143 Unique Gender Inequality Essay Titles & Examples

Here, you will find 85 thought-provoking topics relating to gender, equality, and discrimination. Browse through our list to find inspiration for your paper – and don’t forget to read the gender inequality essay samples written by other students.

👩 Top 10 Gender Equality Title Ideas

🏆 best gender bias essay topics, 💡 interesting topics to write about gender inequality, 📌 simple & easy gender inequality essay titles, 👍 good gender equality research title ideas, ❓ gender inequality research questions.

  • Globalization, gender, and development.
  • The Pink Tax.
  • Women and unpaid labor.
  • Gender stereotypes in media.
  • Emma Watson’s speech on gender equality.
  • A critique of HeForShe campaign.
  • Education for girls in Ghana.
  • The suffrage movement.
  • Crimes against girls and women.
  • Female empowerment in STEM fields.
  • Gender Inequality in the Field of Working Wright and Yaeger state that it is the deep intersection of the life and work fields in the current working paradigm that creates daily and long-term problems, limits the available time for male and female […]
  • Gender Inequality in the Story of Ama Aidoo “In the Cutting of a Drink” The story of Ama Aidoo In the Cutting of a Drink tells about gender inequality, which is expressed in the clash between the typical values of rural residents and the values of people living in […]
  • Gender Inequality: The Role of Media The media plays a major role in gender socialization because of the ways it chooses to portray women. Shows such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Snow White are famous because they usher children […]
  • Gender Inequality as a Global Issue This essay will examine some of the causes that affect the gap in the treatment of men and women, and its ramifications, particularly regarding developing countries.
  • Gender Inequality and Female Leaders in the Hospitality Industry The current literature regarding the challenges and issues facing women in leadership positions in the hospitality industry in France is inadequate.
  • Sociological perspectives of Gender Inequality The events taking place in the modern world and the occurrence of the feminist movements during the past few decades can be used to offer a deeper understanding on the subject of gender inequality and […]
  • Women’s Rights and Gender Inequality in Saudi Arabia Indeed, it is crucial to understand the importance of women’s rights, see the connections between the past, the present, the local, and the global, and realize how political and media discourse represents the social issue […]
  • Social, Cultural and Gender Inequality From a Global Perspective It is the duty of the tutor to craft a lecture-room environment that serves to enhance meaningful discussions concerning gender. This is due to the fact that students learn best in various ways.
  • Gender Inequality in Social Media Research shows that teenagers from the age of thirteen use social media to discuss the physical appearances of girls and exchange images with sexual content.
  • Gender Inequality in the Labor Force The aim of this article is to assess the assertion that gender inequality exists in the labor force. The table below shows global adult employment-to-population by gender for 1998 and 2008.
  • Femicide in Mexico and the Problem of Gender Inequality Femicide remains one of the most devastating issues in Mexico, and it is vital to address the gender oppression and inequality that women face.
  • Gender Inequality, Violence Against Women, and Fear in The Sopranos Thus, the major research question will be “Does The Sopranos endorse or criticize VaW through the frequent depiction of the scenes of cruelty?” The hypothesis of the research paper will be “The portrayal of VaW […]
  • How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World? According Ridgeway, it may not be correct per se to say that its only women who are aggrieved by the gender imbalance but majority of the cases that depict gender inequalities involve women on the […]
  • Gender inequality in Canada According to, although it is certain that men and women have actual differences particularly physically, most of the social indifference perception are not because of the biological connotation but because of the over time cultural […]
  • Gender Inequality in the Video Games Industry The portrayal of males and females in video games is a subject of study in gender studies and is discussed in the context of sexism in the industry.
  • Combating Gender Inequality It is thanks to this approach that humanity will be able to successfully cope with the problem of gender inequality, sexism, and discrimination.
  • Gender Inequality: On the Influence of Culture and Religion Therefore, to understand more about the topic, it is essential to study the issues from various perspectives and find the connection of the discourse to other gender-related problems and theories.
  • Gender Inequality as a Global Societal Problem For eliminating the gender wage gap, nationwide legislation shows to increase the hiring and promotion of women in the workplace. Unfortunately, there is a gap in scholarly research in regards to reflecting the success of […]
  • Gender Inequality in Workplace Gender is the main reason for inequalities in the workplace; this is because nowadays there is a steady increase in the number of women in workplaces in the world.
  • The Issue of Gender Inequality Reflection Unfortunately, in the opinion of many, inequality in their treatment is even more pronounced, forming a third group from such persons in addition to binary people and positioning them at the end of the list.
  • Gender Inequality in Mass Media However, as a part of society, media organizations are influenced by the same social aspects and biased conclusions as the rest of the community. As a result, the owners and managers of media are mainly […]
  • Gender Inequality in American Stories and Plays There are disputes about the sexual desire of men and women and how it is applied, and the use of physical strength of men on women.
  • Gender Inequality and Female Empowerment Promotion Therefore, it is crucial to continue celebrating women’s accomplishments and encourage a positive change within the current perception of women as a social and biological class.
  • Gender Inequality in Interdisciplinary Lenses Both sociologists and legal experts concur that a gender bias ingrained in society is the primary factor contributing to the issue of women in the workforce.
  • Gender Inequality at Work in Developed Countries In France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Great Britain, men are disadvantaged throughout the employment process for professions where women predominate. These are the conclusions of a study conducted by the University of Amsterdam, the University […]
  • Gender Inequality and Its Causes Analysis It is evident that the difference is so insignificant to the point where some women can be athletically stronger than men, and there is a vast difference in strength among men themselves.
  • Gender Inequality and the Glass Ceiling The significant societal barriers that keep women from achieving the highest levels of their careers include, but are not limited to, organizational barriers, societal barriers, and Personal barriers.
  • Human Objectification as a Tool of Gender Inequality Objectification and culture of suppressed emotions of the male gender lead to the further sexual objectification of the females resulting in unequal social positions.
  • The Issue of Gender Inequality After Covid-19 To date, the role of women in society has increased many times over, both in the economic, social, and political spheres of public life.
  • Gender Inequality in the Construction Field It is important that the main actors in the sector understand that gender equality can help reduce the issue of shortage of skill that exists in that field.
  • Social Enterprises and Gender Inequality in Dubai In the context of UAE demographics, the population of Dubai has been rightfully considered the most diverse in terms of age, income, and socio-ethnic background, as this city is a conglomerate for tourists, business visitors, […]
  • Gender Inequality in Relation to the Military Service In his article, Soutik Biswas refers to the intention of India’s Supreme Court to influence the government and give women commanding roles in the army.
  • The Relationship Between Gender Inequality and Women’s Economic Independence In a scenario where the wife is employed, either of the parents has the means of supporting themselves as well as other dependents, and this is the most remarkable benefit of emancipation.
  • Gender Inequality and Its Implications on American Society It is not just the fight for the women’s rights, elimination of the gender pay gap or the harassment phenomenon. The voices of those who disagree with the fact that the resolution of one case […]
  • Women From the Downtown Eastside: Gender Inequality One of the main questions that bother many people around the whole world is the identification of the conditions under which the citizens of the Downtown Eastside disappeared.
  • Women Labour: Gender Inequality Issues Sexual category or gender is an ingredient of the wider socio-cultural framework that encompasses the societal attributes and opportunities connected with individual male and female and the conduit between women and men and girls and […]
  • Issues Surrounding Gender Inequality in the Workplace The main objective of the constructionist point of view is that it is aimed at uncovering how the individuals and the groups tend to participate in the creation of their perceptions of gender and women […]
  • Public Policy Analysis on Gender Inequality in Education in South Sudan The major challenges related to the development of the educational system are the ongoing violent attacks and natural disasters. The General Education Strategic Plan, 2017-2022 is the government’s response to the most burning issues in […]
  • Race & Gender Inequality and Economic Empowerment This means that the study will analyze the problem of race and gender inequality and examine how it is related to poverty.
  • Gender Inequality: “Caliban and the Witch” by Federici Federici shows the fall of female ability for autonomy and the rise of patriarchal societies as a result of an emerging emphasis on global trade and the perceived notion that the wealth of the country […]
  • Gender Inequality and Health Disparities Thus, Wacquant not only mentions the problem of gender inequality but also stresses that this issue has a rather long history of development, which is rooted in the past.
  • Gender Inequality Index 2013 in the Gulf Countries However, the ratio of women in the parliament is noticeably lower, and that explains why the GII of Kuwait is slightly higher than the one of the UEA.
  • Gender Inequality: Reginald Murphy College To establish the accuracy of the allegations raised as a group, the factors to ensuring the retrieval of the correct information about the issue in question are the involvement of all members of the administration […]
  • Gender Inequality at the China’s Workplaces Although researchers have quantified the extent of gender pay inequality in the workplace, they hold different opinions regarding the best strategies to use in addressing the problem.
  • Gender Inequality and Its Historical Origin Seeing that the effects of the two factors are reciprocal, it can be assumed that, though both have had a tangible impact on the contemporary representation of women in the society, traditions have a significantly […]
  • Gender Inequality in Family Business One of the problems that every woman faces in a family business is that of succession. In the model of Royal Families, the right to lead the business belongs to the oldest son.
  • Gender Inequality in Europe, America, Asia, Africa The laws and customs of the countries located in Africa and the Middle East are shaped by many factors. Some of the laws in the Middle East are clearly unfair towards women.
  • Women in the Workplace: Gender Inequality I examine the idea of work-and-life balance that is proposed as a solution to the problem of having a family and career at the same time and point out the fact that it is typically […]
  • Indian Gender Inequality and Reduction Initiatives Coontz discusses these issues from the context of the economic status of American women and their limited role in society at the time.
  • Bill Myers’ Leadership and Gender Inequality In this case, the bartenders, wait staff and the busboys all possess the required skills and knowledge for the job, and thus ought to be treated equally.
  • Gender Inequality in Afghanistan Thirdly, there is social gender inequality, which is demonstrated by women being the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, inequalities in education attainment, lack of freedom to marry and divorce, and unequal access to […]
  • Gender Inequality and Socio-Economic Development Gender inequality in the US determines who is to be in the kitchen and who is to sit in the White House.
  • Gender Inequality in America This event highlighted the extent to which women were vulnerable to the prejudices of the society. This particular event is important because it lead to the exclusion of women from the political life of the […]
  • Gender inequality in Algeria The fact that women helped to build back the ruins of society and the heroism they showed in the war efforts, was forgotten by their husbands and the government.
  • Gender Inequality in the US Of more importance in the enhancement of gender inequality is the role of the media. The natural constrains described above and the multiplier effects from the historical insubordination of women still play to men’s favor […]
  • Observations on the Gender Inequality This is the best way to preserve the stability and order in a gendered society, although the young woman in the street cannot accept this order of things.
  • The Effects of International Trade on Gender Inequality: Women Carpet Weavers of Iran
  • The Prevailing Gender Inequality in USA
  • Perspectives On Gender Inequality And The Barrier Of Culture On Education
  • Race, Ethnicity and Gender Inequality in the Rwanda Genocide
  • The Scarcity Of Water And Its Effect On Gender Inequality
  • Unequal Division Of Economic Growth And Gender Inequality
  • The Measurement of Multidimensional Gender Inequality
  • The Growing Issue of Gender Inequality in the Workplace
  • Understanding Gender Inequality in Employment and Retirement
  • The Violation of Women and the Practice of Gender Inequality Through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
  • The Different Elements That Affect Gender Inequality in Society
  • How Gender Inequality Is Defined As The Unequal Treatment
  • The Controversial Issue of Gender Inequality in the Twentieth Century
  • The Correlation between Poverty and Gender Inequality
  • The Problem of Gender Inequality in the United States and Its Negative Impact on American Society
  • National Culture, Gender Inequality and Women’s Success in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
  • The Institutional Basis of Gender Inequality: The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)
  • The Issue of Gender Stereotypes and Its Contribution to Gender Inequality in the Second Presidential Debate
  • Women´s Right Movement: Gender Inequality
  • International Relations: Gender Inequality Issues
  • Problems of Gender Inequality for Women in India and Other
  • The Role of Women Discrimination and Gender Inequality in Development: The Cross-Section Analysis by Different Income Groups
  • The Effect of Gender Inequality on Economic Development: Case of African Countries
  • The Role of Historical Resource Constraints in Modern Gender Inequality: A Cross-Country Analysis
  • The Influence of Gender Budgeting in Indian States on Gender Inequality and Fiscal Spending
  • Identity, Society, and Gender Inequality of Women in North West India
  • How Debates of Gender Inequality and Gender Roles are Conflicted With Family Structures
  • The Features of the Problem of Gender Inequality in the World
  • Untapped Potential in the Study of Negotiation and Gender Inequality in Organizations
  • The Impact of the Sectoral Allocation of Foreign aid on Gender Inequality
  • The Impact Of Gender Inequality On Employee Satisfaction
  • The Issue of Gender Inequality Between the North and South in the United States
  • The Problem of Gender Inequality in South Asia and Its Effects on Girls and Women in Society
  • Whether Patriarchy Is The Leading Cause Of Gender Inequality
  • The Issues of Gender Inequality in the Book a Woman on the Edge
  • Women Deserve For A Girl : A Real Issue Of Gender Inequality
  • The Main Causes And Consequences Of Gender Inequality
  • The Experience of Gender Inequality in The Awakening, a Novel by Kate Chopin
  • The Issues of Gender Inequality in the Political Landscape Despite the Legal and Theoretical Attempts to Overcome the Gender Gap
  • Measuring Key Disparities in Human Development: The Gender Inequality Index
  • The Relationship of the Cultural and Historical Specificity of Gender Inequality in Mitchell’s Not Enough of the Past
  • Stange Journeys and Gender Inequality in Pullman and Dangarembga
  • Help or Hindrance? Religion’s Impact on Gender Inequality in Attitudes and Outcomes
  • Should Women Continue Fighting Against Gender Inequality
  • Women ‘s Gender Inequality By Chinua Achebe ‘s Things Fall Apart
  • Legislation and Labour Market Gender Inequality: An Analysis of OECD Countries
  • What Are the Types of Gender Inequality?
  • Does Gender Inequality Hinder Development and Economic Growth?
  • What Does Gender Inequality Mean?
  • Does Trade Liberalization Help to Reduce Gender Inequality?
  • What are the main issues of gender inequality?
  • How Has Gender Inequality Impacted Contemporary Catholicism?
  • What Determines Gender Inequality in Household Food Security in Kenya?
  • Who Is Affected by Gender Inequality?
  • What Causes Gender Inequality?
  • Where Is Gender Inequality Most Common?
  • What Are the Effects of Gender Equality?
  • How Can We Stop Gender Inequality?
  • What Is an Example of Gender Equality?
  • Does Gender Inequality Still Exist Today?
  • What Is the Impact of Gender Inequality in the Society?
  • When Did Gender Inequality Become an Issue?
  • What Are the Three Main Areas of Gender Inequality in the World?
  • How Does Gender Inequality Affect Development?
  • What Is the Difference Between Gender Equity, Gender Equality, and Women’s Empowerment?
  • Why Is Gender Equality Important?
  • Is Gender Equality a Concern for Men?
  • What Are the Manifestations of Gender Inequality in the Modern Society?
  • Is Gender Inequality Still a Pending and Pressing Issue in the Modern World?
  • What Are the Causes and Effects of Gender Inequality in the European Society?
  • Can Gender Inequality Issues Be a Boost for Women’s Progress, Development, and Improvement in the Workplace?
  • What Are the Future Consequences and Outcomes of the Present-Day Gender Inequality?
  • Where Does Gender Inequality Step From?
  • Is It Possible at All to Achieve Gender Equality?
  • What Is Gender Blindness and How Does It Impact the Overall Concept of Gender Inequality?
  • Is Education a Solution to Solve Inequality Between the Sexes?
  • Gender Roles Paper Topics
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  • Family Relationships Research Ideas
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IvyPanda . "143 Unique Gender Inequality Essay Titles & Examples." February 26, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/gender-inequality-essay-topics/.

76 Gender Equality Essay Topics

🏆 best essay topics on gender equality, ✍️ gender equality essay topics for college, 👍 good gender equality research topics & essay examples, 🎓 most interesting gender equality research titles.

  • Speech of Emma Watson: Gender Equality
  • Women and Men Empowerment for Gender Equality
  • Multiculturalism as a Threat to Gender Equality
  • Contemporary Gender Equality Challenge
  • Addressing the Issue of Gender Equality
  • “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” by Kabeer
  • Global Misunderstanding of the Idea of Feminism and Gender Equality
  • Gender Equality Strategies in Education Global organizations make substantial efforts to solve the problem of gender inequality, which remains relevant despite the improvements made.
  • Gender Equality Cannot Be a Universal Concept This paper addresses whether gender equality is a universal concept that needs to strive across regions and cultures or whether it should have different meanings.
  • Ethical Dilemma of Worldwide Gender Equality One of the most significant issues in the context of the 21st century, however, is the ethical dilemma of worldwide gender equality.
  • “Women’s Assessments of Gender Equality Critique” by Kurzman This article explains how women’s assessment of gender equality does not continually match with the worldwide indices of gender inequality.
  • Gender Equality and Women’s Rights The issue of gender equality in society has gained popularity in the course of the precedent century with the rise of the feminist movement and women’s struggle for equal rights.
  • Sex and Gender Equality in a Personal Worldview The debate about sex, gender, and associated issues is integral to contemporary society. Inequalities are the consequences of socially constructed concepts.
  • Gender Equality: Language and Literature The universal human rights principles propound that every person must be treated equally before the law regardless of their gender.
  • Toxic Masculinity and Gender Equality in the US Masculinity has historically been associated with power, leadership, and wealth. Yet, it becomes toxic when it starts to form particular social expectations from men.
  • Gender Equality: Do Women Have Equal Rights? Although developed countries demonstrate higher levels of gender equality than states that openly discriminate against women, the equality climate in the U.S. remains imperfect.
  • Gender Equality in the Media Workforce Gender equality has come a long way since what it had been 40 years ago that’s why denying the progress is pointless, as many changes were made, for the better.
  • Gender Equality as Smart Economics’ Policy Agenda After assessing the available trends and data, it is reasonable to conclude that in the world of the future, the gender gap will be even narrower
  • What Makes an Ideal Society? Revolutionary Ideas for Gender Equality The article is relevant because it demonstrates how a perfect society can be achieved by first realizing social change, as it was done before the women’s movements.
  • Integration of Gender Equality in Organizational Management In essence, the integration of gender equality in management practices would help advance modern employee rights among organizations.
  • Gender Equality: Men as Daycare Professionals Gender equality campaigns have traditionally been focused on making “predominantly male professions accessible to everyone” without paying attention to the opposite situations.
  • “Is Gender Equality the Silent Killer of Marriages?” Article Analysis The article “Is Equality Ruining Your Marriage?” by Suzanne Venker explores the adverse effects of integrating egalitarian concepts in the marriage context.
  • Woman and Gender Equality in Canada With the modernization of society, there is a need for additional measures to ensure the rights of women all over the country.
  • Issues in Sports: Gender Equality Numerous societies have not recognized that women have the flair to take part in any sport that a man can do, with equivalent expertise if not best.
  • Economic Benefits of Gender Equality in the European Union Gender inequality is a highly complex and extensive social issue which is prevalent in every layer of society and industry.
  • Gender Equality in Britain in the 20th Century In Britain, the media through the television systems operated discussions and seminars on issues concerning gender in society.
  • Gender and Gender Equality: Prejudice and Lack of Understanding
  • Well-Being and Social Development in the Context of Gender Equality
  • Accounting for Gender Equality in Secondary School Enrollment in Africa
  • Capabilities, Opportunities, and Participation: Gender Equality and Development in the Middle East and North Africa Region
  • Gender Equality and ‘Austerity’: Vulnerabilities, Resistance and Change
  • Aid for Gender Equality and Development: Lessons and Challenges
  • The Relation Between Gender Equality and Economic Growth
  • Gender Equality: Women Serving Less Time Than Men for Identical Crimes
  • Islam and Gender Equality in Turkey
  • Development Versus Legacy: The Relative Role of Development and Historical Legacies in Achieving Gender Equality
  • Parental Leave and Gender Equality: Lessons From the European Union
  • Gender Equality and the Labor Market: Cambodia, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines
  • The Connections Between International Politics and Gender Equality Issues
  • Analyzing Gender Equality and Gender Discrimination
  • Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women
  • Gender Equality and Electoral Violence in Africa: Unlocking the Peacemaking Potential of Women
  • Striving for Gender Equality and Closing the Wage Gap
  • Empowering Boys and Men to Achieve Gender Equality in India
  • Changes and Policies That Can Help Women Get Gender Equality
  • Economic Growth and Evolution of Gender Equality
  • The 1970s Feminist Movement in America and Its Fight for Gender Equality
  • Gender Equality Through Epochs
  • Attitudes Towards Gender Equality and Perception of Democracy in the Arab World
  • Equal Opportunity for All: Gender Equality
  • Gender Equality and Economic Development: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies
  • Gender Equality and Gender Roles in the Workplace
  • Feminism and the Truth Behind Gender Equality in Society
  • Active Ageing and Gender Equality
  • Social Norms and Teenage Smoking: The Dark Side of Gender Equality
  • Gender Equality Work and Domestic Life
  • What Factors Might Encourage Organizations to Adopt Gender Equality Initiatives
  • Poverty and Gender Equality in Pakistan
  • Suffrage, Democracy, and Gender Equality in Education
  • Domestic Work, Wages, and Gender Equality: Lessons From Developing Countries
  • Gender Equality During the 19th Century
  • Boundless Possibilities and Gender Equality
  • Globalization and Gender Equality in Developing Countries
  • Societal Stockholm Syndrome: The Gender Equality Myth
  • Biological, Physiological, and Biochemical Facts About Gender Equality
  • Empowering Women and Promoting Gender Equality
  • Revisiting Jewson and Mason: The Politics of Gender Equality in UK Local Government in a Cold Climate
  • Gender Equality and Civil Rights in the USA
  • The Goals and Ways of Achieving Gender Equality
  • American History, Gender Equality, and Gender Exploitation
  • Men and Gender Equality: European Insights
  • Transgender and Gender Equality Within the United States
  • Feminism and Gender Equality: From the Earth’s Beginnings
  • Gender Equality and Its Effects on Women’s Rights
  • Decomposing Vietnamese Gender Equality in Terms of Wage Distribution
  • Social Mobility and Gender Equality at Workplace

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StudyCorgi. (2022, December 30). 76 Gender Equality Essay Topics. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/gender-equality-essay-topics/

"76 Gender Equality Essay Topics." StudyCorgi , 30 Dec. 2022, studycorgi.com/ideas/gender-equality-essay-topics/.

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StudyCorgi . "76 Gender Equality Essay Topics." December 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/gender-equality-essay-topics/.

StudyCorgi . 2022. "76 Gender Equality Essay Topics." December 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/gender-equality-essay-topics/.

These essay examples and topics on Gender Equality were carefully selected by the StudyCorgi editorial team. They meet our highest standards in terms of grammar, punctuation, style, and fact accuracy. Please ensure you properly reference the materials if you’re using them to write your assignment.

This essay topic collection was updated on December 27, 2023 .

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100 Gender Research Topics For Academic Papers

gender research topics

Gender research topics are very popular across the world. Students in different academic disciplines are often asked to write papers and essays about these topics. Some of the disciplines that require learners to write about gender topics include:

Sociology Psychology Gender studies Business studies

When pursuing higher education in these disciplines, learners can choose what to write about from a wide range of gender issues topics. However, the wide range of issues that learners can research and write about when it comes to gender makes choosing what to write about difficult. Here is a list of the top 100 gender and sexuality topics that students can consider.

Controversial Gender Research Topics

Do you like the idea of writing about something controversial? If yes, this category has some of the best gender topics to write about. They touch on issues like gender stereotypes and issues that are generally associated with members of a specific gender. Here are some of the best controversial gender topics that you can write about.

  • How human behavior is affected by gender misconceptions
  • How are straight marriages influenced by gay marriages
  • Explain the most common sex-role stereotypes
  • What are the effects of workplace stereotypes?
  • What issues affect modern feminism?
  • How sexuality affects sex-role stereotyping
  • How does the media break sex-role stereotypes
  • Explain the dual approach to equality between women and men
  • What are the most outdated sex-role stereotypes
  • Are men better than women?
  • How equal are men and women?
  • How do politics and sexuality relate?
  • How can films defy gender-based stereotypes
  • What are the advantages of being a woman?
  • What are the disadvantages of being a woman?
  • What are the advantages of being a man?
  • Discuss the disadvantages of being a woman
  • Should governments legalize prostitution?
  • Explain how sexual orientation came about?
  • Women communicate better than men
  • Women are the stronger sex
  • Explain how the world can be made better for women
  • Discuss the future gender norms
  • How important are sex roles in society
  • Discuss the transgender and feminism theory
  • How does feminism help in the creation of alternative women’s culture?
  • Gender stereotypes in education and science
  • Discuss racial variations when it comes to gender-related attitudes
  • Women are better leaders
  • Men can’t survive without women

This category also has some of the best gender debate topics. However, learners should be keen to pick topics they are interested in. This will enable them to ensure that they enjoy the research and writing process.

