World Bank Study Shows Gender Norms Universal; Slow to Change
3:35 pm, March 5th | by Colette McIntyre
Last year, the World Bank had conversations about gender equality with more than 4000 women, men, and children in twenty countries. These conversations suggested that social norms on gender and gender roles are remarkably similar across all sampled countries, cultures, and communities.
The World Bank’s report is the largest data set on issues of gender and equality ever collected. The study found that despite some advancements in women’s global economic development, feminine social roles are rigid and bounded by the domestic space. Communities worldwide are continuing to adhere “to long-held gender norms of men as breadwinners and women in domestic roles.” These norms are inculcated early, as one girl from rural Tanzania proved when she asked researchers, “If we went to school, who would do the housework?”
Across the ninety-three communities and twenty countries visited, constructs of the ideal “good” woman and “good” man showed little variation. When the World Bank asked boys and girls to define a “good girl,” both boys and girls pointed to traits like “being helpful at home,” “obedient,” and “respectful.” In one of the few instances of gender disparity, boys thought it was important that “good girls” dress decently while girls thought “good girls” shouldn’t date.
When it came to defining what makes a “good boy”, there was far greater discrepancy between the two genders: boys were twice as likely to cite “good behavior” than girls, while girls ranked “being helpful at home” as more than twice as important as boys did in defining a “good boy.”
Interestingly, more than 60 percent of girls surveyed aspire to earn college degrees, in comparison to 40 percent of boys. Gender norms and perception play an important role in determining whether these young girls will pursue their academic, non-domestic aspirations; as the World Bank writes, “women’s agency is key to economic development and gender equality. Women and men’s agency are affected by aspirations, social norms, and the set of opportunities available in the community.”
To join some of the report’s authors in a conversation about the World Bank’s findings and global gender equality, head to Twitter tomorrow morning and search the hostage #wblive.
[Photo via Shutterstock]