UNDP report shows biases towards women remain persistent

Gender bias is alive and well in the 21st century, and it casts a shadow over our beliefs and how we act on them.

No matter where women live, they are paid less, shoulder more unpaid housework and childcare, and are wildly under-represented in civic and business leadership.

Men make the laws, lead the vast majority of governments, and run the biggest companies.

Less than 11 percent of heads of state and 10 percent of heads of government are women, according to UN Women.

heads of state
heads of government

UNDP undertakes regular assessment of the attitudes people have towards men’s and women’s societal roles. Its latest report on the Gender Social Norms Index, shows that biases remain persistent.

Around 90 percent of men and 87 percent of women hold internal biases against women—roughly the same numbers as a decade ago.

The gender-based biases, which we carry into voting booths, board meetings, interview panels are barriers to women achieving their full potential.

Half the world still believes that men are more capable leaders. Over forty percent believe men make better business leaders.
Capable leaders
Better business leaders

More than a quarter of the world believes that it’s okay for a man to beat his wife.

This hurts everybody.

“Social norms that impair women’s rights are also detrimental to society more broadly. When women exercise freedom and agency, communities at large stand to gain.” —Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office
Women are better educated than ever before, but this has not been enough to close the income gender gap.

Even in the 59 countries where women are now more educated than men, their income is still on average a staggering 39 percent less.

As women gain ground in areas such as education, movements against gender equality are becoming increasingly vocal, and women's rights are being rolled back all over the world.

Gender equality is the fifth Sustainable Development Goal, but the principle undergirds all 17 of the Goals. We cannot make sustained progress in human development by leaving women out of decision-making and leadership.

Recent UN estimates show that, if we do nothing to balance the scales, we will not achieve gender equality for another 300 years.

Women leaders are a powerful lever for changing social norms. For countries with women leaders in the past decade, changes in gender social norms were nearly three times greater than in countries without.

But women leaders are often judged more harshly than their male counterparts. They are subject to threats, harassment, and outright violence. They are objectified and subject to misinformation and hate speech in the media. Female leadership also often results in greater backlash.

Change is possible if the needs are identified. These literal ‘human-made’ barriers can be unmade.
“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. 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.” —Raquel Lagunas, Director, UNDP Gender Team

Public policies must incorporate gender norms. This change requires policies, regulations, and institutions to reflect the necessary shifts in attitudes and behaviour. Strengthening social protection and care systems, combating hate speech and gender disinformation, and expanding space for women´s leadership and participation can all help close the gender gap.

Policy changes that tackle gender prejudices and social norms, coupled with investments in services targeted for women and education and awareness measures, are powerful tools to kick start change.

Making biases conscious and designing policy measures that intentionally address discriminatory norms is a choice we can, and must, make today.

Governments have an important role to play in changing gender social norms, as well as the socioeconomic and political structures that underpin them.

Gender discrimination doesn’t just harm women. Societies where women have greater rights and opportunities are freer and more prosperous. We must shape a new and richer culture through education, recognition, and representation in every sphere of society—one that fully recognizes that half the world’s population is equal to the other.

Join the

Share this story