U.N.: Women need a stronger voice

By Bonnie Erbe

If you haven’t seen the series of powerful ads commissioned by the United Nations’ gender-equality arm, you should.

The ad agency Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai produced the campaign using Google searches that reveal the “prevalence of sexism and discrimination against women,” says the website of UN Women (www.unwomen.org/en).

Google searches began with someone typing in provocative phrases — such as “women need to,” “women cannot,” “women shouldn’t” and “women should” — with the search engine’s autocomplete function supplying the rest of the term.

The prompts led to results such as:

“Women need to be put in their places.”

“Women cannot be trusted.”

“Women shouldn’t have rights.”

“Women should stay home.”

In one ad, such search returns appear on white strips covering the mouths of four women, so each appears to be silenced by stereotypes.

For example, the search terms “women should” prompted these responses, in descending order: “stay at home,” “be slaves,” “be in the kitchen” and “not be in church.” Each image is stamped with the search date of March 9.

Pretty shocking, in this day and age, eh? Or maybe not.

There is no doubt women are making progress across the globe when it comes to economic, educational and political empowerment. But progress is perilously slow.

In this country, we’re getting used to seeing women as U.S. senators, as cabinet secretaries, as heads of major corporations (a recent Forbes article described female executives practically taking over the defense industry) and women as models of success in just about all industries.

Most Americans think we are ahead of the rest of the world in terms of women’s equality. That was true decades ago. But we have fallen woefully behind many other countries. In last year’s Global Gender Gap Report rating 132 countries, the United States ranked 22nd.

The report, produced annually by the World Economic Forum, uses four benchmarks in rating women’s progress: access to health care, economic empowerment, education and political empowerment. As you might surmise, the United States ranked quite high in the first three categories. However, our low ranking in the fourth — political empowerment — held us down to 17th in the world. Iceland led for the fourth year in a row, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. Many of the higher-ranking countries have had females leading their country and have much larger percentages of women in national political office.

Granted, even at 22nd in the world, the United States is still a much better place to be a woman than many others. We don’t suffer from “gendercide,” as do India and China, our closest economic competitors. In those countries, a male child is more valuable than a female child. This gender bias leads parents to commit horrendous and desperate acts, such as killing infant girls, because they are too expensive to raise or because the parents wanted more or only boy children.

Experts believe the key to women’s advancement is in expanded political participation. So if you happen to see a UN Women ad, please watch and absorb it — and share it with someone who could use a little gender education. That will help us all get to where we want to go — faster.

— Bonnie Erbe, the host of PBS’ “To the Contrary,” writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. Reach her at [email protected]

Special to The Enterprise

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