An alarming new survey, gathering data from twenty nations and published by the  UN Women’s Unstereotype Alliance has found that antiquated views of gender have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – and that young men are the ones who are lagging behind. 

The results are surprising; terrifyingly, COVID-19 has set back attitudes towards domestic violence, with 19% of survey respondents believing that there are acceptable circumstances for someone to hit their partner. This is a 2 per cent increase since 2018 – particularly in countries like India, Sweden, and the United States.

One of the most alarming themes were the attitudes of younger men towards the roles women might play in society. The report found that 52% of men aged 16-19 and 54% of men aged 20-34 agreed that ‘women should work less and devote more time to caring for their family.’ Similarly, 58% of men aged 16-19 agreed that men are better political leaders than women.

Sara Denby, Head of UN Women’s Unstereotype Alliance Secretariat warns that ‘there is no room for complacency. The study revealed that younger men hold more traditional attitudes than other cohorts across multiple topic areas and countries.’ Denby believes that this is the result of a younger cohort living in an increasingly digital world, with greater exposure to pornography and online gaming – places where we see recessive attitudes towards gender in full force. She also believes a trend of traditional gender roles being reinstated in the household during the pandemic and through care duties has contributed to this regression.

Gender representation in media has also experienced a setback. Survey respondents believed that the media portrays women and men in traditional roles. This perception has increased significantly since 2018; 68% of respondents believe that the media portrays women in traditional female roles, such as wives, mothers and caregivers, while 72% of respondents believe that the media represents men in conventional male roles, including as providers for the family, and as leaders and businessmen.

“We know that harmful gender stereotypes impact us all and when they appear in advertising and media, they perpetuate bias and discrimination – and disempower whole parts of society” Denby said. “Advertising and media play a crucial role in influencing behaviours, forming social attitudes and shaping beliefs – and with this comes an immense potential for progressive portrayals of all people to drive positive change.”

Denby says that one thing is clear from the report: progress towards gender equality is not shifting fast enough, and that the responsibility is on everyone to accelerate that change.  The next generation of women are strong advocates for change, but young men are lagging behind. Young women need the active support of government, media and the broader society to drive positive change and remove structural barriers that seem to only be increasing.