Interesting Gender Inequality Topics

Gender-based inequality is witnessed almost every day. As such, most learners are conversant with gender inequality research paper topics. However, it’s crucial to pick topics that are devoid of discrimination of members of a specific gender. Here are examples of gender inequality essay topics.

  • Sex discrimination aspects in schools
  • How to identify inequality between sexes
  • Sex discrimination causes
  • The inferior role played by women in relationships
  • Discuss sex differences in the education system
  • How can gender discrimination be identified in sports?
  • Can inequality issues between men and women be solved through education?
  • Why are professional opportunities for women in sports limited?
  • Why are there fewer women in leadership positions?
  • Discuss gender inequality when it comes to work-family balance
  • How does gender-based discrimination affect early childhood development?
  • Can sex discrimination be reduced by technology?
  • How can sex discrimination be identified in a marriage?
  • Explain where sex discrimination originates from
  • Discuss segregation and motherhood in labor markets
  • Explain classroom sex discrimination
  • How can inequality in American history be justified?
  • Discuss different types of sex discrimination in modern society
  • Discuss various factors that cause gender-based inequality
  • Discuss inequality in human resource practices and processes
  • Why is inequality between women and men so rampant in developing countries?
  • How can governments bridge gender gaps between women and men?
  • Work-home conflict is a sign of inequality between women and men
  • Explain why women are less wealthy than men
  • How can workplace gender-based inequality be addressed?

After choosing the gender inequality essay topics they like, students should research, brainstorm ideas, and come up with an outline before they start writing. This will ensure that their essays have engaging introductions and convincing bodies, as well as, strong conclusions.

Amazing Gender Roles Topics for Academic Papers and Essays

This category has ideas that slightly differ from gender equality topics. That’s because equality or lack of it can be measured by considering the representation of both genders in different roles. As such, some gender roles essay topics might not require tiresome and extensive research to write about. Nevertheless, learners should take time to gather the necessary information required to write about these topics. Here are some of the best gender topics for discussion when it comes to the roles played by men and women in society.

  • Describe gender identity
  • Describe how a women-dominated society would be
  • Compare gender development theories
  • How equally important are maternity and paternity levees for babies?
  • How can gender-parity be achieved when it comes to parenting?
  • Discuss the issues faced by modern feminism
  • How do men differ from women emotionally?
  • Discuss gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Is investing in the education of girls beneficial?
  • Explain the adoption of gender-role stereotyped behaviors
  • Discuss games and toys for boys and girls
  • Describe patriarchal attitudes in families
  • Explain patriarchal stereotypes in family relationships
  • What roles do women and men play in politics?
  • Discuss sex equity and academic careers
  • Compare military career opportunities for both genders
  • Discuss the perception of women in the military
  • Describe feminine traits
  • Discus gender-related issues faced by women in gaming
  • Men should play major roles in the welfare of their children
  • Explain how the aging population affects the economic welfare of women?
  • What has historically determined modern differences in gender roles?
  • Does society need stereotyped gender roles?
  • Does nature have a role to play in stereotyped gender roles?
  • The development and adoption of gender roles

The list of gender essay topics that are based on the roles of each sex can be quite extensive. Nevertheless, students should be keen to pick interesting gender topics in this category.

Important Gender Issues Topics for Research Paper

If you want to write a paper or essay on an important gender issue, this category has the best ideas for you. Students can write about different issues that affect individuals of different genders. For instance, this category can include gender wage gap essay topics. Wage variation is a common issue that affects women in different countries. Some of the best gender research paper topics in this category include:

  • Discuss gender mainstreaming purpose
  • Discuss the issue of gender-based violence
  • Why is the wage gap so common in most countries?
  • How can society promote equality in opportunities for women and men in sports?
  • Explain what it means to be transgender
  • Discuss the best practices of gender-neutral management
  • What is women’s empowerment?
  • Discuss how human trafficking affects women
  • How problematic is gender-blindness for women?
  • What does the glass ceiling mean in management?
  • Why are women at a higher risk of sexual exploitation and violence?
  • Why is STEM uptake low among women?
  • How does ideology affect the determination of relations between genders
  • How are sporting women fighting for equality?
  • Discuss sports, women, and media institutions
  • How can cities be made safer for girls and women?
  • Discuss international trends in the empowerment of women
  • How do women contribute to the world economy?
  • Explain how feminism on different social relations unites men and women as groups
  • Explain how gender diversity influence scientific discovery and innovation

This category has some of the most interesting women’s and gender studies paper topics. However, most of them require extensive research to come up with hard facts and figures that will make academic papers or essays more interesting.

Students in high schools and colleges can pick what to write about from a wide range of gender studies research topics. However, some gender studies topics might not be ideal for some learners based on the given essay prompt. Therefore, make sure that you have understood what the educator wants you to write about before you pick a topic. Our experts can help you choose a good thesis topic . Choosing the right gender studies topics enables learners to answer the asked questions properly. This impresses educators to award them top grades.

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Open Access

Peer-reviewed

Research Article

Twenty years of gender equality research: A scoping review based on a new semantic indicator

Contributed equally to this work with: Paola Belingheri, Filippo Chiarello, Andrea Fronzetti Colladon, Paola Rovelli

Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell’Energia, dei Sistemi, del Territorio e delle Costruzioni, Università degli Studi di Pisa, Largo L. Lazzarino, Pisa, Italy

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Software, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliations Department of Engineering, University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy, Department of Management, Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland

ORCID logo

Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Faculty of Economics and Management, Centre for Family Business Management, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bozen-Bolzano, Italy

  • Paola Belingheri, 
  • Filippo Chiarello, 
  • Andrea Fronzetti Colladon, 
  • Paola Rovelli

PLOS

  • Published: September 21, 2021
  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256474
  • Reader Comments

9 Nov 2021: The PLOS ONE Staff (2021) Correction: Twenty years of gender equality research: A scoping review based on a new semantic indicator. PLOS ONE 16(11): e0259930. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259930 View correction

Table 1

Gender equality is a major problem that places women at a disadvantage thereby stymieing economic growth and societal advancement. In the last two decades, extensive research has been conducted on gender related issues, studying both their antecedents and consequences. However, existing literature reviews fail to provide a comprehensive and clear picture of what has been studied so far, which could guide scholars in their future research. Our paper offers a scoping review of a large portion of the research that has been published over the last 22 years, on gender equality and related issues, with a specific focus on business and economics studies. Combining innovative methods drawn from both network analysis and text mining, we provide a synthesis of 15,465 scientific articles. We identify 27 main research topics, we measure their relevance from a semantic point of view and the relationships among them, highlighting the importance of each topic in the overall gender discourse. We find that prominent research topics mostly relate to women in the workforce–e.g., concerning compensation, role, education, decision-making and career progression. However, some of them are losing momentum, and some other research trends–for example related to female entrepreneurship, leadership and participation in the board of directors–are on the rise. Besides introducing a novel methodology to review broad literature streams, our paper offers a map of the main gender-research trends and presents the most popular and the emerging themes, as well as their intersections, outlining important avenues for future research.

Citation: Belingheri P, Chiarello F, Fronzetti Colladon A, Rovelli P (2021) Twenty years of gender equality research: A scoping review based on a new semantic indicator. PLoS ONE 16(9): e0256474. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256474

Editor: Elisa Ughetto, Politecnico di Torino, ITALY

Received: June 25, 2021; Accepted: August 6, 2021; Published: September 21, 2021

Copyright: © 2021 Belingheri et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its supporting information files. The only exception is the text of the abstracts (over 15,000) that we have downloaded from Scopus. These abstracts can be retrieved from Scopus, but we do not have permission to redistribute them.

Funding: P.B and F.C.: Grant of the Department of Energy, Systems, Territory and Construction of the University of Pisa (DESTEC) for the project “Measuring Gender Bias with Semantic Analysis: The Development of an Assessment Tool and its Application in the European Space Industry. P.B., F.C., A.F.C., P.R.: Grant of the Italian Association of Management Engineering (AiIG), “Misure di sostegno ai soci giovani AiIG” 2020, for the project “Gender Equality Through Data Intelligence (GEDI)”. F.C.: EU project ASSETs+ Project (Alliance for Strategic Skills addressing Emerging Technologies in Defence) EAC/A03/2018 - Erasmus+ programme, Sector Skills Alliances, Lot 3: Sector Skills Alliance for implementing a new strategic approach (Blueprint) to sectoral cooperation on skills G.A. NUMBER: 612678-EPP-1-2019-1-IT-EPPKA2-SSA-B.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Introduction

The persistent gender inequalities that currently exist across the developed and developing world are receiving increasing attention from economists, policymakers, and the general public [e.g., 1 – 3 ]. Economic studies have indicated that women’s education and entry into the workforce contributes to social and economic well-being [e.g., 4 , 5 ], while their exclusion from the labor market and from managerial positions has an impact on overall labor productivity and income per capita [ 6 , 7 ]. The United Nations selected gender equality, with an emphasis on female education, as part of the Millennium Development Goals [ 8 ], and gender equality at-large as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030 [ 9 ]. These latter objectives involve not only developing nations, but rather all countries, to achieve economic, social and environmental well-being.

As is the case with many SDGs, gender equality is still far from being achieved and persists across education, access to opportunities, or presence in decision-making positions [ 7 , 10 , 11 ]. As we enter the last decade for the SDGs’ implementation, and while we are battling a global health pandemic, effective and efficient action becomes paramount to reach this ambitious goal.

Scholars have dedicated a massive effort towards understanding gender equality, its determinants, its consequences for women and society, and the appropriate actions and policies to advance women’s equality. Many topics have been covered, ranging from women’s education and human capital [ 12 , 13 ] and their role in society [e.g., 14 , 15 ], to their appointment in firms’ top ranked positions [e.g., 16 , 17 ] and performance implications [e.g., 18 , 19 ]. Despite some attempts, extant literature reviews provide a narrow view on these issues, restricted to specific topics–e.g., female students’ presence in STEM fields [ 20 ], educational gender inequality [ 5 ], the gender pay gap [ 21 ], the glass ceiling effect [ 22 ], leadership [ 23 ], entrepreneurship [ 24 ], women’s presence on the board of directors [ 25 , 26 ], diversity management [ 27 ], gender stereotypes in advertisement [ 28 ], or specific professions [ 29 ]. A comprehensive view on gender-related research, taking stock of key findings and under-studied topics is thus lacking.

Extant literature has also highlighted that gender issues, and their economic and social ramifications, are complex topics that involve a large number of possible antecedents and outcomes [ 7 ]. Indeed, gender equality actions are most effective when implemented in unison with other SDGs (e.g., with SDG 8, see [ 30 ]) in a synergetic perspective [ 10 ]. Many bodies of literature (e.g., business, economics, development studies, sociology and psychology) approach the problem of achieving gender equality from different perspectives–often addressing specific and narrow aspects. This sometimes leads to a lack of clarity about how different issues, circumstances, and solutions may be related in precipitating or mitigating gender inequality or its effects. As the number of papers grows at an increasing pace, this issue is exacerbated and there is a need to step back and survey the body of gender equality literature as a whole. There is also a need to examine synergies between different topics and approaches, as well as gaps in our understanding of how different problems and solutions work together. Considering the important topic of women’s economic and social empowerment, this paper aims to fill this gap by answering the following research question: what are the most relevant findings in the literature on gender equality and how do they relate to each other ?

To do so, we conduct a scoping review [ 31 ], providing a synthesis of 15,465 articles dealing with gender equity related issues published in the last twenty-two years, covering both the periods of the MDGs and the SDGs (i.e., 2000 to mid 2021) in all the journals indexed in the Academic Journal Guide’s 2018 ranking of business and economics journals. Given the huge amount of research conducted on the topic, we adopt an innovative methodology, which relies on social network analysis and text mining. These techniques are increasingly adopted when surveying large bodies of text. Recently, they were applied to perform analysis of online gender communication differences [ 32 ] and gender behaviors in online technology communities [ 33 ], to identify and classify sexual harassment instances in academia [ 34 ], and to evaluate the gender inclusivity of disaster management policies [ 35 ].

Applied to the title, abstracts and keywords of the articles in our sample, this methodology allows us to identify a set of 27 recurrent topics within which we automatically classify the papers. Introducing additional novelty, by means of the Semantic Brand Score (SBS) indicator [ 36 ] and the SBS BI app [ 37 ], we assess the importance of each topic in the overall gender equality discourse and its relationships with the other topics, as well as trends over time, with a more accurate description than that offered by traditional literature reviews relying solely on the number of papers presented in each topic.

This methodology, applied to gender equality research spanning the past twenty-two years, enables two key contributions. First, we extract the main message that each document is conveying and how this is connected to other themes in literature, providing a rich picture of the topics that are at the center of the discourse, as well as of the emerging topics. Second, by examining the semantic relationship between topics and how tightly their discourses are linked, we can identify the key relationships and connections between different topics. This semi-automatic methodology is also highly reproducible with minimum effort.

This literature review is organized as follows. In the next section, we present how we selected relevant papers and how we analyzed them through text mining and social network analysis. We then illustrate the importance of 27 selected research topics, measured by means of the SBS indicator. In the results section, we present an overview of the literature based on the SBS results–followed by an in-depth narrative analysis of the top 10 topics (i.e., those with the highest SBS) and their connections. Subsequently, we highlight a series of under-studied connections between the topics where there is potential for future research. Through this analysis, we build a map of the main gender-research trends in the last twenty-two years–presenting the most popular themes. We conclude by highlighting key areas on which research should focused in the future.

Our aim is to map a broad topic, gender equality research, that has been approached through a host of different angles and through different disciplines. Scoping reviews are the most appropriate as they provide the freedom to map different themes and identify literature gaps, thereby guiding the recommendation of new research agendas [ 38 ].

Several practical approaches have been proposed to identify and assess the underlying topics of a specific field using big data [ 39 – 41 ], but many of them fail without proper paper retrieval and text preprocessing. This is specifically true for a research field such as the gender-related one, which comprises the work of scholars from different backgrounds. In this section, we illustrate a novel approach for the analysis of scientific (gender-related) papers that relies on methods and tools of social network analysis and text mining. Our procedure has four main steps: (1) data collection, (2) text preprocessing, (3) keywords extraction and classification, and (4) evaluation of semantic importance and image.

Data collection

In this study, we analyze 22 years of literature on gender-related research. Following established practice for scoping reviews [ 42 ], our data collection consisted of two main steps, which we summarize here below.

Firstly, we retrieved from the Scopus database all the articles written in English that contained the term “gender” in their title, abstract or keywords and were published in a journal listed in the Academic Journal Guide 2018 ranking of the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) ( https://charteredabs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/AJG2018-Methodology.pdf ), considering the time period from Jan 2000 to May 2021. We used this information considering that abstracts, titles and keywords represent the most informative part of a paper, while using the full-text would increase the signal-to-noise ratio for information extraction. Indeed, these textual elements already demonstrated to be reliable sources of information for the task of domain lexicon extraction [ 43 , 44 ]. We chose Scopus as source of literature because of its popularity, its update rate, and because it offers an API to ease the querying process. Indeed, while it does not allow to retrieve the full text of scientific articles, the Scopus API offers access to titles, abstracts, citation information and metadata for all its indexed scholarly journals. Moreover, we decided to focus on the journals listed in the AJG 2018 ranking because we were interested in reviewing business and economics related gender studies only. The AJG is indeed widely used by universities and business schools as a reference point for journal and research rigor and quality. This first step, executed in June 2021, returned more than 55,000 papers.

In the second step–because a look at the papers showed very sparse results, many of which were not in line with the topic of this literature review (e.g., papers dealing with health care or medical issues, where the word gender indicates the gender of the patients)–we applied further inclusion criteria to make the sample more focused on the topic of this literature review (i.e., women’s gender equality issues). Specifically, we only retained those papers mentioning, in their title and/or abstract, both gender-related keywords (e.g., daughter, female, mother) and keywords referring to bias and equality issues (e.g., equality, bias, diversity, inclusion). After text pre-processing (see next section), keywords were first identified from a frequency-weighted list of words found in the titles, abstracts and keywords in the initial list of papers, extracted through text mining (following the same approach as [ 43 ]). They were selected by two of the co-authors independently, following respectively a bottom up and a top-down approach. The bottom-up approach consisted of examining the words found in the frequency-weighted list and classifying those related to gender and equality. The top-down approach consisted in searching in the word list for notable gender and equality-related words. Table 1 reports the sets of keywords we considered, together with some examples of words that were used to search for their presence in the dataset (a full list is provided in the S1 Text ). At end of this second step, we obtained a final sample of 15,465 relevant papers.

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https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256474.t001

Text processing and keyword extraction

Text preprocessing aims at structuring text into a form that can be analyzed by statistical models. In the present section, we describe the preprocessing steps we applied to paper titles and abstracts, which, as explained below, partially follow a standard text preprocessing pipeline [ 45 ]. These activities have been performed using the R package udpipe [ 46 ].

The first step is n-gram extraction (i.e., a sequence of words from a given text sample) to identify which n-grams are important in the analysis, since domain-specific lexicons are often composed by bi-grams and tri-grams [ 47 ]. Multi-word extraction is usually implemented with statistics and linguistic rules, thus using the statistical properties of n-grams or machine learning approaches [ 48 ]. However, for the present paper, we used Scopus metadata in order to have a more effective and efficient n-grams collection approach [ 49 ]. We used the keywords of each paper in order to tag n-grams with their associated keywords automatically. Using this greedy approach, it was possible to collect all the keywords listed by the authors of the papers. From this list, we extracted only keywords composed by two, three and four words, we removed all the acronyms and rare keywords (i.e., appearing in less than 1% of papers), and we clustered keywords showing a high orthographic similarity–measured using a Levenshtein distance [ 50 ] lower than 2, considering these groups of keywords as representing same concepts, but expressed with different spelling. After tagging the n-grams in the abstracts, we followed a common data preparation pipeline that consists of the following steps: (i) tokenization, that splits the text into tokens (i.e., single words and previously tagged multi-words); (ii) removal of stop-words (i.e. those words that add little meaning to the text, usually being very common and short functional words–such as “and”, “or”, or “of”); (iii) parts-of-speech tagging, that is providing information concerning the morphological role of a word and its morphosyntactic context (e.g., if the token is a determiner, the next token is a noun or an adjective with very high confidence, [ 51 ]); and (iv) lemmatization, which consists in substituting each word with its dictionary form (or lemma). The output of the latter step allows grouping together the inflected forms of a word. For example, the verbs “am”, “are”, and “is” have the shared lemma “be”, or the nouns “cat” and “cats” both share the lemma “cat”. We preferred lemmatization over stemming [ 52 ] in order to obtain more interpretable results.

In addition, we identified a further set of keywords (with respect to those listed in the “keywords” field) by applying a series of automatic words unification and removal steps, as suggested in past research [ 53 , 54 ]. We removed: sparse terms (i.e., occurring in less than 0.1% of all documents), common terms (i.e., occurring in more than 10% of all documents) and retained only nouns and adjectives. It is relevant to notice that no document was lost due to these steps. We then used the TF-IDF function [ 55 ] to produce a new list of keywords. We additionally tested other approaches for the identification and clustering of keywords–such as TextRank [ 56 ] or Latent Dirichlet Allocation [ 57 ]–without obtaining more informative results.

Classification of research topics

To guide the literature analysis, two experts met regularly to examine the sample of collected papers and to identify the main topics and trends in gender research. Initially, they conducted brainstorming sessions on the topics they expected to find, due to their knowledge of the literature. This led to an initial list of topics. Subsequently, the experts worked independently, also supported by the keywords in paper titles and abstracts extracted with the procedure described above.

Considering all this information, each expert identified and clustered relevant keywords into topics. At the end of the process, the two assignments were compared and exhibited a 92% agreement. Another meeting was held to discuss discordant cases and reach a consensus. This resulted in a list of 27 topics, briefly introduced in Table 2 and subsequently detailed in the following sections.

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Evaluation of semantic importance

Working on the lemmatized corpus of the 15,465 papers included in our sample, we proceeded with the evaluation of semantic importance trends for each topic and with the analysis of their connections and prevalent textual associations. To this aim, we used the Semantic Brand Score indicator [ 36 ], calculated through the SBS BI webapp [ 37 ] that also produced a brand image report for each topic. For this study we relied on the computing resources of the ENEA/CRESCO infrastructure [ 58 ].

The Semantic Brand Score (SBS) is a measure of semantic importance that combines methods of social network analysis and text mining. It is usually applied for the analysis of (big) textual data to evaluate the importance of one or more brands, names, words, or sets of keywords [ 36 ]. Indeed, the concept of “brand” is intended in a flexible way and goes beyond products or commercial brands. In this study, we evaluate the SBS time-trends of the keywords defining the research topics discussed in the previous section. Semantic importance comprises the three dimensions of topic prevalence, diversity and connectivity. Prevalence measures how frequently a research topic is used in the discourse. The more a topic is mentioned by scientific articles, the more the research community will be aware of it, with possible increase of future studies; this construct is partly related to that of brand awareness [ 59 ]. This effect is even stronger, considering that we are analyzing the title, abstract and keywords of the papers, i.e. the parts that have the highest visibility. A very important characteristic of the SBS is that it considers the relationships among words in a text. Topic importance is not just a matter of how frequently a topic is mentioned, but also of the associations a topic has in the text. Specifically, texts are transformed into networks of co-occurring words, and relationships are studied through social network analysis [ 60 ]. This step is necessary to calculate the other two dimensions of our semantic importance indicator. Accordingly, a social network of words is generated for each time period considered in the analysis–i.e., a graph made of n nodes (words) and E edges weighted by co-occurrence frequency, with W being the set of edge weights. The keywords representing each topic were clustered into single nodes.

The construct of diversity relates to that of brand image [ 59 ], in the sense that it considers the richness and distinctiveness of textual (topic) associations. Considering the above-mentioned networks, we calculated diversity using the distinctiveness centrality metric–as in the formula presented by Fronzetti Colladon and Naldi [ 61 ].

Lastly, connectivity was measured as the weighted betweenness centrality [ 62 , 63 ] of each research topic node. We used the formula presented by Wasserman and Faust [ 60 ]. The dimension of connectivity represents the “brokerage power” of each research topic–i.e., how much it can serve as a bridge to connect other terms (and ultimately topics) in the discourse [ 36 ].

The SBS is the final composite indicator obtained by summing the standardized scores of prevalence, diversity and connectivity. Standardization was carried out considering all the words in the corpus, for each specific timeframe.

This methodology, applied to a large and heterogeneous body of text, enables to automatically identify two important sets of information that add value to the literature review. Firstly, the relevance of each topic in literature is measured through a composite indicator of semantic importance, rather than simply looking at word frequencies. This provides a much richer picture of the topics that are at the center of the discourse, as well as of the topics that are emerging in the literature. Secondly, it enables to examine the extent of the semantic relationship between topics, looking at how tightly their discourses are linked. In a field such as gender equality, where many topics are closely linked to each other and present overlaps in issues and solutions, this methodology offers a novel perspective with respect to traditional literature reviews. In addition, it ensures reproducibility over time and the possibility to semi-automatically update the analysis, as new papers become available.

Overview of main topics

In terms of descriptive textual statistics, our corpus is made of 15,465 text documents, consisting of a total of 2,685,893 lemmatized tokens (words) and 32,279 types. As a result, the type-token ratio is 1.2%. The number of hapaxes is 12,141, with a hapax-token ratio of 37.61%.

Fig 1 shows the list of 27 topics by decreasing SBS. The most researched topic is compensation , exceeding all others in prevalence, diversity, and connectivity. This means it is not only mentioned more often than other topics, but it is also connected to a greater number of other topics and is central to the discourse on gender equality. The next four topics are, in order of SBS, role , education , decision-making , and career progression . These topics, except for education , all concern women in the workforce. Between these first five topics and the following ones there is a clear drop in SBS scores. In particular, the topics that follow have a lower connectivity than the first five. They are hiring , performance , behavior , organization , and human capital . Again, except for behavior and human capital , the other three topics are purely related to women in the workforce. After another drop-off, the following topics deal prevalently with women in society. This trend highlights that research on gender in business journals has so far mainly paid attention to the conditions that women experience in business contexts, while also devoting some attention to women in society.

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Fig 2 shows the SBS time series of the top 10 topics. While there has been a general increase in the number of Scopus-indexed publications in the last decade, we notice that some SBS trends remain steady, or even decrease. In particular, we observe that the main topic of the last twenty-two years, compensation , is losing momentum. Since 2016, it has been surpassed by decision-making , education and role , which may indicate that literature is increasingly attempting to identify root causes of compensation inequalities. Moreover, in the last two years, the topics of hiring , performance , and organization are experiencing the largest importance increase.

