There is far more support for women’s rights than you think, study shows

There is far more support for women’s rights than you think, study shows

A far greater number of people around the world support women’s rights than it is generally believed, according to new research from the NHH Norwegian School of Economics.

This may come as a surprise, but it’s the result of analysis done by the NHH along with colleagues from the University of Chicago, Stanford University and the University of Zurich.  The academics analysed more than 60,000 survey responses from 60 countries, and found that in 41 countries, more than 90% of respondents support basic rights for women. In 37 of the 60 countries, the majority of men and women support policies for hiring women in leadership positions. 

A majority of people also support the right for women to work, according to the research. “There is widespread support for women’s basic right to work outside of the home across the world: a majority of the population is in favour in every country we study, often by a wide margin,” the report states. “While the share of women in favour is essentially always higher than the share of men in favour, we also find that a majority of men are in favour of women’s basic rights in all countries.”  

There is significant variance in some countries, however. For example, in the least gender-equal countries such as Jordan and Algeria, the average gap in support for women’s rights is more than 30 percentage points, while this gap almost vanishes in the most gender-equal countries, like Canada and Norway.

But there were also surprising results from countries usually considered to be less gender-equal, such as Saudi Arabia, where the research found that “the vast majority of men privately support women working outside the home, but underestimate the extent to which others share this view.” 

“There is a universal underestimation of the support for basic rights for women, particularly regarding men’s support,” Professor Alexander W. Cappelen, Deputy Director of The Centre of Excellence FAIR at NHH, explains. “To illustrate, more than 80% of males support women’s basic right to work outside the home in Tanzania and Turkey, but it’s still believed to be a minority view among men.” 

The report states that these misperceptions of gender norms are additional obstacles to advancing gender equality, and correcting these could lead to a significant increase in women’s involvement in the labour market.  

Why is support for women’s rights underestimated? 

Researchers presented several theories to explain why there are misperceptions of support for women’s rights. One is that they reflect outdated views. For example in Zimbabwe, where 80% of the population supports a basic rights policy for women, perceived support is only around 60%. This could be because support for women’s rights here may have been weaker in the past, with the country moving in a more progressive direction in recent years, but there is a lack of information about this available to the population. 

The research also found that male support for women’s rights is often heavily underestimated, and additionally, narratives perpetuated by mass media play a role. The study notes that the media may find it profitable to highlight tensions in society that point to a lack of consensus. Vocal minorities may be more active in the public arena if threatened by the views of the majority, for instance Conservative religious groups or leaders may be more vocal on public platforms to make clear why they believe women should not have the same rights as men. 

Disinformation and gender stereotyping in the press and social media are key factors that influence public opinion. It is no longer a secret that political parties and corporations are frequently involved in the output of many mainstream media outlets, helping to push narratives that would otherwise be unpopular with the general population

Political decisions, even in countries considered to have democratic systems, do not necessarily reflect the views of society. For example the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, one of the most heavily publicised policy changes of recent years, is unpopular with the vast majority of US citizens.  

Earlier this year a survey by YouGov found that people in Western Europe and the US did not identify as feminists, even though they believed women should have the same rights in society as men. NADJA’s editorial on the survey results put forward the idea that the feminist movement was being weakened by this misunderstanding of what the word “feminism” means. 

Leila Hawkins


Featured image: Illustration by pch.vector on Freepik


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