Women of Today: Breaking the Bias
By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
Today, more than ever, the power of women knows no limits, as they get involved in politics, drive taxis, join the military, work in the highest executive positions, lead NASA projects, and win sports competitions, things it was once thought they were not going to accomplish. Despite this, that power continues to be clouded by the collective mentality in which biases and social barriers persist.
As surprising as it may sound, in the middle of 2022 beliefs of yesteryear still prevail. These place women in a restricted role, especially in the workplace, which, in one way or another, prevents them from moving forward at the pace of men even when an important path has been traced already. What is hard to grasp about this is that such beliefs are not exclusive of men, since some women also hold the same views.
Specifically, the beliefs related to productive activities are the ones that create the most damage in society. The world needs the qualities of women in politics, culture, economy and sports, among other scenarios, but they seem having to prove their worth over and over again.
This has been documented by studies in which biases that revolve around women have been collected. One of them was published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in March 2020. According to this study, called the ‘Gender Social Norms Index’, 90 percent of people have biases against women, that is, judgments or views of a negative nature.
This index, which measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas such as politics, work and education, compiled information from 75 countries covering 80 percent of the world’s population, concluding there is no country in the world with total gender equality.
Among the findings gathered by the study is that worldwide about 50 percent of men think they have more right to a job than women, which is not surprising considering that in this same study almost a third of those surveyed consider it acceptable for men to hit their partners.
Looking at the prevalence of biases by geographic area, Zimbabwe was found to have the highest amount of biases in the world. In this country, only 0.27 percent of people said they were not gender biased.
In addition, 96 percent expressed biases regarding the physical integrity of women, a fact that reflects support for violence against women and opposition to reproductive rights. This same mentality is shared by the Philippines where 91 percent of people hold views that are detrimental to the physical integrity of women.
On the completely opposite side of Zimbabwe is Andorra, where 72 percent of the population claimed not to have gender biases, which makes it a good country for women’s personal and professional growth.
Regarding specific areas of productive life, according to this study, about half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders. One of the countries that is in tune with this position is China, where 55 percent of people say men are better qualified to be political leaders.
Along these same lines, in the United States, 39 percent think men make better political leaders. Yet in New Zealand, a country that currently has a female leader, only 27 percent share that view.
It should be noted that the danger of biases is that it impacts the reality that women experience. For example, only 24 percent of parliamentary seats globally are held by women and the number of female heads of government is lower today than it was five years ago, with only 10 holding such positions in 193 countries compared to the 15 there were in 2014.
In addition, there are also disparities in the labor market, as women currently continue to receive lower wages than men, and are less likely to hold high positions. According to this study, globally 40 percent of people think men make better business executives and that they have more right to access a job when they are scarce.
On this, Pedro Conceição, leader of the UNDP Human Development Report Office, said according to the organization’s website that “we have come a long way in recent decades to ensure that women have the same access to life’s basic needs as men.”
However, he also recognized that gender gaps are still very large in many areas, particularly those that challenge power relations and have the greatest influence on gender equality.
But the United Nations study is not the only one that portrays existing biases against women in society. Another study jointly prepared by New York University, the University of Denver and Harvard, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, reached unfavorable conclusions regarding the perception of women’s intellectual capacity.
According to this 2020 study, men are more likely than women to be seen as “brilliant”. “Stereotypes that portray intelligence as a masculine trait can hold women back from a wide range of prestigious careers,” Daniel Storage, lead author of this research and an assistant professor at the University of Denver, told Science Daily.
Which is the way to go?
Without a doubt, it is clear that despite the hard work women have done to break down biases and have an unlimited space in society, they still face barriers, often invisible, that prevent them from achieving gender equality.
This has become evident with the social media trends that have flooded the Internet in recent years such as #MeToo or #NiUnaMenos, which have shown that the world urgently needs to rethink the role of women to see a progress and achieve true gender equality in the near future.
For this reason, UNDP encourages governments and institutions to create new policies in order to change discriminatory beliefs and practices against women. Likewise, the organization invites the population to promote education on this subject as well as increase social awareness and modify incentives.
For example, it proposes using taxes to incentivize equal sharing of childcare responsibilities and/or encourage girls and women to enter traditionally male-dominated areas such as the military and information technology.
On the other hand, it’s imperative to take a look at the problems that have arisen for women with the arrival of the pandemic, such as burnout from having to work and care for the children in the same space.
According to an article by Emily Kestel, editor of Fearlessbr.com, in which she recounted the conclusions reached during a virtual discussion on the outlook for women held by four female leaders, in 2022 the world can support women and contribute to their success by creating flexible work policies that allow them to have autonomy over the way work is carried out.
This is important, Kestel explains, because the 2021 ‘Women in the Workplace’ report from Lean In and McKinsey found that women are more burned out now than they were a year ago, and the burnout gap between women and men has almost doubled.
For this reason, giving women control over how and where work is done is the best strategy to fight the epidemic of burnout that is being seen worldwide, according to the findings of this article.
In the same way, it would help to provide an inclusive work environment in which they feel useful and necessary and where they can access benefits that would make their lives easier, taking into account that most women have different roles in their lives simultaneously and they are expected to be good at each one of them.
Therefore, in Women’s Month, more than praising them for their many attributes and contributions to society, the invitation is to continue working on the construction of better and more appropriate ideals for her that are in tune with her desires and aspirations, and hold no link with beliefs of the past or patriarchal points of view.