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Fig 3 shows the SBS time trends of the remaining 17 topics (i.e., those not in the top 10). As we can see from the graph, there are some that maintain a steady trend–such as reputation , management , networks and governance , which also seem to have little importance. More relevant topics with average stationary trends (except for the last two years) are culture , family , and parenting . The feminine topic is among the most important here, and one of those that exhibit the larger variations over time (similarly to leadership ). On the other hand, the are some topics that, even if not among the most important, show increasing SBS trends; therefore, they could be considered as emerging topics and could become popular in the near future. These are entrepreneurship , leadership , board of directors , and sustainability . These emerging topics are also interesting to anticipate future trends in gender equality research that are conducive to overall equality in society.

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In addition to the SBS score of the different topics, the network of terms they are associated to enables to gauge the extent to which their images (textual associations) overlap or differ ( Fig 4 ).

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There is a central cluster of topics with high similarity, which are all connected with women in the workforce. The cluster includes topics such as organization , decision-making , performance , hiring , human capital , education and compensation . In addition, the topic of well-being is found within this cluster, suggesting that women’s equality in the workforce is associated to well-being considerations. The emerging topics of entrepreneurship and leadership are also closely connected with each other, possibly implying that leadership is a much-researched quality in female entrepreneurship. Topics that are relatively more distant include personality , politics , feminine , empowerment , management , board of directors , reputation , governance , parenting , masculine and network .

The following sections describe the top 10 topics and their main associations in literature (see Table 3 ), while providing a brief overview of the emerging topics.

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https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256474.t003

Compensation.

The topic of compensation is related to the topics of role , hiring , education and career progression , however, also sees a very high association with the words gap and inequality . Indeed, a well-known debate in degrowth economics centers around whether and how to adequately compensate women for their childbearing, childrearing, caregiver and household work [e.g., 30 ].

Even in paid work, women continue being offered lower compensations than their male counterparts who have the same job or cover the same role [ 64 – 67 ]. This severe inequality has been widely studied by scholars over the last twenty-two years. Dealing with this topic, some specific roles have been addressed. Specifically, research highlighted differences in compensation between female and male CEOs [e.g., 68 ], top executives [e.g., 69 ], and boards’ directors [e.g., 70 ]. Scholars investigated the determinants of these gaps, such as the gender composition of the board [e.g., 71 – 73 ] or women’s individual characteristics [e.g., 71 , 74 ].

Among these individual characteristics, education plays a relevant role [ 75 ]. Education is indeed presented as the solution for women, not only to achieve top executive roles, but also to reduce wage inequality [e.g., 76 , 77 ]. Past research has highlighted education influences on gender wage gaps, specifically referring to gender differences in skills [e.g., 78 ], college majors [e.g., 79 ], and college selectivity [e.g., 80 ].

Finally, the wage gap issue is strictly interrelated with hiring –e.g., looking at whether being a mother affects hiring and compensation [e.g., 65 , 81 ] or relating compensation to unemployment [e.g., 82 ]–and career progression –for instance looking at meritocracy [ 83 , 84 ] or the characteristics of the boss for whom women work [e.g., 85 ].

The roles covered by women have been deeply investigated. Scholars have focused on the role of women in their families and the society as a whole [e.g., 14 , 15 ], and, more widely, in business contexts [e.g., 18 , 81 ]. Indeed, despite still lagging behind their male counterparts [e.g., 86 , 87 ], in the last decade there has been an increase in top ranked positions achieved by women [e.g., 88 , 89 ]. Following this phenomenon, scholars have posed greater attention towards the presence of women in the board of directors [e.g., 16 , 18 , 90 , 91 ], given the increasing pressure to appoint female directors that firms, especially listed ones, have experienced. Other scholars have focused on the presence of women covering the role of CEO [e.g., 17 , 92 ] or being part of the top management team [e.g., 93 ]. Irrespectively of the level of analysis, all these studies tried to uncover the antecedents of women’s presence among top managers [e.g., 92 , 94 ] and the consequences of having a them involved in the firm’s decision-making –e.g., on performance [e.g., 19 , 95 , 96 ], risk [e.g., 97 , 98 ], and corporate social responsibility [e.g., 99 , 100 ].

Besides studying the difficulties and discriminations faced by women in getting a job [ 81 , 101 ], and, more specifically in the hiring , appointment, or career progression to these apical roles [e.g., 70 , 83 ], the majority of research of women’s roles dealt with compensation issues. Specifically, scholars highlight the pay-gap that still exists between women and men, both in general [e.g., 64 , 65 ], as well as referring to boards’ directors [e.g., 70 , 102 ], CEOs and executives [e.g., 69 , 103 , 104 ].

Finally, other scholars focused on the behavior of women when dealing with business. In this sense, particular attention has been paid to leadership and entrepreneurial behaviors. The former quite overlaps with dealing with the roles mentioned above, but also includes aspects such as leaders being stereotyped as masculine [e.g., 105 ], the need for greater exposure to female leaders to reduce biases [e.g., 106 ], or female leaders acting as queen bees [e.g., 107 ]. Regarding entrepreneurship , scholars mainly investigated women’s entrepreneurial entry [e.g., 108 , 109 ], differences between female and male entrepreneurs in the evaluations and funding received from investors [e.g., 110 , 111 ], and their performance gap [e.g., 112 , 113 ].

Education has long been recognized as key to social advancement and economic stability [ 114 ], for job progression and also a barrier to gender equality, especially in STEM-related fields. Research on education and gender equality is mostly linked with the topics of compensation , human capital , career progression , hiring , parenting and decision-making .

Education contributes to a higher human capital [ 115 ] and constitutes an investment on the part of women towards their future. In this context, literature points to the gender gap in educational attainment, and the consequences for women from a social, economic, personal and professional standpoint. Women are found to have less access to formal education and information, especially in emerging countries, which in turn may cause them to lose social and economic opportunities [e.g., 12 , 116 – 119 ]. Education in local and rural communities is also paramount to communicate the benefits of female empowerment , contributing to overall societal well-being [e.g., 120 ].

Once women access education, the image they have of the world and their place in society (i.e., habitus) affects their education performance [ 13 ] and is passed on to their children. These situations reinforce gender stereotypes, which become self-fulfilling prophecies that may negatively affect female students’ performance by lowering their confidence and heightening their anxiety [ 121 , 122 ]. Besides formal education, also the information that women are exposed to on a daily basis contributes to their human capital . Digital inequalities, for instance, stems from men spending more time online and acquiring higher digital skills than women [ 123 ].

Education is also a factor that should boost employability of candidates and thus hiring , career progression and compensation , however the relationship between these factors is not straightforward [ 115 ]. First, educational choices ( decision-making ) are influenced by variables such as self-efficacy and the presence of barriers, irrespectively of the career opportunities they offer, especially in STEM [ 124 ]. This brings additional difficulties to women’s enrollment and persistence in scientific and technical fields of study due to stereotypes and biases [ 125 , 126 ]. Moreover, access to education does not automatically translate into job opportunities for women and minority groups [ 127 , 128 ] or into female access to managerial positions [ 129 ].

Finally, parenting is reported as an antecedent of education [e.g., 130 ], with much of the literature focusing on the role of parents’ education on the opportunities afforded to children to enroll in education [ 131 – 134 ] and the role of parenting in their offspring’s perception of study fields and attitudes towards learning [ 135 – 138 ]. Parental education is also a predictor of the other related topics, namely human capital and compensation [ 139 ].

Decision-making.

This literature mainly points to the fact that women are thought to make decisions differently than men. Women have indeed different priorities, such as they care more about people’s well-being, working with people or helping others, rather than maximizing their personal (or their firm’s) gain [ 140 ]. In other words, women typically present more communal than agentic behaviors, which are instead more frequent among men [ 141 ]. These different attitude, behavior and preferences in turn affect the decisions they make [e.g., 142 ] and the decision-making of the firm in which they work [e.g., 143 ].

At the individual level, gender affects, for instance, career aspirations [e.g., 144 ] and choices [e.g., 142 , 145 ], or the decision of creating a venture [e.g., 108 , 109 , 146 ]. Moreover, in everyday life, women and men make different decisions regarding partners [e.g., 147 ], childcare [e.g., 148 ], education [e.g., 149 ], attention to the environment [e.g., 150 ] and politics [e.g., 151 ].

At the firm level, scholars highlighted, for example, how the presence of women in the board affects corporate decisions [e.g., 152 , 153 ], that female CEOs are more conservative in accounting decisions [e.g., 154 ], or that female CFOs tend to make more conservative decisions regarding the firm’s financial reporting [e.g., 155 ]. Nevertheless, firm level research also investigated decisions that, influenced by gender bias, affect women, such as those pertaining hiring [e.g., 156 , 157 ], compensation [e.g., 73 , 158 ], or the empowerment of women once appointed [ 159 ].

Career progression.

Once women have entered the workforce, the key aspect to achieve gender equality becomes career progression , including efforts toward overcoming the glass ceiling. Indeed, according to the SBS analysis, career progression is highly related to words such as work, social issues and equality. The topic with which it has the highest semantic overlap is role , followed by decision-making , hiring , education , compensation , leadership , human capital , and family .

Career progression implies an advancement in the hierarchical ladder of the firm, assigning managerial roles to women. Coherently, much of the literature has focused on identifying rationales for a greater female participation in the top management team and board of directors [e.g., 95 ] as well as the best criteria to ensure that the decision-makers promote the most valuable employees irrespectively of their individual characteristics, such as gender [e.g., 84 ]. The link between career progression , role and compensation is often provided in practice by performance appraisal exercises, frequently rooted in a culture of meritocracy that guides bonuses, salary increases and promotions. However, performance appraisals can actually mask gender-biased decisions where women are held to higher standards than their male colleagues [e.g., 83 , 84 , 95 , 160 , 161 ]. Women often have less opportunities to gain leadership experience and are less visible than their male colleagues, which constitute barriers to career advancement [e.g., 162 ]. Therefore, transparency and accountability, together with procedures that discourage discretionary choices, are paramount to achieve a fair career progression [e.g., 84 ], together with the relaxation of strict job boundaries in favor of cross-functional and self-directed tasks [e.g., 163 ].

In addition, a series of stereotypes about the type of leadership characteristics that are required for top management positions, which fit better with typical male and agentic attributes, are another key barrier to career advancement for women [e.g., 92 , 160 ].

Hiring is the entrance gateway for women into the workforce. Therefore, it is related to other workforce topics such as compensation , role , career progression , decision-making , human capital , performance , organization and education .

A first stream of literature focuses on the process leading up to candidates’ job applications, demonstrating that bias exists before positions are even opened, and it is perpetuated both by men and women through networking and gatekeeping practices [e.g., 164 , 165 ].

The hiring process itself is also subject to biases [ 166 ], for example gender-congruity bias that leads to men being preferred candidates in male-dominated sectors [e.g., 167 ], women being hired in positions with higher risk of failure [e.g., 168 ] and limited transparency and accountability afforded by written processes and procedures [e.g., 164 ] that all contribute to ascriptive inequality. In addition, providing incentives for evaluators to hire women may actually work to this end; however, this is not the case when supporting female candidates endangers higher-ranking male ones [ 169 ].

Another interesting perspective, instead, looks at top management teams’ composition and the effects on hiring practices, indicating that firms with more women in top management are less likely to lay off staff [e.g., 152 ].

Performance.

Several scholars posed their attention towards women’s performance, its consequences [e.g., 170 , 171 ] and the implications of having women in decision-making positions [e.g., 18 , 19 ].

At the individual level, research focused on differences in educational and academic performance between women and men, especially referring to the gender gap in STEM fields [e.g., 171 ]. The presence of stereotype threats–that is the expectation that the members of a social group (e.g., women) “must deal with the possibility of being judged or treated stereotypically, or of doing something that would confirm the stereotype” [ 172 ]–affects women’s interested in STEM [e.g., 173 ], as well as their cognitive ability tests, penalizing them [e.g., 174 ]. A stronger gender identification enhances this gap [e.g., 175 ], whereas mentoring and role models can be used as solutions to this problem [e.g., 121 ]. Despite the negative effect of stereotype threats on girls’ performance [ 176 ], female and male students perform equally in mathematics and related subjects [e.g., 177 ]. Moreover, while individuals’ performance at school and university generally affects their achievements and the field in which they end up working, evidence reveals that performance in math or other scientific subjects does not explain why fewer women enter STEM working fields; rather this gap depends on other aspects, such as culture, past working experiences, or self-efficacy [e.g., 170 ]. Finally, scholars have highlighted the penalization that women face for their positive performance, for instance when they succeed in traditionally male areas [e.g., 178 ]. This penalization is explained by the violation of gender-stereotypic prescriptions [e.g., 179 , 180 ], that is having women well performing in agentic areas, which are typical associated to men. Performance penalization can thus be overcome by clearly conveying communal characteristics and behaviors [ 178 ].

Evidence has been provided on how the involvement of women in boards of directors and decision-making positions affects firms’ performance. Nevertheless, results are mixed, with some studies showing positive effects on financial [ 19 , 181 , 182 ] and corporate social performance [ 99 , 182 , 183 ]. Other studies maintain a negative association [e.g., 18 ], and other again mixed [e.g., 184 ] or non-significant association [e.g., 185 ]. Also with respect to the presence of a female CEO, mixed results emerged so far, with some researches demonstrating a positive effect on firm’s performance [e.g., 96 , 186 ], while other obtaining only a limited evidence of this relationship [e.g., 103 ] or a negative one [e.g., 187 ].

Finally, some studies have investigated whether and how women’s performance affects their hiring [e.g., 101 ] and career progression [e.g., 83 , 160 ]. For instance, academic performance leads to different returns in hiring for women and men. Specifically, high-achieving men are called back significantly more often than high-achieving women, which are penalized when they have a major in mathematics; this result depends on employers’ gendered standards for applicants [e.g., 101 ]. Once appointed, performance ratings are more strongly related to promotions for women than men, and promoted women typically show higher past performance ratings than those of promoted men. This suggesting that women are subject to stricter standards for promotion [e.g., 160 ].

Behavioral aspects related to gender follow two main streams of literature. The first examines female personality and behavior in the workplace, and their alignment with cultural expectations or stereotypes [e.g., 188 ] as well as their impacts on equality. There is a common bias that depicts women as less agentic than males. Certain characteristics, such as those more congruent with male behaviors–e.g., self-promotion [e.g., 189 ], negotiation skills [e.g., 190 ] and general agentic behavior [e.g., 191 ]–, are less accepted in women. However, characteristics such as individualism in women have been found to promote greater gender equality in society [ 192 ]. In addition, behaviors such as display of emotions [e.g., 193 ], which are stereotypically female, work against women’s acceptance in the workplace, requiring women to carefully moderate their behavior to avoid exclusion. A counter-intuitive result is that women and minorities, which are more marginalized in the workplace, tend to be better problem-solvers in innovation competitions due to their different knowledge bases [ 194 ].

The other side of the coin is examined in a parallel literature stream on behavior towards women in the workplace. As a result of biases, prejudices and stereotypes, women may experience adverse behavior from their colleagues, such as incivility and harassment, which undermine their well-being [e.g., 195 , 196 ]. Biases that go beyond gender, such as for overweight people, are also more strongly applied to women [ 197 ].

Organization.

The role of women and gender bias in organizations has been studied from different perspectives, which mirror those presented in detail in the following sections. Specifically, most research highlighted the stereotypical view of leaders [e.g., 105 ] and the roles played by women within firms, for instance referring to presence in the board of directors [e.g., 18 , 90 , 91 ], appointment as CEOs [e.g., 16 ], or top executives [e.g., 93 ].

Scholars have investigated antecedents and consequences of the presence of women in these apical roles. On the one side they looked at hiring and career progression [e.g., 83 , 92 , 160 , 168 , 198 ], finding women typically disadvantaged with respect to their male counterparts. On the other side, they studied women’s leadership styles and influence on the firm’s decision-making [e.g., 152 , 154 , 155 , 199 ], with implications for performance [e.g., 18 , 19 , 96 ].

Human capital.

Human capital is a transverse topic that touches upon many different aspects of female gender equality. As such, it has the most associations with other topics, starting with education as mentioned above, with career-related topics such as role , decision-making , hiring , career progression , performance , compensation , leadership and organization . Another topic with which there is a close connection is behavior . In general, human capital is approached both from the education standpoint but also from the perspective of social capital.

The behavioral aspect in human capital comprises research related to gender differences for example in cultural and religious beliefs that influence women’s attitudes and perceptions towards STEM subjects [ 142 , 200 – 202 ], towards employment [ 203 ] or towards environmental issues [ 150 , 204 ]. These cultural differences also emerge in the context of globalization which may accelerate gender equality in the workforce [ 205 , 206 ]. Gender differences also appear in behaviors such as motivation [ 207 ], and in negotiation [ 190 ], and have repercussions on women’s decision-making related to their careers. The so-called gender equality paradox sees women in countries with lower gender equality more likely to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields, whereas the gap in STEM enrollment widens as countries achieve greater equality in society [ 171 ].

Career progression is modeled by literature as a choice-process where personal preferences, culture and decision-making affect the chosen path and the outcomes. Some literature highlights how women tend to self-select into different professions than men, often due to stereotypes rather than actual ability to perform in these professions [ 142 , 144 ]. These stereotypes also affect the perceptions of female performance or the amount of human capital required to equal male performance [ 110 , 193 , 208 ], particularly for mothers [ 81 ]. It is therefore often assumed that women are better suited to less visible and less leadership -oriented roles [ 209 ]. Women also express differing preferences towards work-family balance, which affect whether and how they pursue human capital gains [ 210 ], and ultimately their career progression and salary .

On the other hand, men are often unaware of gendered processes and behaviors that they carry forward in their interactions and decision-making [ 211 , 212 ]. Therefore, initiatives aimed at increasing managers’ human capital –by raising awareness of gender disparities in their organizations and engaging them in diversity promotion–are essential steps to counter gender bias and segregation [ 213 ].

Emerging topics: Leadership and entrepreneurship

Among the emerging topics, the most pervasive one is women reaching leadership positions in the workforce and in society. This is still a rare occurrence for two main types of factors, on the one hand, bias and discrimination make it harder for women to access leadership positions [e.g., 214 – 216 ], on the other hand, the competitive nature and high pressure associated with leadership positions, coupled with the lack of women currently represented, reduce women’s desire to achieve them [e.g., 209 , 217 ]. Women are more effective leaders when they have access to education, resources and a diverse environment with representation [e.g., 218 , 219 ].

One sector where there is potential for women to carve out a leadership role is entrepreneurship . Although at the start of the millennium the discourse on entrepreneurship was found to be “discriminatory, gender-biased, ethnocentrically determined and ideologically controlled” [ 220 ], an increasing body of literature is studying how to stimulate female entrepreneurship as an alternative pathway to wealth, leadership and empowerment [e.g., 221 ]. Many barriers exist for women to access entrepreneurship, including the institutional and legal environment, social and cultural factors, access to knowledge and resources, and individual behavior [e.g., 222 , 223 ]. Education has been found to raise women’s entrepreneurial intentions [e.g., 224 ], although this effect is smaller than for men [e.g., 109 ]. In addition, increasing self-efficacy and risk-taking behavior constitute important success factors [e.g., 225 ].

Finally, the topic of sustainability is worth mentioning, as it is the primary objective of the SDGs and is closely associated with societal well-being. As society grapples with the effects of climate change and increasing depletion of natural resources, a narrative has emerged on women and their greater link to the environment [ 226 ]. Studies in developed countries have found some support for women leaders’ attention to sustainability issues in firms [e.g., 227 – 229 ], and smaller resource consumption by women [ 230 ]. At the same time, women will likely be more affected by the consequences of climate change [e.g., 230 ] but often lack the decision-making power to influence local decision-making on resource management and environmental policies [e.g., 231 ].

Research gaps and conclusions

Research on gender equality has advanced rapidly in the past decades, with a steady increase in publications, both in mainstream topics related to women in education and the workforce, and in emerging topics. Through a novel approach combining methods of text mining and social network analysis, we examined a comprehensive body of literature comprising 15,465 papers published between 2000 and mid 2021 on topics related to gender equality. We identified a set of 27 topics addressed by the literature and examined their connections.

At the highest level of abstraction, it is worth noting that papers abound on the identification of issues related to gender inequalities and imbalances in the workforce and in society. Literature has thoroughly examined the (unconscious) biases, barriers, stereotypes, and discriminatory behaviors that women are facing as a result of their gender. Instead, there are much fewer papers that discuss or demonstrate effective solutions to overcome gender bias [e.g., 121 , 143 , 145 , 163 , 194 , 213 , 232 ]. This is partly due to the relative ease in studying the status quo, as opposed to studying changes in the status quo. However, we observed a shift in the more recent years towards solution seeking in this domain, which we strongly encourage future researchers to focus on. In the future, we may focus on collecting and mapping pro-active contributions to gender studies, using additional Natural Language Processing techniques, able to measure the sentiment of scientific papers [ 43 ].

All of the mainstream topics identified in our literature review are closely related, and there is a wealth of insights looking at the intersection between issues such as education and career progression or human capital and role . However, emerging topics are worthy of being furtherly explored. It would be interesting to see more work on the topic of female entrepreneurship , exploring aspects such as education , personality , governance , management and leadership . For instance, how can education support female entrepreneurship? How can self-efficacy and risk-taking behaviors be taught or enhanced? What are the differences in managerial and governance styles of female entrepreneurs? Which personality traits are associated with successful entrepreneurs? Which traits are preferred by venture capitalists and funding bodies?

The emerging topic of sustainability also deserves further attention, as our society struggles with climate change and its consequences. It would be interesting to see more research on the intersection between sustainability and entrepreneurship , looking at how female entrepreneurs are tackling sustainability issues, examining both their business models and their company governance . In addition, scholars are suggested to dig deeper into the relationship between family values and behaviors.

Moreover, it would be relevant to understand how women’s networks (social capital), or the composition and structure of social networks involving both women and men, enable them to increase their remuneration and reach top corporate positions, participate in key decision-making bodies, and have a voice in communities. Furthermore, the achievement of gender equality might significantly change firm networks and ecosystems, with important implications for their performance and survival.

Similarly, research at the nexus of (corporate) governance , career progression , compensation and female empowerment could yield useful insights–for example discussing how enterprises, institutions and countries are managed and the impact for women and other minorities. Are there specific governance structures that favor diversity and inclusion?

Lastly, we foresee an emerging stream of research pertaining how the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic challenged women, especially in the workforce, by making gender biases more evident.

For our analysis, we considered a set of 15,465 articles downloaded from the Scopus database (which is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature). As we were interested in reviewing business and economics related gender studies, we only considered those papers published in journals listed in the Academic Journal Guide (AJG) 2018 ranking of the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS). All the journals listed in this ranking are also indexed by Scopus. Therefore, looking at a single database (i.e., Scopus) should not be considered a limitation of our study. However, future research could consider different databases and inclusion criteria.

With our literature review, we offer researchers a comprehensive map of major gender-related research trends over the past twenty-two years. This can serve as a lens to look to the future, contributing to the achievement of SDG5. Researchers may use our study as a starting point to identify key themes addressed in the literature. In addition, our methodological approach–based on the use of the Semantic Brand Score and its webapp–could support scholars interested in reviewing other areas of research.

Supporting information

S1 text. keywords used for paper selection..

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256474.s001

Acknowledgments

The computing resources and the related technical support used for this work have been provided by CRESCO/ENEAGRID High Performance Computing infrastructure and its staff. CRESCO/ENEAGRID High Performance Computing infrastructure is funded by ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development and by Italian and European research programmes (see http://www.cresco.enea.it/english for information).

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Gender equality in research: papers and projects by Highly Cited Researchers

example of research title about gender inequality

Strategic Alliances and Engagement Manager

Empowering women and girls is a critical target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this installment of our blog series about Highly Cited Researchers contributing to the UN SDGs, we focus on SDG 5: Gender Equality. We discuss the research that Highly Cited Researchers have published and the trends we’re seeing emerge.

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and yet women have just three quarters of the legal rights of men today. While the speed of progress differs across regions, laws, policies, budgets and institutions must all be strengthened on an international scale to grant women equal rights as men.

The socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and high-profile policy changes like the overturning of Roe v. Wade have shown how much work needs to be done. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many women to leave the workforce and amplified challenges related to child and elder care, with women shouldering much of the burden. This can disproportionately affect girls’ educational prospects and, as is often the case in stressful environments and during times of crisis, puts women at increased risk of domestic violence .

While some high-profile issues related to women’s rights and safety make the news cycle, gender inequalities are firmly entrenched in every society, impacting the daily lives of women and girls in ways that are rarely reported on. As Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, once said , “from the economy to climate change to criminal justice reform to national security, all issues are women’s issues.”

