UN Women Reveals Concerning Regression in Attitudes Towards Gender Roles
Findings of the 20-country study show attitudes towards gender roles have deteriorated amid COVID-19 as outdated social norms and stereotypes continue to hold society back from reaching gender equality.
UN Women and the Unstereotype Alliance, an industry-led global coalition assembled to eradicate harmful stereotypes in advertising, at the 2022 Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity launched “The Levers of Change: Gender Equality Attitudes Study 2022”, the latest iteration of a bi-annual global study that tracks attitudes towards gender.
The 20-country-wide survey shows that some antiquated views of gender have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, developed under the leadership of UN Women in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, Kantar, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, examines perceptions across a multitude of areas including leadership and political participation, education, healthcare, the workplace, media representation, marriage and family life, safety and violence, and control over personal decisions.
The findings aim to provide an evidence-based tool for decision-makers, advertisers, and media owners to effectively address harmful gender stereotypes and the threats they pose to progress in their societies.
The survey of more than 20,000 men and women in 20 countries did show some areas of improvement but that discriminatory social norms continue to stifle progress.
Across the study’s themes, attitudes towards gender equality vary vastly among the 20 countries.
Detailed breakouts by country along with additional context and perspective can be found in the full report available here. Some key findings include:
- COVID-19 has set back attitudes towards domestic violence. 19% of all respondents believe that there are acceptable circumstances for someone to hit their spouse or partner—an increase of 2 percentage points compared to 2018, most notably in India, Sweden and the United States.
- Despite progress, women continue to face multiple barriers to political leadership and decision-making. 82% of respondents agree that having more opportunities for women in politics is important for their country’s success, an increase of 2 percentage points since 2018. However, 63% of respondents agree that it is easy for men to run for elected office and only 38% agree that it is easy for women to do the same.
- Prevailing attitudes hamper progress for women in business and leadership positions. While 9 in 10 respondents agree that equal pay for equal work is important to their country’s future success, 52% of men aged 16-19 and 54% of men aged 20-34, agree that ‘women should work less and devote more time to caring for their family.’ 44% of all respondents agree that it is easy for women to be hired as skilled workers, while 57% believe that the same is true for men—a gender gap of 13 percentage points.
- In times of hardship, gender attitudes and beliefs that drive people’s decisions can lead to reversals in the hard-won gains in gender equality. A surprising 25% of respondents agree that ‘in times of food shortages, priority should be given to men’, and 31% of respondents agree that ‘when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women’.
- The media continues to portray traditional gender roles, particularly male roles. Respondents believe that the media portrays women and men in traditional roles and this perception has increased significantly since 2018. 68% of respondents believe that the media portrays women in traditional female roles, such as wives, mothers, or caregivers (+14 percentage points since 2018) and 72% of respondents believe the media represents men in conventional male roles, including as providers for the family, as leaders, or as businessmen (+20 percentage points since 2018).
- Sima Bahous, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, said: “The study findings reiterate the urgency of addressing the social norms holding back women and girls. The positive attitudes towards opportunities for women in political leadership are welcome and much needed. However, the increase in acceptance of domestic violence, held in particular by young men, is deeply disturbing and an alarm bell for action. These findings show exactly why social norms are at the heart of our strategic plan for gender equality.”
About Unstereotype Alliance
The Unstereotype Alliance seeks to eradicate harmful stereotypes from advertising and media to help create a more equal world. Convened by UN Women, the Alliance collectively acts to empower people in all their diversity (including gender, race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality) by using advertising as a force for good to drive positive change all over the world. Since the Unstereotype Alliance’s formation in 2017, national chapters have launched in 12 countries across five continents to tackle culturally nuanced stereotypes on the ground (visit their website).
The Australian Chapter of the Unstereotype Alliance
The AANA joined the Unstereotype Alliance in November 2021 as part of 20 other founding members forming the Australian Chapter. The Australian advertising industry plays a fundamental economic role in society – contributing approximately AU$17.3 billion in spend to drive AU$40 billion to the Australian economy and employing over 200,000 people. The overarching strategic intent of the chapter is to use advertising as a force for good by depicting progressive portrayals of all people, and ensuring diversity is a priority throughout the entire creative process.