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Female empowerment is improving but report shows gender bias remains

By Harvey Morris | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-03-10 09:59
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Democratic presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop in Tougaloo, Mississippi on Sunday. [BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS]

The United States presidential race looks like it might come down to a contest between two old white men after Democratic women challengers fell by the wayside.

A widespread reaction at home and abroad was that a fundamentally sexist US society was still not ready for a woman in the White House. In the immediate aftermath of the Democratic primaries, online searches of the word "misogyny" spiked.

But, before the rest of us congratulate ourselves about how "woke" we are when it comes to gender equality, it is worth considering a new United Nations report that points to the continuing extent of gender bias worldwide.

Published just ahead of International Women's Day on March 8, the report from the UN Development Programme found that 90 percent of people show some level of bias toward women, whether it is in politics, the home, education, or the workplace.

Based on data from 75 countries, the study shows such gender biases are not confined to men but are shared by a mind-boggling 86 percent of women.

The survey shows that the glass ceiling may have been cracked in many societies but that it is far from being shattered.

About half the world still believes men make better political leaders, while more than 40 percent feel men make better business executives and should have priority when jobs are scarce. Even more worryingly, 28 percent think it is justified for a man to beat his wife.

"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 Conceicao, head of the UNDP's Human Development Report Office. "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."

The survey comes 25 years after 189 governments gathered to agree the Beijing Declaration, a UN-sponsored commitment to advancing the rights and status of women.

Participants at the 1995 event in the Chinese capital agreed that: "Women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace."

A quarter of a century on, the new survey acknowledges progress toward closing the equality gap. But its also notes that discriminatory attitudes have actually hardened in places as far apart as Sweden and Mexico.

Twenty five years after Beijing, only a quarter of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women, and there are only 10 female heads of government. Women are still paid less than men and are much less likely to be in senior positions.

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