Women’s issues are interconnected with all the SDGs, as we touched on in our recent post in this series, which explored the research centered around SDG 16: Peaceful, just and strong institutions . In that post we found that sexual, domestic and intimate partner abuse and violence against women are the most published topics related to SDG 16.

In this post, we look at Highly Cited Researchers who focus specifically on SDG 5 and issues of equality and gender .

What is SDG 5: Gender equality?

SDG 5: Gender Equality is intended to address the serious inequalities and threats faced by women around the globe. The targets related to this goal include:

  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  • Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

example of research title about gender inequality

There has been an increase in articles and reviews related to this SDG since the establishment of the SDGs in 2015. This trend graph from InCites Benchmarking & Analytics ™, using Web of Science Core Collection ™ data, shows growth from 86,000 papers in 2015 to 152,000 in 2021. That’s a 77% increase in six years.

Growth in academic papers related to SDG 5: Gender Equality

example of research title about gender inequality

Source: Incites Benchmarking & Analytics. Dataset: articles and reviews related to SDG 5: Gender Equality published between 2015-2021.

The top ten countries publishing on SDG 5: Gender Equality during this period are shown below, with the U.S. producing roughly one third of all papers.

Countries producing the most papers related to SDG 5: Gender Equality

example of research title about gender inequality

We explore these angles from research published between 2010 and 2020 in more detail, below.

Inequalities in the treatment of women during childbirth

Özge Tunçalp , a Highly Cited Researcher from the World Health Organization (WHO), wrote a systematic review in 2015 about the mistreatment of women globally during childbirth. This paper, coauthored with Johns Hopkins University, McGill University, University of Sao Paulo and PSI (a global nonprofit working in healthcare), has been cited more than 590 times to date in the Web of Science Core Collection. Tunçalp’s paper provides further information about the type and degree of mistreatment in childbirth, which supports the development of measurement tools, programs and interventions in this area.

Tunçalp authored another open access paper on this topic in 2019 , which followed women in four low-income and middle-income countries to study their experiences during childbirth. Unfortunately, more than one third of the women in the study experienced mistreatment during childbirth, a critical time in their lives, with younger and less educated women found to be most at risk. Beyond showing that mistreatment during childbirth exists, this study demonstrates the inequalities in how some women are treated in comparison to others, which informs the interventions needed.

“Our research showed that mistreatment during childbirth occurs across low-, middle- and high-income countries and good quality of care needs to be respectful as well as safe, no matter where you are in the world.” Dr Özge Tunçalp, World Health Organization

According to Dr. Tunçalp, “Women and families have a right to positive pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal experiences, supported by empowered health workers, majority of whom are women. Improving the experience of care throughout pregnancy and childbirth is essential to help increase the trust in facility-based care – as well as ensuring access to quality postnatal care following birth. Our research showed that mistreatment during childbirth occurs across low-, middle- and high-income countries and good quality of care needs to be respectful as well as safe, no matter where you are in the world. It was critical to ensure that these findings were translated into WHO global recommendations to inform country policy and programmes .”

Autism spectrum disorder and the gender bias in diagnosis

William Mandy, a Highly Cited Researcher in Psychiatry and Psychology, looks at gender differences related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Mandy, from University College London, and his co-authors found that the male-to-female ratio of children with ASD is closer to 3:1, not the often assumed 4:1 . With an apparent gender bias in diagnosis, girls who meet the criteria for ASD are at risk of being misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. This can cause confusion and challenges with social interactions growing up, and can put women and girls at greater risk of traumatic experiences. Mandy et al’s paper has been cited more than 830 times to date.

“The reason for this diagnostic bias is that sex and gender influence how autism presents, such that the presentations of autistic girls and women often do not fit well with current conceptualisations of the condition, which were largely based on mainly male samples.” Dr William Mandy, University College London

When asked about the relevance of his research to the clinical community, Dr. Mandy said: “Clinicians have long held the suspicion that there is a diagnostic bias against autistic girls and women – that they are more likely to fly under the diagnostic radar. Our work (Loomes et al., 2017) has helped to provide systematic, empirical evidence that this bias does indeed exist, and to quantify its impact, in terms of how many autistic girls go undiagnosed.

The reason for this diagnostic bias is that sex and gender influence how autism presents, such that the presentations of autistic girls and women often do not fit well with current conceptualisations of the condition, which were largely based on mainly male samples. Therefore, to address the gender bias in autism diagnosis, we need an evidence-based understanding of the characteristics of autistic girls and women. Our study (Bargiela et al, 2016), in which we interviewed late-diagnosed autistic women about their lives, helps do this, revealing distinctive features of autistic women and of their experiences. This knowledge is shaping research and clinical practice.”

Going forward

The above papers are just a few examples of Highly Cited Researchers contributing to SDG 5-Gender Equality. Others focus on depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, cardiovascular disease and ovarian cancer. The fact that biomedical research featured so prominently in these results should not be a surprise. Gender bias has been identified in many areas of healthcare, including patient diagnosis , discrimination against health care workers , and low rates of women in clinical studies to name a few.

The Highly Cited Researchers working on gender equality within their respective fields, which also include social sciences, economics and other areas in addition to medicine, are helping to address the complex issues related to SDG 5. And what’s worthy of note is that many of the researchers mentioned here were named as Highly Cited Researchers in the cross-field category, which identifies researchers who have contributed to Highly Cited Papers across several different fields. This shows that a multifaceted and integrated approach to gender equality research may be playing a significant role in addressing this global issue.

Stay up to date

We discussed the SDG Publishers Compact in the first post in our series and then celebrated the Highly Cited Researchers in SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 2: Zero Hunger. We then covered SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being and SDG 4: Quality Education , and then jumped ahead to cover SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions . Alongside this, we also looked at Ukrainian research contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, here , and published an Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)™Insights paper called, Climate change collaboration: Why we need an international approach to research .

In our next post, we will identify Highly Cited Researchers who are working to address SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

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TOP 100 Gender Equality Essay Topics

Jason Burrey

Table of Contents

example of research title about gender inequality

Need ideas for argumentative essay on gender inequality? We’ve got a bunch!

… But let’s start off with a brief intro.

What is gender equality?

Equality between the sexes is a huge part of basic human rights. It means that men and women have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential in all spheres of life.

Today, we still face inequality issues as there is a persistent gap in access to opportunities for men and women.

Women have less access to decision-making and higher education. They constantly face obstacles at the workplace and have greater safety risks. Maintaining equal rights for both sexes is critical for meeting a wide range of goals in global development.

Inequality between the sexes is an interesting area to study so high school, college, and university students are often assigned to write essays on gender topics.

In this article, we are going to discuss the key peculiarities of gender equality essay. Besides, we have created a list of the best essay topic ideas.

What is the specifics of gender equality essay?

Equality and inequality between the sexes are important historical and current social issues which impact the way students and their families live. They are common topics for college papers in psychology, sociology, gender studies.

When writing an essay on equality between the sexes, you need to argue for a strong point of view and support your argument with relevant evidence gathered from multiple sources.

But first, you’d need to choose a good topic which is neither too broad nor too narrow to research.

Research is crucial for the success of your essay because you should develop a strong argument based on an in-depth study of various scholarly sources.

Equality between sexes is a complex problem. You have to consider different aspects and controversial points of view on specific issues, show your ability to think critically, develop a strong thesis statement, and build a logical argument, which can make a great impression on your audience.

If you are looking for interesting gender equality essay topics, here you will find a great list of 100 topic ideas for writing essays and research papers on gender issues in contemporary society.

Should you find that some topics are too broad, feel free to narrow them down.

Powerful gender equality essay topics

Here are the top 25 hottest topics for your argumentative opinion paper on gender issues.

Whether you are searching for original creative ideas for gender equality in sports essay or need inspiration for gender equality in education essay, we’ve got you covered.

Use imagination and creativity to demonstrate your approach.

  • Analyze gender-based violence in different countries
  • Compare wage gap between the sexes in different countries
  • Explain the purpose of gender mainstreaming
  • Implications of sex differences in the human brain
  • How can we teach boys and girls that they have equal rights?
  • Discuss gender-neutral management practices
  • Promotion of equal opportunities for men and women in sports
  • What does it mean to be transgender?
  • Discuss the empowerment of women
  • Why is gender-blindness a problem for women?
  • Why are girls at greater risk of sexual violence and exploitation?
  • Women as victims of human trafficking
  • Analyze the glass ceiling in management
  • Impact of ideology in determining relations between sexes
  • Obstacles that prevent girls from getting quality education in African countries
  • Why are so few women in STEM?
  • Major challenges women face at the workplace
  • How do women in sport fight for equality?
  • Women, sports, and media institutions
  • Contribution of women in the development of the world economy
  • Role of gender diversity in innovation and scientific discovery
  • What can be done to make cities safer for women and girls?
  • International trends in women’s empowerment
  • Role of schools in teaching children behaviours considered appropriate for their sex
  • Feminism on social relations uniting women and men as groups

Gender roles essay topics

We can measure the equality of men and women by looking at how both sexes are represented in a range of different roles. You don’t have to do extensive and tiresome research to come up with gender roles essay topics, as we have already done it for you.

Have a look at this short list of top-notch topic ideas .

  • Are paternity and maternity leaves equally important for babies?
  • Imagine women-dominated society and describe it
  • Sex roles in contemporary western societies
  • Compare theories of gender development
  • Adoption of sex-role stereotyped behaviours
  • What steps should be taken to achieve gender-parity in parenting?
  • What is gender identity?
  • Emotional differences between men and women
  • Issues modern feminism faces
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Benefits of investing in girls’ education
  • Patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes in family relationships
  • Toys and games of girls and boys
  • Roles of men and women in politics
  • Compare career opportunities for both sexes in the military
  • Women in the US military
  • Academic careers and sex equity
  • Should men play larger roles in childcare?
  • Impact of an ageing population on women’s economic welfare
  • Historical determinants of contemporary differences in sex roles
  • Gender-related issues in gaming
  • Culture and sex-role stereotypes in advertisements
  • What are feminine traits?
  • Sex role theory in sociology
  • Causes of sex differences and similarities in behaviour

Gender inequality research paper topics

Examples of inequality can be found in the everyday life of different women in many countries across the globe. Our gender inequality research paper topics are devoted to different issues that display discrimination of women throughout the world.

Choose any topic you like, research it, brainstorm ideas, and create a detailed gender inequality essay outline before you start working on your first draft.

Start off with making a debatable thesis, then write an engaging introduction, convincing main body, and strong conclusion for gender inequality essay .

  • Aspects of sex discrimination
  • Main indications of inequality between the sexes
  • Causes of sex discrimination
  • Inferior role of women in the relationships
  • Sex differences in education
  • Can education solve issues of inequality between the sexes?
  • Impact of discrimination on early childhood development
  • Why do women have limited professional opportunities in sports?
  • Gender discrimination in sports
  • Lack of women having leadership roles
  • Inequality between the sexes in work-family balance
  • Top factors that impact inequality at a workplace
  • What can governments do to close the gender gap at work?
  • Sex discrimination in human resource processes and practices
  • Gender inequality in work organizations
  • Factors causing inequality between men and women in developing countries
  • Work-home conflict as a symptom of inequality between men and women
  • Why are mothers less wealthy than women without children?
  • Forms of sex discrimination in a contemporary society
  • Sex discrimination in the classroom
  • Justification of inequality in American history
  • Origins of sex discrimination
  • Motherhood and segregation in labour markets
  • Sex discrimination in marriage
  • Can technology reduce sex discrimination?

Most controversial gender topics

Need a good controversial topic for gender stereotypes essay? Here are some popular debatable topics concerning various gender problems people face nowadays.

They are discussed in scientific studies, newspaper articles, and social media posts. If you choose any of them, you will need to perform in-depth research to prepare an impressive piece of writing.

  • How do gender misconceptions impact behaviour?
  • Most common outdated sex-role stereotypes
  • How does gay marriage influence straight marriage?
  • Explain the role of sexuality in sex-role stereotyping
  • Role of media in breaking sex-role stereotypes
  • Discuss the dual approach to equality between men and women
  • Are women better than men or are they equal?
  • Sex-role stereotypes at a workplace
  • Racial variations in gender-related attitudes
  • Role of feminism in creating the alternative culture for women
  • Feminism and transgender theory
  • Gender stereotypes in science and education
  • Are sex roles important for society?
  • Future of gender norms
  • How can we make a better world for women?
  • Are men the weaker sex?
  • Beauty pageants and women’s empowerment
  • Are women better communicators?
  • What are the origins of sexual orientation?
  • Should prostitution be legal?
  • Pros and cons of being a feminist
  • Advantages and disadvantages of being a woman
  • Can movies defy gender stereotypes?
  • Sexuality and politics

Feel free to use these powerful topic ideas for writing a good college-level gender equality essay or as a starting point for your study.

No time to do decent research and write your top-notch paper? No big deal! Choose any topic from our list and let a pro write the essay for you!

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  • Published: 01 November 2022

A qualitative study on gender inequality and gender-based violence in Nepal

  • Pranab Dahal 1 ,
  • Sunil Kumar Joshi 2 &
  • Katarina Swahnberg 1  

BMC Public Health volume  22 , Article number:  2005 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

81k Accesses

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Metrics details

Gender inequality and violence are not mutually exclusive phenomena but complex loops affecting each other. Women in Nepal face several inequalities and violence. The causes are diverse, but most of these results are due to socially assigned lower positioning of women. The hierarchies based on power make women face subordination and violence in Nepal. The study aims to explore participants' understanding and experience to identify the status of inequality for women and how violence emerges as one of its consequences. Furthermore, it explores the causes of sex trafficking as an example of an outcome of inequality and violence.

The study formulated separate male and female groups using a purposive sampling method. The study used a multistage focus group discussion, where the same groups met at different intervals. Six focus group discussions, three times each with male and female groups, were conducted in a year. Thirty-six individuals, including sixteen males and twenty females, were involved in the discussions. The study used constructivist grounded theory for the data analysis.

The study participants identify that a power play between men and women reinforce inequality and increases the likelihood of violence for women. The findings suggest that the subjugation of women occurs due to practices based on gender differences, constricted life opportunities, and internalization of constructed differences among women. The study identifies that interpersonal and socio-cultural violence can result due to established differences between men and women. Sex trafficking, as an example of the outcome of inequality and violence, occurs due to the disadvantageous position of women compounded by poverty and illiteracy. The study has developed a concept of power-play which is identified as a cause and consequence of women's subordination and violence. This power play is found operative at various levels with social approval for men to use violence and maintain/produce inequality.

The theoretical concept of power play shows that there are inequitable power relations between men and women. The male-centric socio-cultural norms and practices have endowed men with privilege, power, and an opportunity to exploit women. This lowers the status of women and the power-play help to produce and sustain inequality. The power-play exposes women to violence and manifests itself as one of the worst expressions used by men.

Peer Review reports

Violence against women is identified as an attempt by men to maintain power and control over women [ 1 ] and is manifested as a form of structural inequality. This structural inequality is apparent with greater agency among men [ 2 ]. The differences between sexes are exhibited in the attainment of education and professional jobs, ownership of assets, the feminization of poverty, etc., and these differences increase the risk of violence towards women [ 3 ]. The global estimate identifies that thirty percent of women experience physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime, illustrating the enormity of this problem [ 4 ]. From a feminist perspective, lending ideas of patriarchy [ 5 ] and gender performativity [ 6 ], the understanding of gender roles prescribed by male-dominated social structures and processes helps further explore the violence and abuse faced by women [ 7 ]. According to Heise [ 8 ], men who adhere to traditional, rigid, and misogynistic views on gender norms, attitudes, and behaviors are more likely to use violence towards women. The individual and collective attitudes of men toward different established gender norms, and their reproduction explain men’s use of violence toward women [ 9 ]. It is known that gender norms influence violence, but at the same time violence also directs and dictates gender performance with fear, sanction, and corrective measures for enacting respective prescribed gender functions [ 10 ].

It is difficult for women subjected to violence to enjoy legitimate rights, as most of the infringement of their rights and violence takes place inside a private sphere of the home [ 11 , 12 ]. Violence against women is the major cause of death and disability for women [ 13 ] and globally a major public health concern [ 14 ]. Establishing gender equality is fundamental for fostering justice and attaining sustainable development [ 15 ]; moreover, violence against women has to be acknowledged as a fundamental abuse of human rights [ 16 ]. A report on global violence has identified that violence against women exists at all levels of the family, community, and state. The report recommended the development of frameworks for respecting, protecting, and fulfilling women’s rights [ 17 ]. Fifteen years later, a review of the same identifies that violence continues with impunity, reaffirming violence as a major obstacle to the attainment of justice [ 18 ].

The inclusion of the gender lens to violence against women has provided more contextual evidence to explore these processes of violence. This requires the identification of unequal power relationships and an inquiry into the differences-producing various gender stereotypes [ 19 ]. This analysis of violence requires an understanding of behaviors that promote women’s subordination and factors that favor men to sustain these malpractices [ 8 ]. A closer look at the male-centric structural arrangements embedded in the social, political, and economic organization of life reveals that these structures provide lesser access and lower accountability toward women, promote systemic subordination, and create hierarchies, resulting in the increase of violence against women [ 20 ]. This unequal gender power relationship reinforced and manifested by social approval of men’s authority over women is found operative at multiple levels and helps to produce diversities of inequalities and violence [ 21 , 22 ].

The inequalities faced by women in Nepal majorly stem from socio-cultural, economic, and religious factors and influencers that define traditional roles and responsibilities between men and women [ 23 ]. The inequalities are more evident and pronounced in settings exhibiting prominent patriarchal norms restricting advantages and opportunities for the majority of women [ 24 ]. Women in Nepal are restricted inside their homes, have lesser access to life opportunities, and have limited or no involvement in decision-making on important issues directly affecting their lives [ 25 , 26 ]. Figures indicative of women’s inequalities in Nepal suggest that one-third of women have no education, fifty-two percent of women are involved in non-paid jobs, and women are less likely than men to own a home or land [ 27 ]. The men in Nepalese society are positioned higher and are expected to be the breadwinner and protectors of their families. Most of these men intend to earn respect and obedience from women and are socially expected to discipline women to achieve it [ 28 ]. Many societies across the world including Nepal, recognizes violence as a private affair requiring discussion only within a family. This has led to a serious underreporting of violence committed toward women in Nepal [ 29 ]. The national gender data in Nepal is scarce, the available Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2016 identifies that since the age of fifteen, twenty-two percent of women and seven percent of women experience physical and sexual violence, respectively in the past twelve months [ 27 ].

The contributing factors for violence against women in Nepal include the lower social status of women, illiteracy, economic dependency, patriarchal society, sex trafficking, alcohol-related abuse, dowry-related violence, infidelity, extramarital affairs of husband, unemployment, and denial of sex with husband [ 30 , 31 , 32 ]. Nepalese women have been repressing violence with silence due to the fear of breaking relationships, receiving less love and affection from family, fear of social norms by going against men, lack of faith in the justice system, and the threat of increased violence [ 33 ]. Women and girls in Nepal are sex trafficked to various countries. Sex trafficking in Nepal is prevalent due to persistent gender inequality, violence, stigma, and discriminatory socio-cultural structures; however, the actual extent of sex trafficking is still undetermined [ 17 , 34 , 35 ].

The recent trends in Nepal with the increasing number of out-migration of men for employment have provided women with temporary autonomy, and a shift in the gender roles. Earlier research has identified that migration of male spouses has provided a resistance to the power dynamics for women on the other hand it has limited their mobility, required them to share decision-making with household structures, face continued social vigilance on the money received from remittance, and get central attention with their personal sexual lives [ 36 , 37 ].

Morang district lies in the eastern region of Nepal. A district profile report based on a census survey [ 38 ] identifies that the place is inhabited by a close to a million population, out of which ethnic groups ( close to forty percent) live in the district with a majority (seventy-eight percent) of its population living in the rural areas. Tharu an ethnic group is one of the dominant population in the study area and all study participants for this study were from same Tharu population. A close to thirty-six percent of women in the district are illiterate and the average age of marriage is eighteen years. The report identifies that only twenty-three percent of women engage in economic activities apart from agricultural work and less than fourteen percent of women head the household. Almost eighty percent of the population in the district practice Hinduism.

This study is a part of a large intervention project and it was focused to establish a qualitative baseline of the gender status in the study area. This study aimed to explore participants’ experiences and understanding of gender inequality, violence against women, and information on sex trafficking in the Morang district of eastern Nepal. The selection of sex trafficking topic was motivated to assess the respondents’ general understanding of one of the consequences of inequality and violence faced by women. The study focused to explore factors that help to produce and sustain the practice of gender inequality and violence against women in the local community.

Participants

This study was part of a larger control-comparison project that used Forum Theatre interventions to promote gender equality, reduce violence against women, and increase awareness of sex trafficking [ 39 , 40 ]. The participants for the focus group discussion included the intervention population from one of the randomly sampled intervention sites. A multistage focus group discussion [ 41 ] was used involving the same participants discussing various emerging topics at different periods. The participants were recruited voluntarily during an earlier quantitative data collection for the project. The study used a purposive sampling method for the selection of participants. The local field staff at the study site facilitated the recruitment of the participants. The study formulated separate male and female groups. A total of six focus groups, three each with male and female groups were conducted over twelve months. Two inclusion criteria were set for participation. First, the participants had to be part of the population of the larger study. Secondly, they had to witness and/or participate in the Forum Theatre interventions conducted in between the study. The set inclusion criteria served a dual purpose of understanding the causes of inequality and violence and further helped to develop and determine the efficacy of participatory Forum Theater intervention for awareness-raising among the study intervention groups [ 39 ].

A total of thirty-six participants consisting of sixteen males and twenty females joined the discussions. The first discussion consisted of eight participants each from groups while the second and the third discussion missed two female and four male participants respectively. The majority of the participants were 20–29 years old. Tharu, an ethnic community of Nepal, is a dominant population in the study area, and all the participants belonged to the same Tharu community. Only one female participant was unmarried, and a single married male participated in the discussions. All participants were literate, with four males completing a bachelor's level of education. Seven female participants had education below the high school level. The nuclear family with parents and their children was the major family type identified in both male and female groups. Table 1 provides the detail of the participants.

The focus group discussions were conducted in January 2017, April–May 2017, and January 2018. The discussions were conducted in a place recommended by the participants. An isolated place in an open setting at the premise of a local temple was used for conducting all discussions. The participants were briefed about the objectives of the discussion and written consent was obtained for their participation. Verbal consent was taken for the audio recording of the discussions. Each participant was assigned a unique numerical code before the discussions to ensure anonymity during recording, note-taking, and analysis. The discussions averaged ninety minutes during each session. The discussions were conducted with the same participants and no new participants were added during the follow-ups. A single male and female participant were missing in the second follow up and two male participants missed the final follow-up. The reason for missing participants was due to their unavailability as they were out of the village due to personal reasons.

The discussions were conducted in the Nepali language. The first author moderated all six discussions, a support field staff member took the notes, and the last author observed the discussions. The audio recordings were translated into English, and the transcriptions were checked with the recordings to verify accuracy. The field and the discussion notes were used during various stages of data analysis. The notes provided information on the discussion setting, as well as the verbal and nonverbal expressions of the participants. The notes helped to assess the impressions, emphasis, and feelings of the participants during the discussions.

The discussions used pre-formulated discussion guides with open-ended questions on inequalities, gender practices, violence, and sex trafficking. The guiding questions were based on the theoretical premise of discrimination, patriarchy, oppression, hegemony, and participation of women. Three separate discussion guides were developed for each of discussions. The guides were developed by the first and last authors. Probing was done on several occasions during the discussion to gain more clarity on the issue. Cross-checking among the participants and between the groups was done to triangulate received information. Any topic deemed appropriate for discussions and/or any unclear issues identified during the initial data analysis came up subsequently in the discussion guide during the follow-ups.

Data analysis

This study used the constructivist grounded theory method. This method adheres to a constructivist philosophical approach wherein both researchers and participants mutually co-construct the meaning of a phenomenon [ 42 ]. This interaction is important since it helps to impart the meaning of shared experiences [ 42 ]. The constructivist grounded theory made it possible to (re) discover gender issues, important for both the researcher and the study participants. This method allowed the study to progress with responsiveness to emerging issues with an in-depth exploration of the identified issues. This clarity was achieved through repeated interactive discussions, analysis of explanations, and sharing of emergent findings with the study participants.

The audio recordings were translated and transcribed into English. Six transcripts from discussions were initially analyzed using a line-by-line coding process. The coding process helped with the fragmentation of data through interactive comparisons. Fifty-two initial codes such as gender differences, restricting women, alcohol-related violence, underreporting of sexual violence, coping, etc. were identified. The later stage of focused coding helped to achieve categorized data, providing logical sense to the developed initial codes. Three focused codes, namely, the subjugation of women, violence, and chasing dreams were formulated during the analysis. The abductive reasoning from the codes, memos, and discussion notes helped to develop the theoretical concept. The development of conceptual abstraction involved an iterative comparison of the data, codes, categories, memos, and discussion notes.

