This year’s theme for International Women’s Day calls us to confront bias, raise awareness about inequality, and take action to make the world a more equitable place. This initiative advocates for a world free of stereotypes and discrimination. Before we can #BreaktheBias it is important to know what gender bias is and other forms of bias that intersect with it.
What is Gender Bias?
This type of bias is rooted in prejudices that favor certain gender identities. People can have biases about sex and gender which often overlap. This bias impacts how society functions: for example, certain jobs may be more available to men based on gender stereotypes, thus making it more difficult for women to have access to the same role. These norms sustain a power imbalance and reinforce systemic inequalities (UNU-IIGH, 2021). The prevalence of these stereotypes across the world often makes girls and women less valued, discriminated against and treated differently (Plan International, 2019). In 2020, The United Nations Development Program measured that almost 90% of men and women globally hold some sort of bias against women. Gender bias—both implicit and explicit—exists across several institutions: family, government, schools, healthcare, the workplace, etc. Here are some figures that illustrate how gender bias is present all around the world:
In each of these sectors, it is important to note gender bias and discrimination goes beyond a male/female binary.
Education: Of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds of them are women. This figure has not changed in 20 years (The Borgen Project, 2018). There are currently 129 million girls out of school across the world. In places that are experiencing conflict, girls are twice as likely to be out of school than girls in non-affected areas (UNICEF, 2022). Access to education is only part of the struggle as we try to #BreaktheBias in schools. Gender bias in schools can reinforce harmful messages about girls’ abilities and ambitions and the perception they have of themselves within society (The World Bank, 2022). Similarly, girls’ safety is threatened both at school and on the way to and from school. The World Bank (2022) estimates that around 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to or at school every year. Stigma around girls’ education is still very present around the world.
Workplace: According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap 2020 Report, only 36% of senior roles in workplaces are held by women. As of 2021, the average income for men is 23,300 international dollars, while for women it rests at 13,100 marking over a 10,000-dollar difference (World Economic Forum). Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to heighten inequalities for women in the workplace. In 2019, the International Labour Organization reported that women perform over 75% of unpaid care work.16.4 billion hours are spent in unpaid care work every day which is the equivalent of 2 billion people working 8 hours a day with no pay. This amounts to 9% of global GDP, or US $11 trillion. Underpaid and non-paid work disproportionately affects women around the world.
Healthcare: Women are underrepresented in medical research that is proposed by women, for women and not allocated the same funding as for medical research proposed for men (Perez, 2019). With so much technological advancement in medicine, there is still a large gap in what is known about female biology. Because of this, many women experience a delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. Along the same lines, Time Magazine reports that gender myths have formed ingrained biases that negatively impact the care, treatment, and diagnosis of all those who identify as women. Emerging evidence shows that women are at a higher risk for some of the most challenging health conditions. For example, 8% of the global population have an autoimmune disease, 78% of those affected are women (Fairweather, D., 2004). Notably, many figures regarding health are only those that have been reported. Those with less access to quality healthcare around the world are put at a greater risk.
Scholar and theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) highlights the importance of intersectionality which considers multiple parts of one’s identity that can lead to advantages or disadvantages based upon the hierarchies of power that influence the world around us. There are overlapping, interconnected, intersecting components of our identity which include but are not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion, physical ability, etc. In this conversation about bias, it is critically important to consider how several forms of discrimination can exist at the same time multidimensionally and disadvantage some more drastically than others.
Most of the bias that exists today is rooted in a history of coloniality and violence. In order to progress, we must acknowledge the historical tragedies that have led to the biases that permeate the world in 2022. Furthermore, we have to confront the biases we hold on both a personal and a systemic level before for any practical change can begin.
Here are further resources to help us #BreaktheBias and raise awareness:
The Borgen Project (2018) 10 Important Examples of Gender Inequality Happening Today. Available at: https://borgenproject.org/examples-of-gender-inequality/ (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
Crenshaw, K. (1991). “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299. https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039
Fairweather, D. & Rose, N. R. (2004) “Women and autoimmune diseases”. Emerging infectious diseases, 10(11), pp. 2005-2011.
International Labour Organization (2019) World Employment Social Outlook. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_670542.pdf (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
Plan International (2019) Challenging Gender Discrimination: A How-To Guide. Available at: https://plan-international.org/girls-get-equal/calling-out-discrimination (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
Perez, C. (2019) Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. Chatto & Windus: London.
Time Magazine (2021) Medical Myths about Gender Roles Go Back to Ancient Greece. Women Are Still Paying the Price Today. Available at: https://time.com/6074224/gender-medicine-history/ (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
UNDP (2020) Almost 90% of Men/Women Globally Are Biased Against Women. Available at: https://www.undp.org/press-releases/almost-90-menwomen-globally-are-biased-against-women (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
UNICEF (2022) Girls’ education. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/education/girls-education (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
UNU-IIGH (2021) Gender Equality, Norms & Health. Available at: https://iigh.unu.edu/news/news/gender-equality-norms-health-gary-darmstadt.html (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
World Economic Forum (2020) Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Available at: https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf (Accessed: 3 March 2022)
The World Bank (2022) Girls’ Education. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation (Accessed: 3 March 2022)