“My grandparents didn’t allow my mom to pursue Engineering”
How does education play a role in combating gender bias against women?
Have you ever experienced body-shaming comments from friends, family members, or even strangers? Have you been told you should lose weight, learn how to cook, or that being close to men makes you a slut? If so, you are not alone. This type of discrimination or prejudice towards women is known as gender bias against women. It is the idea that men are superior to women and deserve more rights and opportunities. As defined by the European Institute of Gender Equality, Gender Bias means ‘Prejudiced actions or thoughts based on the gender-based perception that women are not equal to men in rights and dignity.’
Growing up in a traditional society, I observed the norm of women handling household chores while men were the breadwinners. My mom was never allowed to fulfil her dreams. My grandmother hated my brown skin (even though she herself is brown) and has never treated my mother fairly. I come from a place where women are not allowed to express themselves and take a stand for themselves. When my mom started to live for herself by teaching Yoga, society passed many comments, her own family was judging her instead of supporting her. In India, women are often expected to prioritise their domestic roles, facing criticism for pursuing professional aspirations. This all seemed unfair to me but a bit normal until I moved to the UK for my bachelors, where I learned that there is a more balanced approach to household responsibilities and financial independence for both genders. Here often men and women both contribute in household chores, both are financially independent and have the means to follow their dreams irrespective of their gender.
In a report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 9 out 10 people in the world have at least one bias against women. This study, conducted across 91 countries, highlights the pervasive nature of gender inequality. “My expectation was that we would see some progress, because nine out of every 10, I mean, how can it get any worse?” said Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP’s human development report office to Guardian.
Half of the people in the world believe that men make better political leaders, 25% of the population believe that it is justified for a man to beat his wife. The report revealed that 28% of Swedes exhibit at least one bias, with men demonstrating bias against women at a rate of 29% and women at a rate of 27%. Gender discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since 1980 in Sweden. Sweden is also striving for equal pay for equal work. Whereas South Korea, despite being a developed nation, has a higher bias against women, at 89% of the population. Indonesia and Ghana, both developing countries, have almost 100% bias against women.
South Korea has an extremely high standard of beauty for women, leading to unrealistic expectations. In Korea, job applicants must attach their photo to their resumes to even be considered for a position. This country, being the world's 13th largest economy and home to Samsung and other tech giants, also has one of the worst gender pay gaps. This can all be attributed to the deep-rooted biases against women within the country. Nations with a high rate of bias against women often suffer from greater gender pay gaps, violence against women and little to no access to education.
This data shows that there is a negative correlation between bias against women and education, meaning that as the percentage of people with at least one bias increases, the mean years of schooling for females decreases. This is likely because bias against women can lead to a number of barriers to education, such as:
Discrimination in enrollment and admissions policies.
Harassment and bullying in schools.
Lower expectations and support for female students.
Limited opportunities for female students to study STEM subjects or pursue higher education.
Lack of family support
Reeth, a researcher at the University of Oxford said, "My mom wanted to study engineering. But she was not allowed to study because her parents believed that STEM is not for women." In most of the developing countries, women are discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM fields, which are often seen as being more suitable for men. This can lead to a lack of women in STEM fields, which can have a negative impact on the economy and society as a whole.
“The women’s rights demonstrations we’re seeing across the world today, energised by young feminists, are signalling that new alternatives for a different world are needed.” - Raquel Lagunas, UNDP Gender Team Acting Director.
In addition, bias against women can lead to girls dropping out of school early to get married, have children, or take on other caregiving responsibilities. It is important to note that the correlation between bias against women and mean years of schooling does not necessarily mean that bias against women causes lower levels of education for females. It is possible that there are other factors that contribute to this variable, such as poverty and lack of access to education.
Developed countries like the UK, Sweden, and Australia have higher rates of female education, leading to more women in leadership positions, advocating for gender equality, and achieving financial independence. This is a testament to the power of education in empowering women and promoting gender equality. “The women’s rights demonstrations we’re seeing across the world today, energised by young feminists, are signalling that new alternatives for a different world are needed.” said Raquel Lagunas, UNDP Gender Team Acting Director.
It is important to remember that gender bias is not just about treating women differently than men; it is also about perpetuating harmful stereotypes and limiting women's opportunities and freedoms. We all deserve to be treated with respect and equality, regardless of our gender.
HOW CAN WE RECOGNISE THE DEEP ROOTED GENDER BIAS AGAINST WOMEN?
The Müller-Lyer illusion (image above) is a classic example explained by Andie Kramer of how our brains can distort what we see. In this illusion, two lines of equal length appear to be different lengths due to the placement of arrowheads. The first one appears longer than the second one.
This illusion demonstrates that our perception of reality is not always accurate. We can be influenced by our expectations, experiences, and biases. This is also true of gender stereotypes. Even though we know that women and men are fundamentally equal, we may still hold unconscious biases that affect how we see and treat them.
It is important to be aware of our own biases and to challenge them whenever possible. We can do this by educating ourselves about gender equality, challenging stereotypes whenever we encounter them, and supporting initiatives that promote equality. By working together, we can create a more just and equitable world for all.