The constant communication between the authors during the stages of data analysis such as the formulation of codes, explanations of concepts, and categories helped to refine the analysis. The shared experiences of the participants and the description of the data collection and analysis included substantial details, enabling comparisons for future research and application to other similar contexts. The reliability of the study is warranted by the theoretical saturation [ 42 ] achieved by this study. This is supported by prolonged engagement with the study participants with communication on the emerging findings, and triangulation.

Reflexivity has a greater significance for the constructivist approach. The first and the second author of Nepalese origin were aware of the socio-cultural norms, stereotypes, values, and stigmas associated with gender in the local context. This helped the study to ascertain the depth of inquiry within the acceptable local normative limits. The non-Nepalese author, familiar with the study participants and Nepalese contexts, witnessed the discussions as an observer. The prior knowledge of the authors helped to critically assess different schemas, perspectives, and explanations shared by the participants. The universality of gender inequality and violence against women and its re-examination in the local context helped the authors to build upon existing knowledge by providing contextual explanations. The diversities among the authors and research participants established a basis for co-creating the perceived and observed realities.

The section below describes the participants’ perceptions and understanding of inequality and violence. The section contains subheadings that were derived as themes in the data analysis. The first theme subjugation of women; discusses how norms, beliefs, and practices produce inferior status and positions for women. The second theme domestic and gender violence; provides a narrative of interpersonal and socio-cultural violence present in the study area. The theme of chasing dreams; discusses the process of sex trafficking as an outcome of violence. The theoretically abstracted concept of power-play identifies the cause for the generation of power imbalance producing inequality and the use of violence by men.

Subjugation of women

The subjugation of women reflected practices and beliefs imparting positional differences for women and their social situation compared to men. The participants shared a common understanding that belief systems adhering to male supremacy have positioned women in a lower status. They provided examples of social practices of male supremacy such as males being considered as the carrier of a family name, legacy, and heritage, while women were referred to as someone else’s property. The socialization of the idea that girls will be married off to a husband and relocate themselves to their homes was identified as the major reason for instilling and perpetuating early gender differences. The participants mentioned that discriminatory practices and seclusion have situated women at the bottom rung of the gender hierarchy, establishing them as socially incompetent individuals or groups. Moreover, they inferred that selective preferences provided preparatory grounds for inequalities, and they remain attached to women throughout their lives. The participants provided examples of unequal access to education and life opportunities as a practice of selective preferences occurring in the community. They mentioned that socialization with these discriminatory beliefs and their practice helped to develop specialized gender roles from an early age. The participants provided an example of how gender intersected with mobility and resource generation in the community, it was clear from the discussions that this has restricted women inside homes but provided freedom and opportunities for men. A female participant expressed,

A woman from a poor family is more than willing to work and support her family. But she is not allowed by the men in the family to work outside of the home.

The participants informed that differences between the sexes were visible for women from a young age. Sharing practical examples from the community, the participants from both groups stated that girls received education mostly in low-cost government and community schools, while boys were enrolled in expensive private schools. They raised concerns that this selective investment for education, cited as the ‘building block of life’ by the participants, installed lesser capacity, and negotiating abilities in girls. A female participant stated,

There are differences in educational opportunities for boys and girls in our community. Family provides more support for a boy’s education by enrolling him in private schools, while a girl mostly gets her education in a community school together with engagement in household work.

The discussions revealed that women required several male anchors for their survival during their various stages of life. The participants provided examples of the shift of anchors for women which traversed from a father to a husband during marriage and later to the male child during her old age. They believed that this tradition of transferring women’s identity established men as a higher social category and stripped women of their individuality and identity. A male participant added,

Women have to remain dependent on men throughout their lives, first with their fathers and later with their husbands. They remain completely dependent as they are not economically active. This makes men believe that they have higher authority.

The female participants provided an example of marriage to illustrate how someone else’s decision-making had been affecting women’s lives. A participant explained that women were held responsible for household activities after marriage and any support for career progression or education was restricted despite her desire for its continuation. It was inferred that women had to drop their hopes and aspirations as the husband and his family made decisions for them. The female participants agreed that this continuous exposure to the ideas of male supremacy makes them start to believe and internalize the idea that women have lesser cognitive abilities and intelligence compared to men. A female participant stated,

Men and women certainly have different mental abilities. Men think and act differently often in a smart way compared to women.

The participants from both groups expressed that youth in the community were developing flexible attitudes and beliefs towards gender roles and responsibilities. They agreed that both young men and women were observed altering their roles and responsibilities shifting from traditional gender ideologies. The participants expressed that instilling these fluidity and flexible approaches in the older generation was impossible as they strictly followed traditional beliefs and practices. Few of the female participants admitted that at times young women also fail to accommodate the situation and reap benefits from available opportunities. The discussions revealed that a few of the women in the community received opportunities for independence and economic empowerment. These women had received entrepreneurial training and various skill development activities for sustaining livelihoods with practical skill-based training in tailoring, beautician, and doll-making. The female participants expressed that opportunities for independence and growth slipped away from them due to a lack of family support, financial constraints, and self-passivity. They explained that starting a business required approval from a family which was difficult to obtain. Moreover, if women made a self-decision to start up on their own, they lacked the initial capital and had to rely on men for obtaining resources. The participants further explained that the denial of men to support women were majorly due to the fear that norms of staying indoors for women will be breached and economic independence may enable women to have a similar financial footing as men. The participants stated that self-passivity in women emerged due to their engagement in household multiple roles, dependency upon males, and lack of decision-making power and abilities. A female participant summed it up by stating,

Some of us women in the community have received entrepreneurial skills training, but we have not been able to use our skills for our growth and development. Once the training finishes, we get back to our household chores and taking care of the children.

The female participants admitted that acceptance of belief systems requiring women to be docile, unseen, and unheard were the reasons for this self-passivity. The female participants resonated that the external controlling and unfavorable environment influenced by practices of discriminatory norms and beliefs developed self-passivity for women. A female participant expressed the cause and consequence of self-passivity as,

Women have inhibitions to speaking their minds; something stops us from making our position clear, making us lose all the time.

The discussions identified that gender norms were deeply engraved in various social interactions and daily life, and any deviance received strict criticism. The participants shared common examples of sanctions for women based on rigid norms like restrictive movements for women, social gossiping when women communicated with outsider men, prohibition for opinion giving in public, and lesser involvement during key decision-making at home. The participants shared that norms dictating gender roles were in place for both men and women with social sanctions and approval for their performance. A male discussion participant who occasionally got involved with cooking which was a so-called “women’s job” faced outright disapproval from his female relatives and neighbors. The male participant stated,

If I cook or get engaged in any household jobs, it is mostly females from the home and neighborhood who make fun of me and remind me that I am a man and that I should not be doing a woman’s job.

The foreign migration of youth looking for job opportunities has affected the Tharu community. It was known that a large number of men were absent from the community. The participants stated that women in such households with absent men had gained authority and control over resources, moreover, these women have been taking some of the men’s roles. The participants disclosed that these women had greater access and control over resources and were involved in the key decision-making positioning them in a relatively higher position compared to other women. It was known that this higher position for women came with a price, they were under higher social vigilance and at higher risk of abuse and violence due to the absence of ‘protective men’. It was known that women's foreign employment was associated with myths and sexist remarks. The participants shared that women had to face strict social criticisms and that their plans for livelihood and independence were related to an issue of sexual immorality and chastity. The participants from both groups strictly opposed the norms that associated women with sexual immorality but lamented that it continues. A male participant provided an insight into the social remarks received by women if she dares to go for foreign employment,

If a woman wants to go for a foreign job, she is considered to be of loose character. The idea that she is corrupt and will get involved in bad work will be her first impression of anyone.

Although the participant did not explicitly describe what bad work referred to as but it was inferred that he was relating it to sex work.

Domestic and gender violence

The participants identified violence as control, coercion, and use of force against someone will occurring due to unequal status. They primarily identified men as the perpetrators and women as the victims of violence. They explained that two types of violence were observed in the community. The first type occurred in an interpersonal relationship identified as physical, emotional, and sexual violence. The second type, as explained by the participants had its roots in socio-cultural belief systems. They provided examples of dowry exchange and witchcraft accusations for the latter type. The participants identified women as primary victims and listed both men and women as the perpetrators of both types of violence. They reported that physical violence against women by men under the influence of alcohol was the most commonly occurring violence in the community. The participants from both groups confirmed that wife-beating, verbal abuse, and quarrel frequently occurred in the community. It was known from discussions that alcohol consumption among men was widespread, and its cultural acceptance was also increasing episodes of violence. One of the female participants clarified further,

The most common violence occurring in our society is wife-beating by a husband under the influence of alcohol. We see it every day.

The participants reported the occurrence of sexual violence in the community but also pointed out that people refrained from discussing it considering it a taboo and private affair. The participants had hesitation to discuss freely on sexual violence. During the discussions, participants from both groups informed only of rape and attempted rape of women by men as sexual violence present in the community. Despite repeated probing, on several occasions, none of the participants from either group brought up issues and discussions about any other forms of sexual violence. Participants from both groups confirmed that stories about incidents of rape or attempted rape emerged only after cases were registered with the local police. The participants presumed that incidents of rape and attempted rape were not known to the wider community. A female participant stated,

Sexual violence does occur in our community, but people mostly do not report or disclose it, but they tend to keep it amongst themselves and their families.

The participants explained the identity of the rape perpetrator and victim. They identified the perpetrator as a rich, influential, and relatively powerful man from the community. The victim was portrayed as a poor and isolated woman which lesser social ties. It was known from the discussions that most of the rape cases in the community were settled with financial negotiations and monetary compensations for the victim rather than finding legal remedies. It can be inferred that the victimization of women intersects with gender, wealth, social stature, and affluence. The participants feared that this practice of settlement of rape with money could make rape a commodity available for the powerful, rich, and affluent men to exploit and victimize women. A male participant clarifies,

Recently, a man in his sixties raped a young girl near our village. The victim's family was ready to settle with monetary compensation offered by the rapist, but the involvement of the community stopped it and the rapist was handed over to the police.

The participants shared available coping mechanisms against violence practiced in the community by women. It was learned that the victim of household violence mostly used community consultation and police reporting to evade further violence. They divulged that community consultation and police reporting resulted in decisions in favor of victim women, directing abusive husbands to show decency and stop committing violence. The fear of legal repercussions such as spending time in police custody and getting charged under domestic violence cases was understood as the reasons for husbands to stop abuse and violence. The discussions revealed that women who file a formal complaint about their husband’s violent behavior could face an increased risk of violence. The participants disclosed that sharing such incidents publicly brought shame to some of the men and increased their anger, and often backlashed with increased violence. The participants in both groups stated that not all women in the community reported violence. They identified that women tend to be quiet despite facing continuous violence due to the fear of encountering more violence and to keeping their families together. A female participant clarifies,

Lodging public complaints against the abusive husband can sometimes escalate the violence. The husband’s anger for being humiliated in public must be faced by the woman inside the closed doors of the house with more violence and the men’s threat of abandoning the relationship.

The participants stated that socio-cultural violence against women in dowry-related cases was widespread and increasing. The dowry exchange was explained as a traditional practice with the family of the bride paying cash and kind to the groom's family. The participants clarified that the practice of dowry in the earlier days must have been an emergency fund for the newly wedded bride in a newer setting. According to the participants, the system of dowry has now developed and evolved as a practice of forced involuntary transfer of goods and cash demanded by the groom’s family. The discussions disclosed that the demands for dowry were increasing with time and failing to provide as promised immediately resulted in violence for the newly wedded bride. The participants described that dowry-related violence starts with taunts and progresses to withholding of food, verbal abuse, and finally, physical violence. They added that perpetrators of such violence were both men and women from the groom’s family. They stated that due to poverty not all bride families in the community were able to supply all demanded dowry which has exposed a large number of women to face dowry-related abuse and violence. The discussions also informed of a newer trend among girls by demanding goods during their wedding. It was shared that this new emerging trend had increased a two-fold financial burden on the bride’s family with heavy marriage debts. The male participants when questioned about the dowry demands cunningly shifted the responsibilities towards family and stated that it was not the groom but their families who were making such dowry demands. The discussions verified that dowry practice was so engraved in the community that it was impossible to even imagine a marriage without any dowry. A male participant reflected,

If I marry without any dowry, my family, neighbors, and all whom I know would consider that I am insane.

The participants also discussed and identified harmful traditional practices present in the community. The participants informed a common practice of accusing women of as witches existed in the community. It was mentioned that women faced witchcraft allegations in different situations. They provided examples of witchcraft allegations in common situations such as when someone’s cow stops producing milk when a child has a sore eye, when someone is bedridden due to sickness for days, or when a woman undergoes a miscarriage, etc. The participants stated that women accused of witch were always elderly/single women living in seclusion, poverty, and with fewer social ties. They also shared that the witch doctors, who ascertain whether a woman is a witch or not, were surprisingly mostly always men and hold higher status, respect, and social recognition. The consequences of being labeled as a witch, as explained by the participants, haunted victim women with torture, name-calling, social boycott, and extremes of physical violence. The participants informed that inhumane practices such as forceful feeding of human excreta prevailed during the witch cleansing sessions. A female participant explaining the witchcraft situation stated,

Witchcraft accusation is very real in our community; I know someone who has tortured his mother, citing reasons for his wife being childless. The old woman was called names, beaten, and later thrown out of the home.

The participants felt that men’s use of violence and its legitimization primarily existed due to gender hierarchy and internalization of the belief that violence was the best method to resolve any conflict. They inferred that men’s use of violence was further reinforced by women's acceptance and belief that violence had occurred due to their faults and carelessness. The female participants shared examples of common household situations that could result in an episode of violence such as women cooking distasteful food, failing to provide timely care to children and the elderly due to workload, and forgetting to clean rooms. These incidents make women believe that violence majorly occurred due to their mistakes. Furthermore, the participants believed that this self-blaming of the victim resulted due to constant exposure to violence and a non-negotiable social positioning of women for raising questions. The participants stated that beliefs instilled by religion increased the likelihood of victimization for women. They explained that religious practices and ideologies required women to refer to their husbands as godly figures, and a religious belief that anything said or done against husbands was a disgrace bringing sin upon her and family positioned women in an inferior position. A male participant added,

We belong to a culture where females worship their husbands as a god, and this might be an important reason for men to feel powerful as a god to exploit and abuse women.

The discussions put forward the idea that the existence of discriminatory beliefs, reinforcement of such beliefs, and a blind following of such practices produced differences and violence. The male participants acknowledged that the idea of male supremacy not only produced violence but also established a belief system that considered violence as an indispensable way to treat deviated women. One male participant stated this idea of male supremacy and privilege as,

The language of the feet is essential when words fail.

The participants also discussed violence committed toward men by women. The male participants burst into laughter when they stated that some men were beaten by their wives when they were drunk. The male participants admitted that intoxication reduced their strength and they got beaten. The female participants, on the other hand, assumed that women hit intoxicated men due to frustration and helplessness. They further clarified that the act of husband beating was a situational reaction towards men who had spent all of their daily earnings on alcohol. They stated that women with the responsibility to cook and feed family find themselves in an utterly helpless situation by the irresponsible drinking behavior of men. The male participants shared incidences of violence against men due to foreign migration. It was revealed in the discussions that some of the migrating men’s wives had run away with remitted money, abandoning marriage, and breaking up the family. The male participants identified this as a form of victimization of men, furthermore, the spreading of rumors and gossip caused emotional instability in those men. The female participants confirmed that some returning men failed to find their homes, property, money, and/or their wives. The discussion participants in both groups identified that this practice was on the rise in the community. It became apparent from the discussions that this increasing trend of women running away with the money and breaking away from family was a personal issue requiring social remedies.

Chasing dreams

The participants referred to sex trafficking as the exploitation of women, arising from poverty, illiteracy, and deceit. Explaining the causes of trafficking, the participants stated that women living in poverty, having dreams of prosperity and abundance were tricked by the traffickers making them victims of sex trafficking. The participants mentioned that women who had dreams larger than life and yearned for a comfortable and luxurious life in a short time were at a greater risk for sex trafficking. The participants from both groups resonated that the traffickers had been manipulating the dreams of poor women and deceiving them into trafficking. A female participant elaborated,

Women in poverty can be fooled easily with dreams. She can be tricked by a trafficker by saying I will find you employment with good pay abroad, and she gets into the trap easily.

A male participant further clarified,

Women readily fall into fraud and trickery shown by the traffickers who assure of luxurious life with foreign employment and this bait often leads to sex trafficking.

They identified that false hopes for foreign jobs were primarily used as an entry point by the traffickers to trap potential victims. Besides, they stated that some traffickers tricked women with false romantic relationships and marriages to win over their trust enabling traffickers to maneuver women as they wished.

It was identified that traffickers were not always strangers but known and familiar faces from the community, allowing the traffickers to gain the victim’s trust. The discussions divulged that traffickers strategically chose women who were less educated and poor. The participants explained that sex trafficking mostly occurred among women from a lower caste (the caste system is hierarchy-based in Hindu society which is determined by birth and unchangeable). They further explained that if one of these lower caste women went missing, it seldom raised any serious concerns in society, making these women easy targets for the traffickers. The discussions revealed that life for the survivors of sex trafficking was difficult. They identified that the survivor had to face strong stigmas and stereotypes which further increased their risk for re-victimization. The participants explained that the social acceptance of the trafficking survivors was minimal and finding a job for survival was very difficult. It was reported that social beliefs, norms, and practices were rigid for sex trafficking survivors and provided lesser opportunities for complete social integration. A female participant stated,

The story of a sex-trafficked woman does not end after her rescue. It is difficult for her to live in society, and this increases her chances of being a further victim.

The discussions in both groups highlighted that education and awareness were important for reducing sex trafficking. The participants felt that securing a livelihood for women was essential, but they identified it as a major challenge. The female participants recommended the use of education and awareness for reducing sex trafficking. They demanded effective legal actions and stringent enforcement of the law with maximum punishment for offending sex traffickers. They mentioned that the fear of law with maximum punishment for culprits could help decrease cases of trafficking.

The theoretical concept of power play

The discussions identified that gender inequality and violence against women occurred as men possessed and exercised greater authority. The participants explained that the authority emerging from male-centric beliefs was reinforced through established socio-cultural institutions. It was known that oppressive practices toward women in both public and private life have led to the domination and devaluation of women. The differences between men and women were known to be instilled by evoking discriminatory beliefs and due to internalization of them as fundamental truths by women which further helps to sustain these created differences.

The concept of power-play developed from the study has its roots in the belief systems and was found constantly used by men to maintain created differences. The power-play rise due to patriarchy, guiding discriminatory norms and unequal gender practices. These norms and practices in the canopy of patriarchy positions women inferior to men and impose control and restrictions. The power play possessed multi-dimensional effects on women such as creating further barriers, restricted life opportunities, the need for men-centered anchoring systems, and exclusion from the public arena. The power play gains its strength from the strict enforcement of stereotypical practices and committed adherence to gender performances. This leads to internalization of subordination as a natural occurrence by women. These further isolate women putting them into several non-negotiating positions. The power play at an individual level provides restrictive movement for women, barring them from quality education and other life opportunities, and is exhibited in alcohol-related assault and sexual violence. At the structural level, this power play limits women from economic opportunities, access to resources, and decision-making, and induces socio-cultural inequality exhibited in dowry and cases of witchcraft. The socio-cultural acceptance of power-play allows men to use violence as a misuse of power and use it as an effort to maintain authority. The use of power-play for committing violence was identified as the worst display of exercised power play.

Figure  1 describes the concept of power-play developed from the study. The power-play model is based on discussions and inferences made from data analysis. The model provides a description and explanation of how women are subjected to inequality and face violence. The concept of power play derives its strength from the subjugated status of women which are based on selective treatment, self-embodiment of inferiority, imposed restrictions and due to lesser life opportunities. The power play gain legitimacy through social approval of the status differences between men and women and through social systems and institutions majorly developed and favoring men. The status difference between men and women and its approval by developed social institutions and processes give rise to the concept of powerplay. It identifies that status differences allow men to gain and (mis)use power play not only to maintain differences but also enable men to use violence. The use of power-play exists at both interpersonal and cultural levels. Further, the model elaborates on influencers causing subjugation of women, display of power-play, and violence. The model identified that lodging public complaints and seeking legal remedies are the influencers that suppress violence against women. The influence of Forum Theater was perceived to have greater influence for victim, perpetrator, and bystanders. The influencers that aggravate violence are fear of further violence, the nature of the interpersonal relationship, alcohol-related abuse, and remaining silent especially on sexual violence. The cultural violence mentioned in the model refers to dowry and witchcraft-related violence and stands as systemic subordination. In the model, sex trafficking is depicted as one of the outcomes of inequality and violence faced by women majorly occurring due to deceit and fraud.

figure 1

The theoretical concept of power-play developed in this study identifies that inequality produces violence and violence further reinforces inequality, creating a vicious circle. The power play situates hierarchy based on gender as the primary cause and identifies violence as an outcome of this power asymmetry. The authority to use power by men is received by social approval from embedded structures and institutions. The functioning of associated structures and norms is designed and run by men helping to perpetuate the dominance and subjugation of women. The study identifies that both interpersonal and socio-cultural violence emerges due to the positional differences and use of power. The study found that an element of control exists in interpersonal violence. The findings show that few victim women in the community took advantage of consultations and rely on the law to evade and /or cope during the occurrence of interpersonal violence. A large number of victims women however suffer silently as they are unable and unwilling to take a stand on violence due to their perceived positional differences and strict norms following. The study finds that violence originating from socio-cultural systems is widely accepted and no established means of control exists. The practice of heinous acts against a fellow human during witchcraft allegations and dowry exchanges is prohibited by the law of Nepal but is widespread. This situates that practices which are based on belief systems are more effective than prevailing national laws which try to stop them. Sex trafficking as a form of sexual violence use deceit and fraud against women. Poverty and illiteracy compel women to search for alternatives, and they become easy victims of sex trafficking when their dreams of a better life are manipulated by the traffickers. The false promise of a better life and highly paid job put women in a non-negotiating position with traffickers. The cherished dream of escaping the prevailing status-quo of oppression, subordination, violence, and poverty mesmerizes women to take risky decisions, falling into the risk and trap of sex trafficking.

The socio-cultural norms are the unwritten script of social operatives and functioning. These social norms function as codes of operation and are a major determinant for behavior and interactions between people [ 43 ]. The study has found that these norms were skewed, and most favored men, giving rise to status differences and producing inequalities for women. This is observed with lesser life opportunities, lower participation in decision-making, and a constant need to anchor women. This further helps men to maintain their hierarchical positional status and use violence. The subjugation of women does not occur in a linear process, it is influenced by the internalization of discrimination resulting in lower self-esteem, suppression, and domination of women based on norms and unequal practices. Earlier research has identified that norms and beliefs encourage men to control women, and direct them to use force to discipline women which increases the risk of violence occurrence [ 44 , 45 ]. An earlier study shows that traits of masculinity require men to become controlling, aggressive, and dominant over women to maintain status differences [ 46 ]. The study confirms that men upon receiving both normative and social approval for using violence against women can do so without hesitation.

Violence against women in Nepal mostly occurs inside the home and is only reported when it reaches higher levels of severity. The acceptance of violence as a private affair has restricted women from seeking support and discourages them from communicating their problems with outsiders [ 47 ] this increases more likelihood for men to use violence. The study finds issues related to sex and sexual violence is a taboo and are seldom reported. The study could only identify cases of sexual assault registered with the police and other cases known to the wider community as sexual violence. A community with known incidents of rape may have other cases of abuse, harassment, incest, forceful sexual contact, etc. Failure to report incidents of sexual violence infer that a large number of women could be suffering in silence. Earlier research identifies that increased stigmatization associated with sexual violence, and fear of seclusion cause reluctance in victims to report or seek support [ 48 ]. This silencing of victims provides men with greater sexual control over women [ 49 ] increasing more likelihood of use of violence. Gender-based inequality and violence intersect structures, institutions, and socio-cultural processes, making inequality and violence visible at all levels. The dowry-related violence and witchcraft allegation intersect interpersonal and structural violence. This cultural violence forces women to be a victim of lifelong abuse and trauma. The intersecting relationship between gender norms, social structures, and individual is so closely knitted that it produces varieties of inequality and violence at all levels [ 50 ]. Emotional violence in this study only emerged as a type of violence, during discussions in both groups. It did not emerge as a major concern for the participants except for dowry-related violence and violence against men. The intertwined nature of emotional violence and its occurrence with each abusive, exploitative, and violent situation may have influenced the participants understand it as a result, rather than as a specific type of violence.

