Global progress toward achieving gender equality is slowing, with entrenched social norms and pervasive biases and prejudices against women persisting among both men and women, a report from the United Nations Development Programme finds.
Based on UNDP Gender Social Norms Index data from seventy-five countries, the report, Tackling Social Norms: A Game Changer for Gender Inequalities (37 pages, PDF), found that the average of the countries' Gender Inequality Index, which fell steadily between 1995 and 2010, plateaued in 2013 and then ticked up slightly between 2017 and 2018. Released ahead of International Women's Day, the study found that while most countries have removed legal barriers to equality — more women than ever have access to education and can participate in the formal economy, vote, and run for public office — social norms still restrict women's empowerment and leadership in the economic, social, and political sphere.
Based on survey responses in four dimensions — political, educational, economic, and physical integrity (intimate partner violence and women's reproductive rights) — the index found that 91 percent of men and 86 percent of women in the seventy-five countries showed clear bias against gender equality in at least one area. While men were slightly more likely than women, on average, to express a bias in each indicator, roughly half of all respondents said men were better political leaders than women, more than 40 percent said men made better business executives and had more of a right to a job when jobs are scarce, and 28 percent said it was justifiable for a man to beat his wife.
According to the report, bias against gender equality has been on the rise. Indeed, a survey of men and women in thirty-one countries found that the share of respondents who showed some bias increased from 83.4 percent in 2004-09 to 84.6 percent in 2010-14 among women and from 89.4 percent to 89.9 percent among men, while the percentage of those with a moderate to intense bias increased from 56.6 percent to 59.7 percent among women and from 70 percent to 70.8 percent among men.
"No country has reached low inequality in human development without reducing the loss coming from gender inequality," the report's authors write. "Investing in women's equality and lifting both their living standards and their empowerment are thus central to the human development agenda and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals."
"We have come a long way in recent decades to ensure that women have the same access to life's basic needs as men," said Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP's Human Development Report Office. "We have reached parity in primary school enrollment and reduced maternal mortality by 45 percent since the year 1990. 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. Today, the fight about gender equality is a story of bias and prejudices."