Analysis of 75 countries reveals ‘shocking’ scale of global women’s rights backlash
Liz Ford – The Guardian
A lone woman is seen among delegates at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. More than 86% of people in China held at least one bias against women in the period 2010-14. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images
Almost 90% of people are biased against women, according to a new index that highlights the “shocking” extent of the global backlash towards gender equality.
Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights.
The first gender social norm index analysed data from 75 countries that, collectively, are home to more than 80% of the global population. It found that almost half of people feel men are superior political leaders and more than 40% believe men make better business executives. Almost a third of men and women think it’s acceptable for a man to beat his wife.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which published its findings on Thursday, is calling on governments to introduce legislation and policies that address engrained prejudice.
“We all know we live in a male-dominated world, but with this report we are able to put some numbers behind these biases,” said Pedro Conceição, director of the UNDP’s human development report office. “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.”
Conceição said the data show that perceptions and expectations in society about the role of women are prejudiced against them.
“While in many countries these biases are shrinking, in many others the biases are actually sliding back. 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.”
The figures are based on two sets of data collected from almost 100 countries through the World Values Survey, which examines changing attitudes in almost 100 countries and how they impact on social and political life. The figures cover periods from 2005-09 and 2010-2014, the latest year for which there is data.
Of the 75 countries studied, there were only six in which the majority of people held no bias towards women. But while more than 50% of people in Andorra, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden were free from gender prejudice, even here the pattern was not one of unmitigated progress.
Sweden, for example, was one of several countries – including South Africa, India, Rwanda and Brazil – in which the percentage of people who held at least one bias increased over the nine years the data covered. More than half 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,” said Raquel Lagunas, acting director of UNDP’s gender team. “We cannot pick and choose, [saying]: ‘These human rights are for women, and these ones are not.’”
Lagunas said it was difficult to predict whether attitudes have changed more recently, but suggested the report’s findings “may make the road ahead more difficult”.
“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.”
The report comes as rights campaigners call on world leaders to accelerate action to meet global targets on gender equality.
“As representatives of leading organisations championing gender equality, we’re raising the alarm about the pace of progress. There is no time left for business as usual: gender equality can be achieved for billions of girls and women by 2030, but it requires everyone to move faster,” read an open letter, signed by nine presidents and CEOs of organisations including Plan International, Women Deliver, the One Campaign and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We’ve found that, if the current pace continues, 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – will not achieve any of the key gender equality targets we studied by 2030.”
These countries are not just the poorest. If trends over the past two decades continue, the US will be among them.
In June, a gender index published by the Equal Measures 2030 partnership found that no country was on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, the deadline to achieve the UN sustainable development goals.