The power play between sexes was found in synchronicity with the established norms and prevailing stereotypes, helping to perpetuate gender power imbalance. The gender system is influenced and governed by norms and the social arena becomes the site of its reproduction through the interaction and engagement of people. This interaction provides approval to the institutions and processes that are based on constructed differences between men and women [ 51 ]. The power, as identified by Fricker [ 52 ], controls a social group and operates and operates through the agent or established social structures. A man can actively use the vested power to either patronize and/or abuse women while passively women’s internalization of social settings and embedded norms can put them docile. The social controls as reported by Foucault [ 53 ] work with the embedded systems of internalization, discipline, and social monitoring and uses coercion rather than inflicting pain. The internalization of status differences among women as indicated by the study confirms this schema of social control. The dominance of men over women with patriarchal beliefs establishes the significance of male-centered kinship. This requires women to constantly anchor with men providing grounds for inequalities to perpetuate further. This idealizes men and reinforces the belief that women are non-existent without their presence. The requirement for male anchorage has an attachment to prevailing structural inequality. The family property and resources are mostly controlled by men and it usually transfers from father to son limiting inheritance to women [ 51 ]. These glorified idealizations of men's competence as described by Ridgeway [ 54 ] idealize men as individuals with abilities, status, power, and influences. The need for women to rely on men as anchors, fear of going against the norms and social sanctions explains the positional difference and show that men possess greater competencies. The internalization of men-centric superior beliefs by women occurs due to self-passivity and devalues women creating false impressions of their abilities. The gender roles and responsibilities were strict for both sexes but provided greater flexibility, privilege, and opportunity for men. Earlier studies in congruence with this study find that socio-cultural expectations limit women from deviation, and strictly adhere to their prescribed role and expectations [ 55 , 56 ] providing an upper hand to the men. The unequal social positioning of women, as defined by a few of the participants, can help define men's use of violence. As inferred by Kaufman [ 57 ], the disadvantageous position of women and support from the established structures enable men to use aggression and violence with considerable ease. The concept of power-play derived from this study also reflects that inequalities not only create hierarchies, putting women into a subordinating position but also legitimize norms of harmful masculinity and violence [ 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 ] creating a vicious cycle of inequality and violence. The concept of power-play developed by this study requires further exploration of gender relations, injustice, and patriarchy to identify multiple operatives of power with an outcome of inequality and violence.

Strengths and limitations of the study

The study followed the same participants over a period, which helped the study to achieve clarity on the topics through constant engagement. The data collection and the initial data analysis of the study were conducted by the same person, which reduced the risk of misrepresented findings. The study used follow-up discussions, which provided an opportunity to meet the participants again to resolve any ambiguities. The constant engagement with the participants helped to develop rapport and trust, which is essential to enable meaningful discussions. The study gathered rich data for developing the theory of power play in the Nepalese context. The study has attempted to explain the interplay of men’s use of power play, gender inequality, and violence against women, which, in itself, is a complex, but important issue. The study helped to develop a platform by identifying a level of awareness and needs for a Forum Theatre intervention study, a first of its kind in Nepal.

The major limitation of the study is that it was conducted with only one of the ethnic populations of Nepal; thus, the findings from this study cannot be generalized to a completely different setting. However, the transferability of the study is possible in a similar setting. The incidences of inequality and violence shared by the participants were self-reported, and no other means of verification were available to crosscheck those claims. The differences among the participants both in and between groups based on education and marital status might have influenced the study participants to understand, observe, and experience the phenomenon. The possibility of social desirability bias remains with the study, as a constant engagement with the study participants might have influenced them to answer differently. Furthermore, the discussions were conducted in groups, and participants might have had hesitation to bring up any opposing views. The study relied on collecting information on social norms and individual experiences and the perceptions of the study participants. It cannot be claimed that the study is devoid of any data rigidity as participants were free to choose what they wanted to share and express.

Study implications

The study explains gender practices, norms, violence against women, and sex trafficking in Nepal. The study helps to increase the understanding of how gender systems are operative in the daily lives of the Tharu community in the Morang district of Nepal. Future studies can explore the established linkages of interpersonal and socio-cultural violence. Like the complex link existing between gender inequality and violence against women, interpersonal violence and socio-cultural violence cannot be studied in isolation. The study provides an opportunity for future research on exploring how changing norms have been altering the position and victimization of women. The study finds that changing gender norms and responsibilities have, on the one hand, provided agency and empowerment for women, but on the other hand, they have also increased their risk of being a victim, an area that requires further exploration. The study has identified that constant engagement with the study participants through follow-up studies ensures the richness of data, which can be useful information for a future research study design. The study can be helpful for policy development, social activists, leaders, and researchers as it discusses prevalent gender oppressions and victimization, which need to be addressed. The findings from the study can be helpful for dialogue imitation and for designing intervention projects aimed at providing justice and equality to women.

The study identifies the presence of gender inequalities and violence against women in the study area. The positional differences based on norms, institutions, and practices have assigned greater privileges to men. The concept of power-play devised by the study ascertains the maintenance of gender hierarchy to produce inequality further and victimization of women. The subjugation of women based on the social-cultural process, embedded belief systems, and norms prevent women from life opportunities and dignified life. It situates men at the highest rung of the gender and social ladder providing a comparative advantage for men to use power. Violence emerges as men’s use of power play and as a strategy for the continued subjugation of women. Sex trafficking as a consequence of inequality and violence has its origins in illiteracy and poverty with women falling prey to the deceit of traffickers. It is important that dreams for progression provide motivation for women to develop further but at the same time, dreams should not be exchanged with trickery and fraud offered by the traffickers. Awareness and attitudinal changes are imperative to challenge unequal norms, and practices, and reduce the risks of sex trafficking. This can help to develop negotiations for power-sharing which helps to reduce inequality, violence, and preparedness in chasing dreams. Changes at both individual and societal levels are necessary to develop a collective action for establishing belief systems and practices providing women with an equal position and reducing the risk of violence.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available due to privacy but are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to all the focus group discussion participants. The authors are indebted to Bhojraj Sharma, Deekshya Chaudhary, Subham Chaudhary, and Dev Kala Dhungana for their coordination and facilitation in reaching the discussion participants.

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Dahal, P., Joshi, S.K. & Swahnberg, K. A qualitative study on gender inequality and gender-based violence in Nepal. BMC Public Health 22 , 2005 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-14389-x

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12.2 Gender and Gender Inequality

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Explain the influence of socialization on gender roles in the United States
  • Explain the stratification of gender in major American institutions
  • Provide examples of gender inequality in the United States
  • Describe the rise of feminism in the United States
  • Describe gender from the view of each sociological perspective

Gender and Socialization

The phrase “boys will be boys” is often used to justify behavior such as pushing, shoving, or other forms of aggression from young boys. The phrase implies that such behavior is unchangeable and something that is part of a boy’s nature. Aggressive behavior, when it does not inflict significant harm, is often accepted from boys and men because it is congruent with the cultural script for masculinity. The “script” written by society is in some ways similar to a script written by a playwright. Just as a playwright expects actors to adhere to a prescribed script, society expects women and men to behave according to the expectations of their respective gender roles. Scripts are generally learned through a process known as socialization, which teaches people to behave according to social norms.

Socialization

Children learn at a young age that there are distinct expectations for boys and girls. Cross-cultural studies reveal that children are aware of gender roles by age two or three. At four or five, most children are firmly entrenched in culturally appropriate gender roles (Kane 1996). Children acquire these roles through socialization, a process in which people learn to behave in a particular way as dictated by societal values, beliefs, and attitudes. For example, society often views riding a motorcycle as a masculine activity and, therefore, considers it to be part of the male gender role. Attitudes such as this are typically based on stereotypes, oversimplified notions about members of a group. Gender stereotyping involves overgeneralizing about the attitudes, traits, or behavior patterns of women or men. For example, women may be thought of as too timid or weak to ride a motorcycle.

Gender stereotypes form the basis of sexism. Sexism refers to prejudiced beliefs that value one sex over another. It varies in its level of severity. In parts of the world where women are strongly undervalued, young girls may not be given the same access to nutrition, healthcare, and education as boys. Further, they will grow up believing they deserve to be treated differently from boys (UNICEF 2011; Thorne 1993). While it is illegal in the United States when practiced as discrimination, unequal treatment of women continues to pervade social life. It should be noted that discrimination based on sex occurs at both the micro- and macro-levels. Many sociologists focus on discrimination that is built into the social structure; this type of discrimination is known as institutional discrimination (Pincus 2008).

Gender socialization occurs through four major agents of socialization: family, education, peer groups, and mass media. Each agent reinforces gender roles by creating and maintaining normative expectations for gender-specific behavior. Exposure also occurs through secondary agents such as religion and the workplace. Repeated exposure to these agents over time leads men and women into a false sense that they are acting naturally rather than following a socially constructed role.

Family is the first agent of socialization. There is considerable evidence that parents socialize sons and daughters differently. Generally speaking, girls are given more latitude to step outside of their prescribed gender role (Coltrane and Adams 2004; Kimmel 2000; Raffaelli and Ontai 2004). However, differential socialization typically results in greater privileges afforded to sons. For instance, boys are allowed more autonomy and independence at an earlier age than daughters. They may be given fewer restrictions on appropriate clothing, dating habits, or curfew. Sons are also often free from performing domestic duties such as cleaning or cooking and other household tasks that are considered feminine. Daughters are limited by their expectation to be passive and nurturing, generally obedient, and to assume many of the domestic responsibilities.

Even when parents set gender equality as a goal, there may be underlying indications of inequality. For example, boys may be asked to take out the garbage or perform other tasks that require strength or toughness, while girls may be asked to fold laundry or perform duties that require neatness and care. It has been found that fathers are firmer in their expectations for gender conformity than are mothers, and their expectations are stronger for sons than they are for daughters (Kimmel 2000). This is true in many types of activities, including preference for toys, play styles, discipline, chores, and personal achievements. As a result, boys tend to be particularly attuned to their father’s disapproval when engaging in an activity that might be considered feminine, like dancing or singing (Coltraine and Adams 2008). Parental socialization and normative expectations also vary along lines of social class, race, and ethnicity. African American families, for instance, are more likely than Caucasians to model an egalitarian role structure for their children (Staples and Boulin Johnson 2004).

The reinforcement of gender roles and stereotypes continues once a child reaches school age. Until very recently, schools were rather explicit in their efforts to stratify boys and girls. The first step toward stratification was segregation. Girls were encouraged to take home economics or humanities courses and boys to take math and science.

Studies suggest that gender socialization still occurs in schools today, perhaps in less obvious forms (Lips 2004). Teachers may not even realize they are acting in ways that reproduce gender differentiated behavior patterns. Yet any time they ask students to arrange their seats or line up according to gender, teachers may be asserting that boys and girls should be treated differently (Thorne 1993).

Even in levels as low as kindergarten, schools subtly convey messages to girls indicating that they are less intelligent or less important than boys. For example, in a study of teacher responses to male and female students, data indicated that teachers praised male students far more than female students. Teachers interrupted girls more often and gave boys more opportunities to expand on their ideas (Sadker and Sadker 1994). Further, in social as well as academic situations, teachers have traditionally treated boys and girls in opposite ways, reinforcing a sense of competition rather than collaboration (Thorne 1993). Boys are also permitted a greater degree of freedom to break rules or commit minor acts of deviance, whereas girls are expected to follow rules carefully and adopt an obedient role (Ready 2001).

Mimicking the actions of significant others is the first step in the development of a separate sense of self (Mead 1934). Like adults, children become agents who actively facilitate and apply normative gender expectations to those around them. When children do not conform to the appropriate gender role, they may face negative sanctions such as being criticized or marginalized by their peers. Though many of these sanctions are informal, they can be quite severe. For example, a girl who wishes to take karate class instead of dance lessons may be called a “tomboy” and face difficulty gaining acceptance from both male and female peer groups (Ready 2001). Boys, especially, are subject to intense ridicule for gender nonconformity (Coltrane and Adams 2004; Kimmel 2000).

Mass media serves as another significant agent of gender socialization. In television and movies, women tend to have less significant roles and are often portrayed as wives or mothers. When women are given a lead role, it often falls into one of two extremes: a wholesome, saint-like figure or a malevolent, hypersexual figure (Etaugh and Bridges 2003). This same inequality is pervasive in children’s movies (Smith 2008). Research indicates that in the ten top-grossing G-rated movies released between 1991 and 2013, nine out of ten characters were male (Smith 2008).

Television commercials and other forms of advertising also reinforce inequality and gender-based stereotypes. Women are almost exclusively present in ads promoting cooking, cleaning, or childcare-related products (Davis 1993). Think about the last time you saw a man star in a dishwasher or laundry detergent commercial. In general, women are underrepresented in roles that involve leadership, intelligence, or a balanced psyche. Of particular concern is the depiction of women in ways that are dehumanizing, especially in music videos. Even in mainstream advertising, however, themes intermingling violence and sexuality are quite common (Kilbourne 2000).

Social Stratification and Inequality

Stratification refers to a system in which groups of people experience unequal access to basic, yet highly valuable, social resources. There is a long history of gender stratification in the United States. When looking to the past, it would appear that society has made great strides in terms of abolishing some of the most blatant forms of gender inequality (see timeline below) but underlying effects of male dominance still permeate many aspects of society.

  • Before 1809—Women could not execute a will
  • Before 1840—Women were not allowed to own or control property
  • Before 1920—Women were not permitted to vote
  • Before 1963—Employers could legally pay a woman less than a man for the same work
  • Before 1973—Women did not have the right to a safe and legal abortion (Imbornoni 2009)

The Pay Gap

Despite making up nearly half (49.8 percent) of payroll employment, men vastly outnumber women in authoritative, powerful, and, therefore, high-earning jobs (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). Even when a woman’s employment status is equal to a man’s, she will generally make only 81 cents for every dollar made by her male counterpart (Payscale 2020). Women in the paid labor force also still do the majority of the unpaid work at home. On an average day, 84 percent of women (compared to 67 percent of men) spend time doing household management activities (U.S. Census Bureau 2011). This double duty keeps working women in a subordinate role in the family structure (Hochschild and Machung 1989).

Gender stratification through the division of labor is not exclusive to the United States. According to George Murdock’s classic work, Outline of World Cultures (1954), all societies classify work by gender. When a pattern appears in all societies, it is called a cultural universal. While the phenomenon of assigning work by gender is universal, its specifics are not. The same task is not assigned to either men or women worldwide. But the way each task’s associated gender is valued is notable. In Murdock’s examination of the division of labor among 324 societies around the world, he found that in nearly all cases the jobs assigned to men were given greater prestige (Murdock and White 1968). Even if the job types were very similar and the differences slight, men’s work was still considered more vital.

Part of the gender pay gap can be attributed to unique barriers faced by women regarding work experience and promotion opportunities. A mother of young children is more likely to drop out of the labor force for several years or work on a reduced schedule than is the father. As a result, women in their 30s and 40s are likely, on average, to have less job experience than men. This effect becomes more evident when considering the pay rates of two groups of women: those who did not leave the workforce and those who did: In the United States, childless women with the same education and experience levels as men are typically paid with closer (but not exact) parity to men. However, women with families and children are paid less: Mothers are recommended a 7.9 percent lower starting salary than non-mothers, which is 8.6 percent lower than men (Correll 2007).

This evidence points to levels of discrimination that go beyond behaviors by individual companies or organizations. As discussed earlier in the gender roles section, many of these gaps are rooted in America’s social patterns of discrimination, which involve the roles that different genders play in child-rearing, rather than individual discrimination by employers in hiring and salary decisions. On the other hand, legal and ethical practices demand that organizations do their part to promote more equity among all genders.

The Glass Ceiling

The idea that women are unable to reach the executive suite is known as the glass ceiling. It is an invisible barrier that women encounter when trying to win jobs in the highest level of business. At the beginning of 2021, for example, a record 41 of the world’s largest 500 companies were run by women. While a vast improvement over the number twenty years earlier – where only two of the companies were run by women – these 41 chief executives still only represent eight percent of those large companies (Newcomb 2020).

Why do women have a more difficult time reaching the top of a company? One idea is that there is still a stereotype in the United States that women aren’t aggressive enough to handle the boardroom or that they tend to seek jobs and work with other women (Reiners 2019). Other issues stem from the gender biases based on gender roles and motherhood discussed above.

Another idea is that women lack mentors, executives who take an interest and get them into the right meetings and introduce them to the right people to succeed (Murrell & Blake-Beard 2017).

Women in Politics

One of the most important places for women to help other women is in politics. Historically in the United States, like many other institutions, political representation has been mostly made up of White men. By not having women in government, their issues are being decided by people who don’t share their perspective. The number of women elected to serve in Congress has increased over the years, but does not yet accurately reflect the general population. For example, in 2018, the population of the United States was 49 percent male and 51 percent female, but the population of Congress was 78.8 percent male and 21.2 percent female (Manning 2018). Over the years, the number of women in the federal government has increased, but until it accurately reflects the population, there will be inequalities in our laws.

Movements for Change: Feminism

One of the underlying issues that continues to plague women in the United States is misogyny . This is the hatred of or, aversion to, or prejudice against women. Over the years misogyny has evolved as an ideology that men are superior to women in all aspects of life. There have been multiple movements to try and fight this prejudice.

In 1963, writer and feminist Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in which she contested the post-World War II belief that it was women’s sole destiny to marry and bear children. Friedan’s book began to raise the consciousness of many women who agreed that homemaking in the suburbs sapped them of their individualism and left them unsatisfied. In 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) formed and proceeded to set an agenda for the feminist movement . Framed by a statement of purpose written by Friedan, the agenda began by proclaiming NOW’s goal to make possible women’s participation in all aspects of American life and to gain for them all the rights enjoyed by men.

Feminists engaged in protests and actions designed to bring awareness and change. For example, the New York Radical Women demonstrated at the 1968 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City to bring attention to the contest’s—and society’s—exploitation of women. The protestors tossed instruments of women’s oppression, including high-heeled shoes, curlers, girdles, and bras, into a “freedom trash can.” News accounts incorrectly described the protest as a “bra burning,” which at the time was a way to demean and trivialize the issue of women’s rights (Gay 2018).

Other protests gave women a more significant voice in a male-dominated social, political, and entertainment climate. For decades, Ladies Home Journal had been a highly influential women’s magazine, managed and edited almost entirely by men. Men even wrote the advice columns and beauty articles. In 1970, protesters held a sit-in at the magazine’s offices, demanding that the company hire a woman editor-in-chief, add women and non-White writers at fair pay, and expand the publication’s focus.

Feminists were concerned with far more than protests, however. In the 1970s, they opened battered women’s shelters and successfully fought for protection from employment discrimination for pregnant women, reform of rape laws (such as the abolition of laws requiring a witness to corroborate a woman’s report of rape), criminalization of domestic violence, and funding for schools that sought to counter sexist stereotypes of women. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade invalidated a number of state laws under which abortions obtained during the first three months of pregnancy were illegal. This made a nontherapeutic abortion a legal medical procedure nationwide.

Gloria Steinem had pushed through gender barriers to take on serious journalism subjects, and had emerged as a prominent advocate for women’s rights. Through her work, Steinem met Dorothy Pittman-Hughes, who had founded New York City’s first shelter for domestic violence victims as well as the city’s Agency for Child Development. Together they founded Ms . Magazine, which avoided articles on homemaking and fashion in favor of pieces on women’s rights and empowerment. Ms . showcased powerful and accomplished women such as Shirley Chisholm and Sissy Farenthold, and was among the first publications to bring domestic violence, sexual harassment, and body image issues to the national conversation (Pogrebrin 2011).

Many advances in women’s rights were the result of women’s greater engagement in politics. For example, Patsy Mink, the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, was the co-author of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title IX of which prohibits sex discrimination in education. Mink had been interested in fighting discrimination in education since her youth, when she opposed racial segregation in campus housing while a student at the University of Nebraska. She went to law school after being denied admission to medical school because of her gender. Like Mink, many other women sought and won political office, many with the help of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC). In 1971, the NWPC was formed by Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and other leading feminists to encourage women’s participation in political parties, elect women to office, and raise money for their campaign.

Shirley Chisholm personally took up the mantle of women’s involvement in politics. Born of immigrant parents, she earned degrees from Brooklyn College and Columbia University, and began a career in early childhood education and advocacy. In the 1950’s she joined various political action groups, worked on election campaigns, and pushed for housing and economic reforms. After leaving one organization over its refusal to involve women in the decision-making process, she sought to increase gender and racial diversity within political and activist organizations throughout New York City. In 1968, she became the first Black woman elected to Congress. Refusing to take the quiet role expected of new Representatives, she immediately began sponsoring bills and initiatives. She spoke out against the Vietnam War, and fought for programs such as Head Start and the national school lunch program, which was eventually signed into law after Chisholm led an effort to override a presidential veto. Chisholm would eventually undertake a groundbreaking presidential run in 1972, and is viewed as paving the way for other women, and especially women of color, achieving political and social prominence (Emmrich 2019).

Theoretical Perspectives on Gender

Sociological theories help sociologists to develop questions and interpret data. For example, a sociologist studying why middle-school girls are more likely than their male counterparts to fall behind grade-level expectations in math and science might use a feminist perspective to frame her research. Another scholar might proceed from the conflict perspective to investigate why women are underrepresented in political office, and an interactionist might examine how the symbols of femininity interact with symbols of political authority to affect how women in Congress are treated by their male counterparts in meetings.

Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism has provided one of the most important perspectives of sociological research in the twentieth century and has been a major influence on research in the social sciences, including gender studies. Viewing the family as the most integral component of society, assumptions about gender roles within marriage assume a prominent place in this perspective.

Functionalists argue that gender roles were established well before the pre-industrial era when men typically took care of responsibilities outside of the home, such as hunting, and women typically took care of the domestic responsibilities in or around the home. These roles were considered functional because women were often limited by the physical restraints of pregnancy and nursing and unable to leave the home for long periods of time. Once established, these roles were passed on to subsequent generations since they served as an effective means of keeping the family system functioning properly.

When changes occurred in the social and economic climate of the United States during World War II, changes in the family structure also occurred. Many women had to assume the role of breadwinner (or modern hunter-gatherer) alongside their domestic role in order to stabilize a rapidly changing society. When the men returned from war and wanted to reclaim their jobs, society fell back into a state of imbalance, as many women did not want to forfeit their wage-earning positions (Hawke 2007).

Conflict Theory

According to conflict theory, society is a struggle for dominance among social groups (like women versus men) that compete for scarce resources. When sociologists examine gender from this perspective, we can view men as the dominant group and women as the subordinate group. According to conflict theory, social problems are created when dominant groups exploit or oppress subordinate groups. Consider the Women’s Suffrage Movement or the debate over women’s “right to choose” their reproductive futures. It is difficult for women to rise above men, as dominant group members create the rules for success and opportunity in society (Farrington and Chertok 1993).

Friedrich Engels, a German sociologist, studied family structure and gender roles. Engels suggested that the same owner-worker relationship seen in the labor force is also seen in the household, with women assuming the role of the proletariat. This is due to women’s dependence on men for the attainment of wages, which is even worse for women who are entirely dependent upon their spouses for economic support. Contemporary conflict theorists suggest that when women become wage earners, they can gain power in the family structure and create more democratic arrangements in the home, although they may still carry the majority of the domestic burden, as noted earlier (Rismanand and Johnson-Sumerford 1998).

Feminist Theory

Feminist theory is a type of conflict theory that examines inequalities in gender-related issues. It uses the conflict approach to examine the maintenance of gender roles and inequalities. Radical feminism, in particular, considers the role of the family in perpetuating male dominance. In patriarchal societies, men’s contributions are seen as more valuable than those of women. Patriarchal perspectives and arrangements are widespread and taken for granted. As a result, women’s viewpoints tend to be silenced or marginalized to the point of being discredited or considered invalid.

Sanday’s study of the Indonesian Minangkabau (2004) revealed that in societies some consider to be matriarchies (where women comprise the dominant group), women and men tend to work cooperatively rather than competitively regardless of whether a job is considered feminine by U.S. standards. The men, however, do not experience the sense of bifurcated consciousness under this social structure that modern U.S. females encounter (Sanday 2004).

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism aims to understand human behavior by analyzing the critical role of symbols in human interaction. This is certainly relevant to the discussion of masculinity and femininity. Imagine that you walk into a bank hoping to get a small loan for school, a home, or a small business venture. If you meet with a male loan officer, you may state your case logically by listing all the hard numbers that make you a qualified applicant as a means of appealing to the analytical characteristics associated with masculinity. If you meet with a female loan officer, you may make an emotional appeal by stating your good intentions as a means of appealing to the caring characteristics associated with femininity.

