Mayan Woman, cooking, Belize.
Mayan Woman cooking in Belize. Photo credit: Under the same moon... / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pervasive gender biases across the globe keep women from achieving equality, restrict their choices and opportunities in life, and therefore harm everybody, according to a new report from the United Nations.

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Pervasive gender biases across the globe keep women from achieving equality, restrict their choices and opportunities in life, and therefore harm everybody by denying them the chance to develop their full potential, a troubling new United Nations (UN) report found.

The latest Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) study, which was released on Monday, shows that 25 percent of people believe it is justified for a man to beat his wife. Other misogynistic attitudes are even more widespread.

Nine out of ten people, including women, hold various gender-based biases today, the study found. And that does not just mean in less-developed countries. The index covers 85 percent of the global population — or roughly 7 billion people.

“These biases hold across regions, income levels and cultures — making them a global issue,” the report found.

Almost half of all people believe that men are better political leaders, and nearly as many think they make better business executives.

As a result, women are severely underrepresented in leadership positions. Only 10 percent of heads of state or government are women, and they occupy less than one-third of managerial positions in businesses.

Progress has been made in the area of education, which is a key to not only reversing these biases but also shrinking the economic gap between men and women. However, while educational opportunities in many countries are improving for girls and women, that gap persists.

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According to the report, even in the 59 countries where women are now more educated than men, there is still an average gender income gap of 39 percent.

This is one area where change could have a major impact.

“An important place to start is recognizing the economic value of unpaid care work. This can be a very effective way of challenging gender norms around how care work is viewed,” said Raquel Lagunas, Director of United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Gender Team. “In countries with the highest levels of gender biases against women, it is estimated that women spend over six times as much time as men on unpaid care work.”

Even worse than a lack of progress is that previous gains are now being rolled back in some countries where women’s rights are under attack. That includes the United States, where more and more states are trying to exert control over women’s bodies and their reproductive choices.

Ultimately, everybody loses when women are held back. For example, when it comes to leadership, by only awarding the top positions to men, countries and businesses alike deprive themselves of a diversity of perspectives, experiences, and ideas.

“Social norms that impair women’s rights are also detrimental to society more broadly, dampening the expansion of human development,” said Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office. “In fact, lack of progress on gender social norms is unfolding against a human development crisis: The global Human Development Index (HDI) declined in 2020 for the first time on record — and again the following year. Everyone stands to gain from ensuring freedom and agency for women.”


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