Findings of the 20-country study done by UN Women show that attitudes towards gender roles have deteriorated during the pandemic as outdated social norms and stereotypes continue to hold society back from reaching gender equality.
UN Women and the Unstereotype Alliance, an industry-led coalition convened by UN Women to eradicate harmful stereotypes in advertising, launched “The Levers of Change: Gender Equality Attitudes Study 2022, the latest iteration of a bi-annual global study that tracks attitudes towards gender roles. 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 results of the survey were revealed during the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which has sharpened its focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion this year.
While the 20 surveyed countries saw some areas of improvement, the sobering findings demonstrate that discriminatory social norms continue to stifle progress.
Overall, most respondents agree that gender equality in all areas is essential to their countries’ success (91%), yet attitudes towards domestic violence have slipped backwards and young men now hold some of the most regressive attitudes towards gender.
Data from the survey also reflected the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the lives of women and girls in perceptions about gender roles, reinforcing trends of unpaid care responsibilities, gender pay gaps, and job segregation identified in other UN Women research.
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.”
Aline Santos, Chief Brand Officer & Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Unilever, said: “For those of us that work in ED&I we know that the work is never done, and the study results reflect this. Whilst over half of ads are now rated as progressive and marketers are confident in creating unstereotypical advertising, we are still at the halfway mark. The primary ingredient for progress is optimism – we must continue creating advertising that drives humanity forward and is a force for positive change.”
Caroline Frankum, CEO of Kantar’s Profiles Division, said: “For more than 50% of the world’s population, It is no longer sufficient to say that the arc of justice is long, but it bends towards justice. Steps must be taken across societies today to deliver a more equal world for women and girls. Our partnership with UN Women is one of our most important partnerships precisely because, in measuring the Gender equality gap, we inform the equality debate at the most crucial of times. COVID- 19 has set back gender equality and societal attitudes towards domestic violence. Women must understand and demand their rights, and follow the inspiring examples set by young women aged under 20, who are unafraid to voice their demands. Men, of all ages, must discover the importance of allyship. Politicians must better protect and better promote women and girls’ rights and hold those who seek to hold us back accountable.“
Across the study’s themes, attitudes towards gender equality vary vastly among the 20 countries. The findings aim to provide an evidence-based tool for decision-makers by highlighting locally nuanced beliefs and perceptions. The data can be leveraged by policymakers, advertisers and media owners, civil society organizations and more in their efforts to effectively address harmful gender stereotypes and the threats they pose to progress in their societies.
About the Research: Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights and consulting company conducted the perceptions-based study in 2020, surveying over 20,000 men and women in twenty countries including Colombia, India, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sweden, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States—all of which were included in the first report—with the addition of Austria, Brazil, Denmark, France, Mexico, Poland, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, and Vietnam.
Additionally, during the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity the Unstereotype Alliance will be hosting a mainstage session in Palais I, It’s Not the Time to Pat Ourselves on the Back, featuring model and activist Munroe Bergdorf and TV presenter, Diversity Expert and Award- winning Author, June Sarpong. The audience will be challenged to reflect on their efforts towards diversity, equity and inclusion and creating unstereotyped content. Positive stories of impact will be contrasted with negative comments from the public and individual stories of adversity to inspire action. Transgender icon Munroe Bergdorf will then give an emotive closing address, sharing her story to highlight the criticality of positive representation. The session will take place on Tuesday, June 21 from 4:15-4:45PM in the Debussy Theatre, Palais I.