Because the meanings attached to symbols are socially created and not natural, and fluid, not static, we act and react to symbols based on the current assigned meaning. The word gay , for example, once meant “cheerful,” but by the 1960s it carried the primary meaning of “homosexual.” In transition, it was even known to mean “careless” or “bright and showing” (Oxford American Dictionary 2010). Furthermore, the word gay (as it refers to a person), carried a somewhat negative and unfavorable meaning fifty years ago, but it has since gained more neutral and even positive connotations. When people perform tasks or possess characteristics based on the gender role assigned to them, they are said to be doing gender . This notion is based on the work of West and Zimmerman (1987). Whether we are expressing our masculinity or femininity, West and Zimmerman argue, we are always "doing gender." Thus, gender is something we do or perform, not something we are.

In other words, both gender and sexuality are socially constructed. The social construction of sexuality refers to the way in which socially created definitions about the cultural appropriateness of sex-linked behavior shape the way people see and experience sexuality. This is in marked contrast to theories of sex, gender, and sexuality that link male and female behavior to biological determinism , or the belief that men and women behave differently due to differences in their biology.

Sociological Research

Being male, being female, and being healthy.

In 1971, Broverman and Broverman conducted a groundbreaking study on the traits mental health workers ascribed to males and females. When asked to name the characteristics of a female, the list featured words such as unaggressive, gentle, emotional, tactful, less logical, not ambitious, dependent, passive, and neat. The list of male characteristics featured words such as aggressive, rough, unemotional, blunt, logical, direct, active, and sloppy (Seem and Clark 2006). Later, when asked to describe the characteristics of a healthy person (not gender specific), the list was nearly identical to that of a male.

This study uncovered the general assumption that being female is associated with being somewhat unhealthy or not of sound mind. This concept seems extremely dated, but in 2006, Seem and Clark replicated the study and found similar results. Again, the characteristics associated with a healthy male were very similar to that of a healthy (genderless) adult. The list of characteristics associated with being female broadened somewhat but did not show significant change from the original study (Seem and Clark 2006). This interpretation of feminine characteristic may help us one day better understand gender disparities in certain illnesses, such as why one in eight women can be expected to develop clinical depression in her lifetime (National Institute of Mental Health 1999). Perhaps these diagnoses are not just a reflection of women’s health, but also a reflection of society’s labeling of female characteristics, or the result of institutionalized sexism.

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Addressing workplace gender inequality: Using the evidence to avoid common pitfalls

Michelle k. ryan.

1 Global Institute for Women's Leadership, The Australian National University, Canberra Australian Capital Territory, Australia

2 Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Groningen, Groningen The Netherlands

In this Landmark article I outline four common missteps that are made when designing and implementing workplace gender equality initiatives: (1) when we don't go beyond describing the numbers; (2) when we try to ‘fix’ women rather than fix systems; (3) when we are overly optimistic about the progress we have made; and (4) when we fail to recognise the intersectionality of the experiences that women face. I will briefly consider each of these missteps in term, presenting research that suggests alternative ways of approaching gender equality initiatives.

INTRODUCTION

Despite much progress in the past 50 years, workplace gender inequality remains a persistent problem. Worldwide, women only occupy about 37 per cent of leadership roles (World Economic Forum,  2022 ), the pay gap sits at approximately 20 per cent (International Labour Oragnisation, 2022 ), and women remain concentrated in low‐status, low‐paid jobs (UN Women,  2022 ). There are countless initiatives designed to address workplace gender equality—those that try to attract women to certain professions and roles where they are under‐represented, those that try to support women's career trajectories, and the those that try to retain women in the workforce. While the impetus behind these initiatives is generally positive, many of these interventions are not based on evidence, in terms of their design, their implementation or in the evaluation of their efficacy.

Most infamous in this space are those initiatives that build on an understanding that much gender discrimination (but certainly not all) is a result unconscious bias. The research most cited to underpin unconscious bias training is work on implicit prejudice and implicit associations (e.g. Devine,  1989 ; Greenwald et al.,  1998 ; Greenwald & Banaji,  1995 ). While there has been theoretical, methodological and psychometric debate about the utility of implicit tests such as the IAT (e.g. Blanton & Jaccard, 2006 ; Nosek & Sriram, 2007 ; see also Jost,  2019 ) what is of more interest here is the utility of unconscious bias training itself. While unconscious bias training is good at awareness raising, it is less effectual at achieving behaviour change or increased gender equality (e.g. Atewologun et al.,  2018 ; Bezrukova et al.,  2016 ; Kalev et al., 2006 ) and has been shown to have unintended negative consequences such as backfiring or feelings of false progress (e.g. Dover et al.,  2020 ; Leslie,  2019 ).

In my current role, as the Director of the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at The Australian National University, I have three key responsibilities (1) to conduct research to better understand gender inequality, (2) to work with organizations and government to translate the evidence base into effective policy and practice and (3) to advocate for social change and gender equality. It is at the nexus of these three endeavours that I can see where we get it right, and where we, unfortunately, get it wrong.

In this Landmark article I outline four common missteps that are made when designing and implementing workplace gender equality initiatives: (1) when we do not go beyond describing the numbers; (2) when we try to ‘fix’ women rather than fix systems; (3) when we are overly optimistic about the progress we have made; and (4) when we fail to recognize the intersectionality of the experiences that women face. I will briefly consider each of these missteps in term, presenting research that suggests alternative ways of approaching gender equality initiatives. 1

WHEN NUMBERS JUST AREN'T ENOUGH

One of the first steps in many gender equality action plans is to do an audit of the representation of women. How many women are in the organization? How many women are in decision‐making roles? How many women are there in senior management and on the boards of directors? This number crunching extends to describing other inequalities: How big is the gender pay gap? How many women were promoted in the last promotions round? What is the success rate of female job applicants? This approach is common in many internal organizational gender equality plans (Ely & Thomas,  2020 ), and as part of many external accreditation programmes (e.g. Rosser et al.,  2019 ). Understanding representation and understanding key metrics of gender equality are a necessary part of achieving gender equality—but they are not sufficient. Such numbers are a great starting point as they identify problem areas to be rectified. But they do not tell the whole story.

In this section, I will outline a body of research on women in leadership and the glass cliff (Haslam & Ryan,  2008 ; Ryan & Haslam,  2005 , 2007 ) that illustrates why we cannot just stop at descriptive numbers. This work suggests that it is not enough to know whether women are in leadership positions, but when they are in leadership positions. It also illustrates the importance of looking at women's experiences in such positions. And finally, it illustrates the importance of understanding the psychological processes behind the appointment of women to leadership positions.

This body of research builds on the metaphor of the glass ceiling, that describes the under‐representation of women in leadership positions, to examine the conditions under which women are likely to be appointed to leadership positions. Almost 20 years of research has demonstrated the phenomenon whereby women are more likely to be appointed to leadership roles during times of crisis (see Morgenroth et al.,  2020 , & Ryan et al.,  2016 , for meta‐analyses and an overview). With the extension of the glass ceiling metaphor—the glass cliff—we hoped to capture the riskiness and precarity of such leadership positions: to give a sense of occupying a position up on high, yet of teetering on the edge.

The phenomenon of the glass cliff was first uncovered as a reaction to a newspaper article in The Times (Judge, 2003 ). This article presented evidence that companies that had more women on their boards of directors, had poorer share prices, and thus the increasing number of women on UK corporate board was ‘wreaking havoc’ on corporate Britain (p. 21). In response, Ryan and Haslam ( 2005 ) proposed an alternative analysis, whereby rather than women causing poor company performance, it was poor company performance that led to women being appointed to boards of directors. We conducted nuanced analysis of board appointments and monthly changes in company share prices that showed that this alternative explanation was indeed the case—(the small number of) women who were appointed to boards of directs, were appointed after a prolonged period of poor share price performance. Share price afterwards did not differ from their male counterparts.

Since this first discovery of the phenomenon, a global body of research on the glass cliff has emerged, one that uses multiple methodologies (archival analyses, experimental studies, case studies, qualitative work) to demonstrate the nuance and underlying processes associated with the glass cliff phenomenon (Morgenroth et al.,  2020 ; Ryan et al.,  2016 ). The glass cliff is not restricted to corporate settings, and has also been found in (a) the political sphere (e.g. Kulich et al.,  2015 ; Ryan et al.,  2010 )—as illustrated by all three of the UK's female Prime ministers: Thatcher (1980s recession), May (Brexit) and Truss (energy crisis and spiralling inflation); (b) sporting contexts (e.g. Wicker et al.,  2019 ); and (c) in non‐government, third sector organizations (e.g., Bogacz‐Wojtanowska et al.,  2018 ).

The importance of the glass cliff here is that it points to the necessity of looking beyond simply the number of women in leadership positions, to understand the circumstances under which women are likely to be appointment to such positions. If we just take the proportion of women in leadership roles as a measure of gender equality, then glass cliff appointments may be seen as an example of progress towards gender equality. But in reality, the opposite may be the case.

The context in which the glass cliff occurs can lead to such positions representing a new and subtle form of sexism or gender discrimination. Such a poisoned chalice potentially sets women up for additional scrutiny, stress and risk of failure. Indeed, the very risk and precarity experienced by those in glass cliff positions may hinder progress towards gender equality. Women in glass cliff positions are likely to face greater challenges in their leadership roles, such as (a) being blamed for negative conditions that were set in train long before they were appointed (Ryan & Haslam,  2005 ), shorter tenure (Glass & Cook,  2016 ) or (c) stress and burnout (Ryan et al.,  2009 ). These additional difficulties may contribute to the stagnation of women's representation in leadership positions, reinforcing stereotypes that women are not suited to leadership.

The glass cliff is just one example where the complexity of gender equality might be hidden behind the top‐line numbers. Understanding the subtlety and nuance behind the numbers gives us a truer sense of our progress towards gender equality. We can think of these in terms of who, when, why and where questions. For example, who bears the brunt of gender inequality—we know that gender inequality is fundamentally intersectional, being exacerbated by other group memberships (see Section ‘ When we are overly optimistic ’, below). When and where does inequality occur. And the big question for us as psychologists, is the why —what are the processes sitting behind the numbers, what drives inequality, and in turn, what do we need to do to help mitigate it.

Exploring beyond the numbers can also help inform us of the most effective ways to attack those problems. In the case of the glass cliff, looking beyond the number of appointments raises a whole new set of research questions to be asked (and answered). Are women preferentially selected by others for leadership in times crisis (yes, according to Haslam & Ryan,  2008 )? Are women appointed because we think they are good at dealing with crisis (no, according to Kulich et al.,  2015 ; Ryan et al.,  2011 ). Do women select these positions because they like a challenge (also no, according to Rink et al.,  2012 )?

WHEN WE TRY TO FIX WOMEN

The question of whether women self‐select into glass cliff positions leads us nicely into our next misstep—the tendency to focus on women when trying to solve the problem of gender inequality. Many of the approaches to improving gender equality recognize that the issues arise from inequalities embedded in our social and organizational structures and systems. Key here are the traditional gender stereotypes about what women and men are like (Ellemers,  2018 ) and what they should be like (Heilman, 2012 ). In particular, many workplace inequalities arise because the societal view of women's warmth is incompatible with societal views of leadership and success that prioritize notions of agency and competence (e.g. Koenig et al.,  2011 ; Schein,  1973 ). Importantly our social and organizational structures and systems are predicated on these gender norms and stereotypes (Eagly et al.,  2000 ), including recruitment, promotion and reward practices; parental leave and childcare policies; and educational systems.

However, this acknowledgement of systemic basis of gender equality often dissipates when it comes to actually implementing interventions and initiatives. There is a relatively consistent underlying assumption within these initiatives that gender inequalities can be addressed with a focus on individual competencies. From this perspective, we can narrow the gender equality gaps by providing women with additional skills and training. For example, initiatives to encourage girls and women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are often focused on boosting their engagement and ambition (Liben & Coyle,  2014 ). Leadership training courses often focus on teaching women ‘girl boss’ leadership skills (Atir,  2022 ) and encouraging them to take greater risks and make bigger sacrifices, overcome impostor symptom, be authentic at work and negotiate the next promotion or pay rise (Hackworth et al.,  2018 ). This approach is epitomized by the ‘lean in’ approach to gender equality (Sandberg, 2013 ), which seeks to encourage women to make the right choices and have the right mindset.

All of these approaches have, as their implicit theory of change, an understanding that women are in some way broken and not up to the task. The solution is, therefore, seen to be to ‘fix’ them—to change their behaviours, address their skills deficit, remedy their mindset. But the evidence is very clear on this point—it is not women that need fixing, but the deeply entrenched systems of gender inequality that structure our organizations and structure society more broadly.

Below I outline some illustrative research that demonstrates that women's engagement and belonging, their feelings of impostor syndrome and their willingness to take risks are not individual‐level problems that renders them needing to be fixed. Rather, these issues are a direct product of organizational and societal systems, and their experiences in these systems and thus require structural solutions.

Engagement and belonging

One area in which this approach is highly visible is trying to attract and retain girls and women in male‐dominated sectors, such as STEM, finance and construction. Many of initiatives designed to increase gender inequality in these spaces focus on trying to increase girls' and women's interest for and engagement with these sectors (McKinnon,  2022 ), such as the heavily criticized campaign—Science: It's a Girl Thing—from the European Commission, which featured women in fashionable PPE making lipstick (Grosu, 2013 ). What is implicit here is that there is some sort of inherent lack of enthusiasm in women, that needs to be addressed, rather than the fact that women and girls are responding to very real cultural and normative barriers that exclude them (Saucerman & Vasquez,  2014 ).

In a series of studies looking at women in surgery—where women make up less than 25% per cent of the profession—Peters et al. ( 2012 ) examined whether the under‐representation of women may be explained, at least in part, by women's perceptions of, and experiences within, the profession. Across two studies we demonstrated that female surgical trainees perceived a lack of fit between themselves and the prototypical masculine surgeon. In turn, this perceived lack of fit was associated with a reduction in identification with the profession and an increased desire to opt out of the profession.

Similarly, work by Meeussen et al. ( 2022 ) demonstrate than in male‐dominated careers, such as surgery and the veterinary profession, women (compared to men) report less career engagement because of their more frequent experiences of gender discrimination and lower perceived fit with those higher up the career ladder. In turn, these barriers predicted reduced expectations of success in their field and expected success of their sacrifices, which in turn predicted lower willingness to make sacrifices.

Together, these studies suggest the role that external barriers, such as experiences of discrimination and perceptions of fit, play in women's career decision making in male‐dominated professions. Thus, trying to attract and retain women in these spaces by focusing on women themselves is unlikely to be fruitful. Rather, interventions need to address the root of the problem, discriminatory environments and a lack of role models if they want women to come and women to stay (see Casad et al.,  2018 ).

Imposter syndrome

Another area in which has received a lot of attention when it comes to women in the workplace are initiatives that seek to address impostor syndrome. This concept is used to describe individuals who express doubts about their self‐worth, failing to take credit for their successes or attributing their successes to luck. Such individuals worry that others will see them as impostors or frauds. The very use of the term ‘syndrome’ suggests that this experience is an individual‐level problem—a condition that requires diagnosis and treatment and fixing. And indeed, there will be no surprise to find out that there are many initiatives out there that are designed to help individuals, and in particular women, to overcome ‘their’ impostor syndrome. For example, such interventions seek to increase women's confidence, reduce their perfectionism and change their mindsets (Chandra et al.,  2019 ).

However, as Feenstra et al. ( 2020 ) argue, rather than being seen as a personal problem that plagues individual women, it is critical to acknowledge the role that the social and organizational context plays in eliciting feelings of impostorism (see also Kark et al.,  2022 ). Indeed, a series of studies by Begeny et al. ( 2022 ) demonstrate that impostor feelings can be seen as is a direct response to how one is treated by others. In a longitudinal study, we showed that that experiencing fewer expressions of distinctive treatment, such as being asked for advice, resulted in a significant increase in impostor feelings over time. Moreover, in experimental studies we showed that when individuals experience positive distinctive treatment from work colleagues, this significantly reduces impostor feelings.

In this way, characterizing impostor feelings at an individual level is unlikely to be useful, both in terms of running the risk of pathologizing these feelings and in terms of understanding where they come from. Thinking of impostor feelings as a context‐dependent outcome of workplace experiences has clear implications for how we ‘treat’ impostor syndrome. Rather than putting the onus on employees, particularly women, to overcome their own impostor feelings—being more confident and ‘faking it until you make it’—we need to implement more systemic approaches, creating cultures where colleagues are valued and treated with respect.

Risk taking

One common explanation for the persistence of workplace gender inequalities is that women are less willing to take career‐enhancing risks, such as asking for a pay rise or taking on a new position (Byrnes et al.,  1999 ). Indeed, women's risk aversion is a persistent aspect of gender stereotypes, with many arguing that this is an innate difference aspect of gender (Bem, 1974 ). Such an analysis has a number of issues, including the assumption that risk taking is inherent desirable and necessarily career enhancing, and because it fails to recognize the types of risks that women do take in everyday life (Morgenroth et al.,  2018 ). But nonetheless, a key facet of the lean in approach to fixing women is encouraging women to take more risks, including memetic advice such as ‘if you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, do not ask what seat, just get on’ and ‘fortune does favour the bold, and you never know what you are capable of if you do not try’ (Sandberg, 2013 ).

However, research demonstrates that far from being innate, women's willingness to take risks is dependent of their experiences in the workplace. Research conducted by Morgenroth et al. ( 2022 ) looks at gender differences in risk taking through a lens of the anticipated and experienced consequences of risk taking. Across three studies, there was no evidence for gender differences in initial risk taking or in the anticipation of consequences for the risks with which women and men had no prior experience. However, when we looked at actual experiences of risk taking in the workplace—such as taking on a difficult task, speaking up or quitting your job for a new job—men reported more positive consequences for taking risks than women, and as a result, anticipated having a greater likelihood of taking the same risks in the future.

Studies like this question the assumption that it is women's innate risk aversion that underlies workplace gender inequalities. Rather they demonstrate that any aversions women have are likely to be a consequence of their workplace experiences, and indeed, are likely to be informed by the gendered, negative experiences they have when attempting to take risks. For this reason, gender equality initiatives that focus on encouraging women to take more risks are unlikely to succeed, and it is the gendered costs and benefits for risk that need to be addressed.

Taken together, this exploration of some of the common ways in which initiatives target gender equality issues—engagement, impostor syndrome and risk taking—suggest that framing these as individual‐level problems is unlikely to be fruitful. At best, such an approach may provide those individual women who are targeted by such initiatives, usually women that hold a certain amount of privilege (see Section 4) with a short‐term advantage. At worst, such attempts to fix women reinforce the stereotypes and norms that form the basis of structural gender inequalities and become yet another demand on women's time. Interventions should, instead, target the foundational causes of inequality: organizational systems and culture.

WHEN WE ARE OVERLY OPTIMISTIC

If we compare where we are now on the workplace gender equality front, compared to where we have been historically, it is clear that there have been many positive changes—better gender representation, safer working conditions and more equality in terms of pay. But such changes are not linear, and neither are they inevitable. Indeed, over more recent time periods we have seen stagnation in these advances, in in some cases even backsliding (Word Economic Forus,  2022 ). Indeed, current forecasts suggest it will be at anywhere between 132 (Word Economic Forus,  2022 ) and 300 (UN Women,  2022 ) years before we reach global gender equality.

Part of the tension here lies in the degree to which we recognize and celebrate our gender equality accomplishments, and to what extent are we realistic about how much we still have to achieve. This decision is not just about whether or not one wants to be an optimistic person. An understanding of the degree to which gender inequalities persist, and in particular the denial of gender inequality, forms a key aspect of sexist attitudes, such as those captured by the modern sexism scale (Swim et al., 1995 ). Indeed, there are a number of very real consequences of failing to acknowledge the persistence of gender inequality.

Begeny et al. ( 2020 ) looked at what happens when traditionally male‐occupied professions, such as the veterinary profession, attract more women. While having a greater representation of women is clearly progress, some may take it as an indication that the discrimination is no longer a problem. We demonstrated that despite women being the majority of veterinary students and junior vets, female vets still report experiencing discrimination. In a follow‐up experimental study, we illustrated one way in which this discrimination manifests itself. Vets with managerial responsibilities evaluated a male vet as more competent and suggested paying him 8 per cent more than an equally qualified female vet. Key here, these discriminatory evaluations were evident primarily among those who believed women no longer face discrimination in the profession. Thus, even when positive change occurs, discrimination persists, ironically perpetuated by those who believe it is no longer a problem.

Research also demonstrates that progress towards gender equality may be hampered by those who overestimate the rate of progress. A study by Begeny et al. ( 2022 ) surveyed doctors in the United Kingdom who were asked to estimate the representation of women across a number of roles in the medical profession. Both male and female doctors consistently overestimated the number of women in medicine. However, while those women who over‐estimated female representation still supported gender‐equality initiatives, such as initiatives run by the Royal College of Surgeons and the General Medical Council, those men who were over‐optimistic about progress showed significantly lower levels of support. Thus, men who overestimated progress towards gender equality were at highest risk of undermining it (see also Coffé & Reiser, 2021 ).

Recognizing and celebrating progress towards gender equality is important for a sense of hope and collective efficacy, both necessary for continued motivation for change (e.g. Cohen‐Chen & Van Zomeren,  2018 ; Van Zomeren,  2013 ). However, studies like these suggest that there is potentially a fine line between optimism and a failure to recognize persistent inequalities. If we are to close the gap, and it would be nice if we could do so in less than a century, we need a healthy dose of realism and we need to acknowledge what still remains to be done.

WHEN WE AREN'T INTERSECTIONAL

A final common misstep that is taken when trying to address gender inequalities is to treat women as if they are a monolithic, homogenous group. There is often a ‘one size fits all’ approach to interventions and change (Tzanakou,  2019 ). But the experiences within women—between individuals and between different groups of women—are often more varied than the experiences between women and men. There is a need to understand this variety in women's experiences, and how this is determined by other intersecting identities, especially those that are marginalized or stigmatized (e.g. Crenshaw,  1991 ).

What is most troublesome about the one size fits all approach, is that gender interventions and initiatives are most often based on the experiences of the dominant group—such as those women who are white, middle‐class or straight. This is problematic, both because the experiences of such women are by no means universal, and because women not included in this group—for example culturally and linguistically diverse women, working‐class women, and LGBTQI+ women and gender diverse people, often face the greatest inequalities.

For example, research by Opara et al. ( 2020 ) identified that Black and minoritized women's workplaces experienced were very much influenced by their racial identities, including having stereotypes and expectations imposed upon them. Indeed, research demonstrates that Black women are treated on the basis of negative stereotypes that question their competence and their legitimacy (e.g. Williams & Dempsey,  2014 ) or see them as aggressive and masculine (Hall et al.,  2019 ). In contrast, Asian women may be affected by the model minority myth (Cheng et al.,  2017 ) and be seen as hyper‐competent (Liang & Peters‐Hawkins,  2017 ), but at the same time face stereotypes of low agency (Ghavami & Peplau,  2013 ) and hyper‐femininity (Mukkamala & Suyemoto,  2018 ).

These differential experiences mean that homogenous workplace gender equality initiatives are unlikely to be effective. Indeed, Wong et al. ( 2022 ) argue that diversity interventions tend not to take into account the wide variety of women's experiences. Across three studies we demonstrate that women who are racially marginalized need different things from their diversity interventions than do White women. More specifically we found that while White women focused on the needs of initiatives address issues of women's agency, Black women overtly reported the need for initiatives to take into account intersectional differences, such as racialized gender stereotypes where Black women are seen as pushy or overly assertive. Similarly, Asian women reported the need to address challenges to their authority which stem from racialized stereotypes of Asian women as passive and submissive. Importantly, our textual analysis of gender equality websites showed that organizations were less likely to represent the needs of Black and Asian women—a form of intersectional invisibility (Purdie‐Vaughns & Eibach,  2008 )—such that their gender equality advocacy tended to focus on (White women's) issues of agency, rather than issues of racialized stereotyping reported by Black and Asian women.

These findings suggest that if gender equality initiatives are going to be successful, they must take into account the wide variety of women's experiences and needs. Catering for just one group of women is unhelpful, particularly if that group of women as a whole are likely to experience less disadvantage. Interventions need to overtly address the issues faced by all women, not just those in the majority or those with the most privilege. This points to the importance of understanding the intersectional nature of gender inequality—taking into account that these inequalities are exacerbated and qualified by multiple forms of oppression, such as those based on race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, disability, age and linguistic diversity.

CONCLUSIONS

While the majority of gender equality initiatives are founded on good intentions, this in and of itself is not enough to bring about significant and lasting change. As we have seen above, interventions need to be based on a clear evidence base, one that (1) looks beyond the top line numbers to the complexity and nuance of gender inequality; (2) aims to fix the things that actually needs fixing (systems and structures) rather than trying to fix women; (3) celebrates change while at the same time being realistic about the challenges that are to come; and (4) understands the inherently intersectional nature of gender inequality.

