According to a new Pew Research survey of 22 nations, there is a pronounced gap between a belief in the equality of the sexes and how that translates into reality in both developing and wealthy countries. People around the world say they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but many still believe men should get preference in employment, higher education and the right to work outside the home. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I’m all for equality, but …”
In nations where equal rights are legally mandated, women are nonetheless stymied by a lack of real progress. “Women in the United States and Europe are shouldering major responsibilities at home and at work simultaneously, and this makes for stress and a low quality of life,” said Professor Herminia Ibarra, who teaches organizational behavior at Insead, a business school in France.
The United States and Germany reported a large gap between the sexes on whether their nations have achieved equality. Of those who said they believe in equal rights, many more American and German men also believe their respective countries have made the right amount of changes for women, while many more women think more action is required.
Equal-rights supporters in China, India, Indonesia and Jordan think their countries have reached that goal. Nigeria was the only surveyed country where more than half (54 percent) said they oppose equality. Maybe Nigerians are just really honest! I think some countries have just absorbed the superficial idea that “equality” is good and one should support it. But the devil is in the details. It’s much easier to get folks to embrace the neutral-sounding and amorphous “equality” than the ideas it implies.
Male respondents in Britain and Japan were more likely than women to say they support equal rights. Interestingly, in Japan, 47 percent of respondents said women are better off than men, or that they are the same, but at least one-third said a university education is more important for a boy than a girl. A majority in several countries said men should have more right to jobs than women. In ten of the 22 countries surveyed, more than half of respondents said that when jobs are scarce, they should go to men. “If we think that it’s a growable pie, equality is fine,” Professor Ibarra commented. “If we think it’s a limited pie, it’s not.” That belief was most prevalent in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and China.
“We’re entering the next phase in many of these countries,” said Professor Jacqui True, an expert in gender relations and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. “We’re going to see much more frustration with gender inequality among both women and men before we get institutional change in developing countries.” She said it often takes two generations before reality catches up with changes in attitudes.