, the percentage of people who hold at least one bias against women increased over the past nine years. More than half of the people in both the United Kingdom and the United States hold at least one bias against women. Raquel Lagunas, acting director of the program's gender team, explained, "[The] UN Development Program 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.'"
She suggested that paving way for structural change is the only way to alter and eradicate these biases. "We can see big progress in the next five years [in some countries] and still at the same time see pushback in other countries," she said. "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 impact in the countries we [UNDP] work, and open conversations with governments, because gender equality is a choice." Should we continue on the course we are on, no country will achieve gender equality by 2030, the deadline to attain the United Nations sustainable development goals. Therefore, we must act - now.