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Gender inequality persists in all spheres of social and economic life in all OECD countries. According to the recent OECD report Joining Forces for Gender Equality: What is Holding us Back? even in countries that have been at the forefront of gender equality policy, women and girls continue to face barriers and disadvantages at home, in the labour market and in public life. Young women often reach higher levels of education than young men but remain under-represented in fields with the most lucrative careers. Women spend more time on unpaid work, face a strong motherhood penalty, encounter barriers to entrepreneurship and fare worse in labour markets overall. They are also under-represented in politics and in leadership positions in both private and public employment, showing a persisting leaky pipeline.
Addressing these gender gaps and moving to more equality in economy and society will require joining forces between all stakeholders – governments and companies, social partners and civil society, men, and women. Better sharing of paid and unpaid work will only happen if men and women decide together to move forward. Policy makers need to pay attention to all imbalances, in particular those that might lay unequal foundations for the future. And while there is much to be done to support women and girls, it is also important to understand in which areas men and boys might need more support to overcome barriers that stand in the way of more gender equality.
One of these areas is education. While some groups of high-performing men continue to be more likely to be employed, earn more on average and be in decision-making positions compared to women, boys are underperforming in reading and science at school, and less likely to graduate from high school or finish college.
This also links to other areas, such as healthy lives and relationships. There is increasing evidence that lower educational attainment and lower earnings can affect not only future careers, but also healthy lives, and relationships. OECD research indicates that men who earn less might have a lower likelihood to find long-term partners, have fewer or no children, and live shorter lives. In the US, deaths by suicide and drug overdose are three times more common amongst men than women.
Half of people worldwide still believe men make better political leaders than women, and about 45 percent believe men make better business executives than women, while 30 percent of women believe it is justified for a man to beat his wife.
Social norms and persisting gender stereotypes are another key area that requires policy attention. Restrictive, inequitable, and stereotypical views of men’s and women’s roles in our societies remain surprisingly common. The fifth edition of the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) reports that social norms related to gender roles are deeply engrained, especially with regard to women’s equal rights and ability to work and lead. Half of people worldwide still believe men make better political leaders than women, and about 45 percent believe men make better business executives than women, while 30 percent of women believe it is justified for a man to beat his wife.
The OECD’s Man Enough? Measuring Masculine Norms to Promote Women’s Empowerment defines ten norms of restrictive masculinities in both public and private spheres. Deep-rooted notions of masculinities promote very rigid understanding of what it means to be a ‘real’ man, placing significant pressure on men and boys to conform to socially constructed ideals of manhood. Some argue that men feel disoriented, and experience conflicting societal demands to appear confident, tough, and strong, while also expected to show empathy and sensitivity. These conflicting expectations can have a negative impact on the development and behaviour of boys and young men, leading to aggression, and low self-esteem.
This resonates with the findings of a recent survey in Germany of 1,000 men and 1,000 women aged 18-35 commissioned by children's charity Plan International Germany, published on 12 June 2023. The survey also found that just over half of men – 52% – wanted a relationship in the form of a “breadwinner-housewife model,” where they earned most of the money for the household and childcare and household tasks were primarily the woman’s role. Over two-thirds of the women interviewed disagreed, wanting equal partnerships and shared decision-making.
Many discussions focus on the difficulty for women to balance rewarding career and family lives. Less is known about what men want or need.
Thirty-three percent of male respondents also thought it was "acceptable" if "their hand slipped" occasionally during an argument with their female partner, while 34% of respondents admitted that they had been violent towards women in the past. Almost half of respondents felt "disturbed" by public displays of homosexuality.
Many discussions focus on the difficulty for women to balance rewarding career and family lives. Less is known about what men want or need. The 2021 State of the World Fathers report finds that across seven middle- and higher-income countries, 85 percent of men said they would “do whatever it takes to be very involved” in the early stages of caring for a new born or adopted child.
But there remain significant barriers to men’s full participation in childcare, elderly care and domestic work - including, for example, restrictive gender norms that equate care with “women’s work” and the widespread beliefs that women are more competent caregivers and that men should be the breadwinners, as well as a lack of access to adequate paid leave; good quality, affordable childcare; and other supportive workplace policies.
Perceived expectations still play a major role – as many men feel under pressure to appear unrestricted by family responsibilities. The Modern Families Index 2017 showed that 44% of fathers lied or altered the truth to their employers about family life conflicting with work.
The Virtual Event will discuss what more can be done to roll out policies that are proving effective to reset the gender balance in paid and unpaid work for women and men, such as paternity leave and access to flexible work opportunities. The session will also focus on how men can be equal partners in helping achieve gender equality, and in finding new ways to address the very ingrained biases that are holding both women and men back and causing worrying levels of gender-based disinformation and violence both off and online.
14:30 Welcome and moderation
14: 40 Panel Discussion
Read the full report: Joining Forces for Gender Equality
OECD countries continue to face persistent gender inequalities in social and economic life. Young women often reach higher levels of education than young men, but remain under-represented in fields with the most lucrative careers. Women spend more time on unpaid work, face a strong motherhood penalty, encounter barriers to entrepreneurship and fare worse in labour markets overall. They are also under-represented in politics and leadership positions in public employment.