Biases against women are rampant around the world and help to explain why glass ceilings pervade workplaces, political spheres, and interpersonal spaces, according to a new study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
In fact, 90% of the people across 75 countries interviewed by the UNDP were shown to have some sort of bias against women. The report argues that until these biases fade, through extensive educational and advocacy efforts, women will continue to have worse economic, educational, health, and life outcomes than men.
“We have come a long way in recent decades to ensure that women have the same access to life’s basic needs as men,” Pedro Conceição, the head of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, said in a statement. “[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.”
The report found that more than half of the respondents think men make better political leaders than women, while 40% believe that men make better corporate leaders and deserve jobs more than women. Perhaps most alarming of all, 28% of respondents said they think it’s acceptable for men to beat their wives.
These biases are shared by men and women, UNDP found. Only 13.9% of women surveyed and 9.4% of men surveyed were shown to have no gender bias, based on their responses to the questions asked.
The fact that women share many of the same biases against women as men corresponds with the philosopher Kate Manne’s theory of misogyny, which Manne argues is the law enforcement branch of patriarchy. Since both men and women live in patriarchal societies around the world, it makes sense that gender biases are widely held.
The UNDP argues that these biases are preventing further progress from being made towards gender equality.
In recent years, efforts to advance gender equality have stalled after decades of progress.
Progress has been made on a number of developmental fronts. Maternal mortality rates have plunged by 45% since 1990, reflecting advances made in women’s access to health care. School enrollment rates are reaching gender parity, and women can increasingly participate in economic and political spheres.
However, barriers remain.
“The work that has been so effective in ensuring an end to gaps in health or education must now evolve to address something far more challenging: a deeply ingrained bias — among both men and women — against genuine equality,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steinersaid in a statement.
Although women make up 43% of the agricultural workforce, they own just 18% of agricultural land, the report notes.
While both men and women in most countries can now vote, women make up just 24% of parliamentary seats worldwide, and account for only 10 of 193 heads of state.
Women are paid less than men for doing the same work, are less likely to hold senior positions in companies, and hold just 6% of the chief executive positions on the S&P 500 index, a stock market index of the 500 largest companies in the US. Women are owed more than $10 trillion annually for unpaid labor.
The UNDP says that policies that support universal rights such as health care, housing, and education are an essential first step for helping women, but they don’t address late-stage forms of gender inequality.
To promote gender equality in all facets of society, countries can enact policies that explicitly support women, such as providing them scholarships and access to loans and financing. Further, countries can create policies that encourage men to assume household responsibilities so domestic labor isn’t so unevenly split.
For example, policies that promote parental leave following the birth of a child could help to shift some of the burden of child-rearing away from women.
Quota systems for parliaments and corporate boards can also that ensure women are fairly represented in places of power, while strong laws against sexual assault and harassment can protect women from incidents that could otherwise derail their careers.
The report notes that movements for gender equality are growing around the world, helping to spur much-needed conversations and political action.
“The women’s rights demonstrations we’re seeing across the world today, energized by young feminists, are signaling that new alternatives for a different world are needed,” UNDP Gender Team Acting Director Raquel Lagunas said in a statement. “We must act now to break through the barrier of bias and prejudices if we want to see progress at the speed and scale needed to achieve gender equality.”