The good news is that social psychology is perfectly situated to rise to all of these challenges. First, we are well placed to understand the processes and contexts that sit behind the top line numbers. For example, as we have seen, social psychological theories can help us understanding the gendered stereotypes than underlie our social and organizational policies and practices (e.g. Eagly et al.,  2000 ; Ellemers,  2018 ; Heilman, 2012 ; Koenig et al.,  2011 ). They can also help us understanding how workplace experiences can affect gendered workplace choices (e.g. Begeny et al.,  2022 ; Meeussen et al.,  2022 ; Morgenroth et al.,  2022 ).

Second, within our theories we have the ability to ensure we are asking the appropriate questions and that we are framing our questions at the right level of analysis—at the level of the individual, the group or at a societal level—and an understanding that the individual level is not always the most appropriate. For example, the social identity approach (Tajfel & Turner,  1979 ; Turner et al.,  1987 ) provides a clear framework to examine how our group memberships, and the contexts in which we are embedded, may impact upon our attitudes and behaviours, particularly at work (Haslam,  2004 ).

Third, through concepts like modern sexism (Swim et al., 1995 ), social psychology can provide an understanding of the perniciousness of the denial of sexism and the subsequent outcomes, such as continued gender discrimination and a lack of support for gender equality initiatives (see Begeny et al.,  2020 , 2022 ). This is particularly important as such views provide a strong basis to the backlash that is levelled against gender equality initiatives (Flood et al.,  2021 ). Indeed, more recent theories of sexism, such as the belief in sexism shift (Zehnter et al., 2021 ), indicate that there are increasingly prevalent views that men are now the key victims of sexism (Ryan & Zehnter,  2022 ), a view that is likely to exacerbate resistance to change.

Finally, while not yet an integrated part of social psychology, there are some excellent examples of how to make our research more intersectional (Bowleg,  2017 ; Cole,  2009 ; Rosenthal,  2016 ). This intersectionality can be implemented in terms of the types of research questions we ask and the make‐up of our samples (Purdie‐Vaughns & Eibach,  2008 ; Remedios & Snyder,  2015 ) and even the way we do open science (Sabik et al.,  2021 ). Importantly, while much of the intersectional advances have been made at the intersection of gender and race; there is still much to be done in acknowledging other intersectional identities, such as those based on age, class, disability and sexuality.

Taken together, while the evidence shows us that there have clearly been missteps on the way, the evidence also demonstrates that social psychology is in an excellent position to play an important role as we stride forward towards gender equality.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

All authors declare no conflict of interest.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Landmark articles are, by tradition, single authored papers, but of course the work that is discussed in the paper could only have been conducted in collaboration. Thanks to all my terrific colleagues with whom I've had the pleasure to work with, in particular to Thekla Morgenroth, Chris Begeny, Alex Haslam and Kim Peters whose work contributed significantly to the ideas in this paper. This paper was supported in part by a European Research Council consolidator Grant (725128).

Ryan, M. K. (2023). Addressing workplace gender inequality: Using the evidence to avoid common pitfalls . British Journal of Social Psychology , 62 , 1–11. 10.1111/bjso.12606 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]

1 This Landmark Article builds on a short opinion piece I wrote for Nature: Ryan ( 2022 )

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Studying Gender and Sexualities with Qualitative Methods

  • Editor's Note
  • Published: 09 August 2018
  • Volume 41 , pages 333–335, ( 2018 )

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example of research title about gender inequality

  • David Smilde 1 &
  • Rebecca Hanson 2  

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Sometimes things just happen. In reviewing the manuscripts we had in the queue for the September issue, we realized that beyond any conscious intention half of them had to do with gender and/or sexualities. That is actually not surprising since about a third of the submissions we receive focus on gender and/or sexualities. In fact, we have always had to make sure that at least one of our editorial assistants was a GSS scholar, able to identify and locate viable reviewers.

Qualitative Sociology does not focus on publishing in specific research areas or sociological subfields. So why do we receive so many GSS submissions? We believe it is because qualitative methods lend themselves to studying the building blocks of gender expression and sexual identities—the interactional, the discursive, and the performative—and how these buttress systems of inequalities. Quantitative methods do a great job of detecting and measuring the effects of gender bias and discrimination in employment, education, and other domains of social life. But qualitative methods are particularly suited to unpacking the “how” of gender and sexualities—the layers of practices, discourses, histories, and identities that constitute and are constituted by them.

Gender and sexuality encompass (often binary) sets of categories related to the meanings assigned to assumed reproductive capacities made explicit in the everyday and inscribed into the unconscious, as well as the malleable and fluctuating content of those categories. Focused but open-ended participant observation, qualitative interviewing, and ethnographic readings of documents and archives can show us how people resist, remake or reify these categories, challenging or reproducing the inequalities that structure them. Qualitative methods can reveal the complicated and reciprocal processes through which assumptions about gender and sexuality guide interactions, become embedded in institutions, and differentially affect life chances.

In this issue, Rania Salem shows how the Egyptian middle class reproduces inequality through active constructions and reconstructions of gendered expectations around marriage. Salem shows how “waithood”—the process whereby young people wait to marry because they do not have the education, employment or material well being to form a new household—results not simply from a scarcity of resources, but depends on gendered constructions of the division of labor and consumption practices that provide assurance to a bride’s family that a man will provide for his dependent wife after the wedding. Matrimonial transactions, then, adhere to norms and ritualized situations that signal actors’ dedication to dominant ideals of masculinity and femininity and the unequal roles they will come to occupy within marriage.

In a world in which there have been undeniable formal gains in gender equality, qualitative research can unpack and explain persistent inequalities. Examining the role of women in Italian mafias, Felia Alum and Irene Marchi push back against analyses that suggest that taking on high level positions in an organization—here, the mafia—signals that women have become empowered. They show this only happens at moments of crisis and that, while women gain status in the organization, they effectively do so by default. Wives, mothers and daughters serve as a sort of “reserve army” when men are killed, imprisoned, incapacitated or threatened. They suggest the term exploitation is closer to the mark than emancipation. By decoupling “rising in the ranks” from empowerment, the authors show that increased gender parity does not necessarily signal egalitarian gender relations. Chelsea Wahl and Stephen Ellingson provide a classic portrait of gender discrimination, looking at the contradictory way that the jazz world is simultaneously built upon a culture of meritocracy and gender essentialism. Women musicians may be initially accepted, but they are tested and evaluated in ways that men are not and may require the support of a well-established man in the scene; more often than not, assumptions about what women are physically capable of limits how far they can make it in the industry. When they seek more established roles in the jazz world they are often marginalized or pushed into feminized roles (as singers, for example). They push back by working with the discourse of meritocracy, fighting for established positions in the jazz world.

Alin Frantsman-Spector and Avihu Shoshana show that resistance is not the only response to discrimination and marginalization. They look at the obligatory therapy to which prisoners’ wives are subject in Israel in order to obtain benefits for their children and imprisoned husbands. At first they resist the discourse of “vulnerable femininity” social workers foist upon them. But eventually they adopt an attitude of “strategic passing” in order to get what they need from state representatives. Over time the women learn to navigate social workers’ discourse in order to obtain medical and financial benefits, suggesting that even in submission there is room for agency. However, as the authors show, in acquiescing to a discourse that is not their own to protect and provide for their families, prisoners’ wives are made to engage in the reproduction of symbolic violence and gender (as well as ethnic) inequalities.

Both the Kelly and Gouchanour article as well as the piece by Frantsman-Spector and Shoshana demonstrate other “interactions” well captured by qualitative methods: the interactions between distinct yet interconnected systems of discrimination (class, race, ethnicity, and so on) that produce inequalities within gender categories as well as between them. Kimberly Kelly and Amanda Gochanour reveal how largely white evangelical anti-abortion activists “blackwash” abortion decisions. In trying to convince Black women not to have abortions, they do not seek to address the structural discrimination that puts Black women in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy. Rather, they appeal to racial stereotypes portraying them as abandoned by their communities and duped by abortion providers. Gowri Vijayakumar’s article is instructive in considering how gender expression and sexual identities intersect to produce and impede activism in India. Vijayakumar shows that, while the formation of collective identity plays a crucial role in social movements, constructing a collective identity among sex workers is contingent on various factors, all of which revolve around the ways cis and trans women experience sex as work, including the different constraints they face in openly identifying as sex workers.

These articles vividly demonstrate how qualitative sociology can reveal the stubborn inequalities that still define our world in the 21st century. These inequalities cannot be fully understood without studying in context, the practices, discourses, histories, and identities they are made of.

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Smilde, D., Hanson, R. Studying Gender and Sexualities with Qualitative Methods. Qual Sociol 41 , 333–335 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-018-9395-x

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  • 15 May 2024

Neglecting sex and gender in research is a public-health risk

  • Sue Haupt 0 ,
  • Cheryl Carcel 1 &
  • Robyn Norton 2

Sue Haupt is an honorary senior research fellow at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and a research associate at The George Institute for Global Health, Women’s Health Program, Centre for Sex and Gender Equity in Health and Medicine, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney, Australia.

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Cheryl Carcel is the head of the brain health programme at The George Institute for Global Health UNSW Sydney, Australia.

Robyn Norton is a founding director of The George Institute for Global Health, a professor of public health at UNSW Sydney and chair of global health at Imperial College London, UK.

Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants

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In 2022, clinical trials indicated that a drug called lecanemab could slow cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease; soon after the results were published, the global Alzheimer’s community heralded lecanemab as a momentous discovery. However, closer inspection of the data by independent investigators revealed that the drug might significantly help men, but not women 1 .

The finding is a reminder that, even though tremendous advances are being made in the clinical application of cutting-edge technologies, such as gene editing and artificial intelligence (AI), there is a remarkable lack of understanding about how many aspects of human health are affected by variables as seemingly basic as sex and gender.

example of research title about gender inequality

Sex and gender in science

Over the past decade or so, funders and publishers have made extensive efforts to encourage researchers to address the effects of sex and, in human studies, gender where appropriate. Thanks in part to these efforts, more insights are beginning to emerge. For Alzheimer’s and many other diseases that are common causes of death, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory conditions and diabetes, a person’s sex and gender can influence their risk of developing the disease, how quickly and accurately they are diagnosed, what treatment they receive and how they fare.

But even for the most-studied conditions, many questions remain. Few investigators have begun to probe the interrelationships between sex and gender , for example. And in cases in which researchers are managing to unpick the multifaceted effects of sex, this knowledge is not being sufficiently incorporated into the design of clinical trials or adequately changing the practice of medicine.

The consideration of sex and, where appropriate, gender in biological research must become routine — especially as molecular genetics, biomedical engineering and AI open up possibilities for treatments that are better tailored to the needs of individuals. Likewise, the culture of medicine must be transformed so that approaches to treatment evolve in response to the data. This will require further engagement from funders and publishers, but action from many other players, too. Pharmaceutical companies and intergovernmental organizations, among others, must acknowledge three things: how sex and gender can have huge effects on health outcomes; how these effects are often disregarded in basic research and clinical trials; and that change can come only through increasing awareness among all stakeholders of the importance of shifting the dial.

Health outcomes affected

In most human clinical records so far, sex is reported by physicians or participants in studies ticking one of two boxes: ‘female’ or ‘male’. In those clinical studies in which data are collected on chromosomes, hormone levels, reproductive anatomy or other sex characteristics, these features will frequently reflect a person’s sex assigned at birth. But this is not always the case. Added to this, sex and gender have often been used interchangeably, but they are not the same and they do not always align. Current definitions of gender include the social, psychological, cultural and behavioural aspects of being a man or woman (whether cisgender or transgender), non-binary or identifying with one or more other evolving terms 2 .

In several countries, new recommendations about how researchers should obtain data on people’s sex and gender should mean that, in the future, investigators will be able to more-accurately probe the roles of both in human health. But in general, there has been incomplete capture of information for sex and gender so far, including for individuals whose sex characteristics and/or gender identities don’t fall into a binary categorization scheme.

A medical worker transports a patient on a wheeled stretcher from an ambulance

Women are more likely to die after a severe heart attack than are men. Credit: Simon Dawson/Reuters

In this article, consistent with much of the published population-wide data, we refer to a woman as someone who identifies with that gender and was assigned female sex at birth (a cis woman), and a man as someone who identifies with that gender and was assigned male sex at birth (a cis man). But we recognize that participants in the studies we describe might not have been asked about both their gender and their sex.

For all sorts of non-communicable diseases, there are differences between men and women in the average age at which they are diagnosed, the average age at which they die and even in their rates of death.

example of research title about gender inequality

We need more-nuanced approaches to exploring sex and gender in research

Such variations, from the earlier onset of cardiovascular diseases in men to the more frequent occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease in women, might stem from differences in biology, which can affect people’s likelihood of developing a disease and how they respond to treatment. Or these discrepancies might stem from variation in people’s exposure to the environmental factors that trigger the disease, how they manage their condition, how they are treated by carers and so on, all of which can be influenced by a person’s gender. Often, a combination of factors will be at work.

Take heart attacks. Studies conducted over the past decade have revealed extensive sex differences in the expression of certain genes in heart tissue, which in turn affect the type and function of the cells that make up the heart.

Such variation could help to explain why men are likely to have a heart attack for the first time around six years earlier than women — in the United States, at 65.6 years old in men compared with 72 years old in women 3 — and why (in Australia, at least) heart attacks are at least twice as common in men relative to women of comparable ages (see go.nature.com/3qbvrxq ). Likewise, although mechanisms are yet to be fully understood, it is plausible that differences in people’s biology help to explain why women are more likely to experience pain between their shoulder blades, nausea or vomiting and shortness of breath during a heart attack; why men are more likely to experience chest pain and increased sweating; and why women are nearly twice as likely as are men to die after a severe heart attack.

Yet, when it comes to the risk of dying, social and environmental factors — shaped by gender — also seem to be important.

Tobacco consumption increases a person’s risk of having a heart attack, and smoking is much more common among men globally. Worldwide, around 37% of men smoke compared with around 8% of women . Also, in part because health-care professionals and others are more familiar with the heart attack symptoms commonly seen in men, when women have a heart attack, they are more likely to delay seeking help, and carers are often slower to intervene 4 . In fact, in a study of more than 500,000 people who experienced a heart attack and were admitted to hospital in the United Kingdom between 2004 and 2013, women were 37% more likely to receive an incorrect initial diagnosis after a severe heart attack than were men 5 . Even when women tell their physicians that they have chest pain, they are two to three times less likely to be referred to a cardiologist than are men 6 .

A similarly complicated picture has been emerging in relation to strokes 7 — another cardiovascular disease — and, in the past few years, in relation to cancer.

Three men smoke cigarettes at a designated outdoor smoking area in Tokyo

Smoking is more common among men than women globally. Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty

Most cancers that occur in non-reproductive organs develop earlier in men than they do in women. In the United States, oesophageal cancer is 4.5 times more likely to occur and cause death in men than in women, for example, and lung cancers, the most common drivers of cancer-associated deaths worldwide, kill around 40% more men than women 8 .

Just as with heart disease and stroke, some of this variation seems to stem from behavioural differences. Tobacco consumption increases a person’s risk of developing several cancers 7 . For thyroid cancers, however, women are more likely to develop the disease than are men — three times more likely in some places — which suggests that other factors might drive the different rates of this particular cancer in women and men 9 . But tumours typically arise because of problems with cells’ genetic-repair systems, together with inadequate damage clearance, and genetic differences between men and women that affect cancers are beginning to emerge.

example of research title about gender inequality

Male–female comparisons are powerful in biomedical research — don’t abandon them

Much more research is needed to understand how sex affects the rate at which genes mutate, cells’ capacities to repair and clear damaged DNA, and when genetic damage starts causing disease. Yet research led by one of us (S.H.) on lung adenocarcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer, suggests that women can survive for longer than men after they are diagnosed, in part thanks to cancer-defence genes in women driving more-robust immune responses 10 . X chromosomes encode many genes that are linked to immunity, and women with two X chromosomes might express these genes at higher levels than men with XY chromosomes.

Responses to cancer treatments also differ between men and women. Chemotherapies tend to work better in women than in men. This could be because it can take longer for women’s bodies to clear certain drugs, which could partly explain why women are also 34% more likely than men to experience harmful side effects 11 . Moreover, women with lung cancer typically have better outcomes after surgery, which they undergo more often than men 8 . This is probably due, at least in part, to women having less advanced disease when they are diagnosed than men do 12 . But the generally stronger immune responses in women might also help their recovery 8 .

Too often ignored

Despite these compelling indications that sex and gender matter, when it comes to many diseases that are leading causes of death, many researchers and health practitioners still fail to adequately take sex and gender into account. They might also be influenced by conscious or unconscious bias.

In the case of heart disease, the differences in gene expression and cellular make-up and activity found in men and women’s hearts highlight the need for sex-specific cardiac tissue models, sustained by sex-appropriate vasculature 13 . (Women on average have smaller hearts with narrower vessels compared with men.) Currently, researchers tend to construct heart models using either animal or human cells, but without necessarily ensuring that cells are sourced from individuals of only one sex per model. In fact, identifying sex disparities in basic heart biology is crucial to engineering relevant heart models with stem cells, for example, which investigators are now developing to aid the study of heart disease 13 .

For both heart disease and stroke, because of decades of under-representation of women in clinical trials, many of today’s standard treatments are based on studies of what happens in men who weigh around 70 kilograms. In clinical trials conducted for stroke and heart conditions between 2010 and 2017, women worldwide were under-enrolled relative to the prevalence of these diseases in the general population — by around 20% 14 . There is also significant underfunding of research for many conditions that are more prevalent in women compared with those that are more common in men (see ‘Disparities in health and disease’).

Disparities in health and disease. Stacked bar chart showing the overfunding totals for female and male-dominated diseases and conditions and how more is overspent on male-dominated diseases.

Source: A. A. Mirin J. Womens Health 30 , 956–963 (2021).

Basic research on cancer is similarly riddled with problems. Take the sex of the cell lines that are stored in commercial cell banks, which have been studied for decades and are the source of much of today’s textbook knowledge. For lung cancers, male lines outnumber female lines by two to one. For liver cancers, the ratio is seven to one. Until a few years ago, few researchers studying cancer in cultured cells in the lab even considered the sex of the cells they were studying. Also, the standard media in which cells are grown is frequently supplemented with fetal calf serum from a mixture of male and female calves, and so contains both male and female sex hormones. And phenol red, a dye commonly used to monitor the pH of tissue culture media mimics the hormone oestrogen 8 .

To add to the difficulties, research findings that emerge from the use of these cell lines are often tested in mice of only one sex. The results of these studies are then used to guide human trials that include both men and women participants. And in oncological clinical trials, just as with stroke and heart disease, women are still under-enrolled relative to the burden of disease they experience 7 .

Inclusivity in human trials will ensure the best possible outcomes for all participants, including cis and trans women and men, gender-diverse and intersex people (see ‘Inclusivity in practice’). Studies are showing, for example, that circadian rhythms — which can affect heart function and might impact how drugs are metabolized — differ between men and women 15 . So how might they compare in non-binary or transgender people? Likewise, knowledge about the immune responses of people with atypical numbers of sex chromosomes is likely to be crucial when it comes to the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors and other immune therapies for treating cancer. Those with Klinefelter syndrome, for example, who, similar to cis women, are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than are cis men, have multiple X chromosomes that are rich in genes involved in the immune response.

Inclusivity in practice

How researchers include diverse groups of people in clinical trials with enough participants to be able to uncover between-group differences is a challenge.

Women represent nearly half of the population, but they are still under-represented in many clinical trials for numerous diseases, even in cases in which disease prevalence for women has been measured. For smaller population groups, such as transgender people, there are not enough data to even know what representative inclusion looks like. In fact, even if participation does reflect the prevalence of disease in the broader population in any one trial, teasing out effects might require combining the results of multiple studies in meta-analyses.

Advisory governing boards for pharmaceutical companies, such as the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use, funders and regulatory agencies could help with this by ensuring that terminology is adequately and consistently defined, and that populations are properly profiled.

Heightened awareness

Routinely taking sex and gender into account in research and using that knowledge to change health care could benefit billions of people. So what’s needed to make this happen?

Policy changes — such as the US National Institutes of Health’s 2016 call for the inclusion of male and female sexes in studies involving cells, tissues and animals — are crucial. But for many researchers, such calls seem burdensome, especially because studying more than one sex can increase costs. ( Sample sizes might need to be increased to achieve sufficient statistical power when comparing groups.)

Alongside initiatives from funders and publishers, awareness must be built — among students, researchers, clinicians, medical ethics committees, research governance bodies and community groups — of the ramifications of failing to consider sex and gender, and how to correct the problem.

example of research title about gender inequality

Accounting for sex and gender makes for better science

Efforts led by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) are encouraging. Even though the permeation of knowledge from research to health care has been glacial, between 2011 and 2019, the proportion of all research grant applications submitted to the CIHR that took sex into consideration increased from around 22% to 83%. Gender as a variable is now also included in many of the human studies funded by the CIHR .

Several initiatives have contributed to this. As an example, as well as asking grant applicants to include a section in their research proposals on whether they are considering sex and gender and how they will do so, or why this is not considered applicable, the CIHR has provided training for scientists and organized workshops involving researchers and specialists in sex and gender. Applicants are more likely to receive funding if they provide a satisfactory rationale for their choices.

Convincing people in leadership roles — in governments, laboratories, medical ethics boards, education and so on — of the importance of including sex and gender in research is especially crucial. More studies demonstrating the financial costs of not doing so could help. Between 1997 and 2000, for instance, eight prescription drugs were retracted from the US market because inadequate clinical testing in women had failed to identify that the drugs put women at greater risk of developing health problems than men. This error cost pharmaceutical companies and taxpayers an estimated US$1.6 billion per drug 16 .

The scale of transformation needed will also require more engagement from global players.

Even as far back as 2007, the 60th World Health Assembly — the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) — passed a resolution to urge researchers to split their data according to sex and to include gender analyses where appropriate. Steps to improve care for transgender people or those with diverse genders are also starting to be taken; in December last year, the WHO established a Guideline Development Group, to provide recommendations on how to address the health of transgender and gender-diverse people . But more extensive efforts, comparable to all United Nations member states committing to target 5.b of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, will be crucial. (This target is to “enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women”.)

Lastly, under the guidance of regulatory bodies such as the European Medicines Agency and the scientific entrepreneur community, the pharmaceutical industry must do more to ensure that preclinical work is robust, and that products are tested on enough people of different sexes and genders. Many leading pharmaceutical companies acknowledge on their websites the importance of including diverse groups in clinical trials , but evidence of actions to address the issue is only just emerging.

Awareness of the problems around sex and gender is growing fast. And although many are concerned that medical applications of AI will perpetuate already existing biases 17 , promising developments are emerging in the use of machine learning to make diagnoses that are appropriate for people’s sex and gender.

For decades, for instance, physicians worldwide have been determining whether a person has had a heart attack by using the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) score, which was derived from trials mainly involving men. In 2022, the application of machine learning to data that had been split for men and women refined the predictors for women. And these revised predictors did a better job of matching individuals to appropriate interventions 18 .

Greater awareness, the wealth of data now emerging and the possibilities presented by new tools, from AI to gene editing, could mean a new era for research and medicine.

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Human Rights Careers

15 Examples of Gender Inequality in Everyday Life

Gender inequality is everywhere. According to the World Economic Forum, it could take another 131 years to achieve global gender parity. Inequality affects the treatment, rights and opportunities of women, girls and transgender and gender-diverse people the most, but everyone deals with negative effects. Crises like war, climate change and pandemics can make things worse. How does gender inequality manifest in everyday life? Here are 15 examples:

#1. Women make less money than men

The pay gap is one of the most consequential examples of everyday gender inequality. According to the UN, women make only 77 cents for every dollar men earn, even when they do comparable work. The gap widens for women who have children. Country specifics also reveal racial inequalities . In the United States, Hispanic women earned 57.5 cents for every dollar in 2022, while Black women made 69.1 cents. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that if progress doesn’t speed up, it could take 30 years for the US to reach pay equity.

#2. Girls are more likely to be out of school

Education access has improved over the years, but large gaps are still an issue. According to the World Bank, 88% of girls are enrolled in primary school on a global level, but 78% are enrolled in low-income countries. The gap widens in secondary school; only 31% of girls are enrolled in low-income countries compared to the 66% global average . Conflict plays a big role. Girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to leave school during crises, which impacts their economic opportunities, safety, health and more.

#3. Women and girls are more likely to be murdered by people they know

While men are overall more likely to be murdered, women and girls are more likely to be killed by people they know. Family members or intimate partners commit around 55% of female homicides. That means every hour, more than five women or girls are murdered by someone in their family. Because it’s much harder to avoid violent family members or partners, everyday life for women and girls can be dangerous.

#4. Women and girls experience more sexual violence

For many women and girls, the threat of sexual violence is persistent. According to UN Women, 26% of women 15 years and older have endured intimate partner violence , which means their abuser is a romantic and/or sexual partner. Around 15 million girls 15-19 years old have experienced forced sex at some point. Men experience sexual violence, too; according to stats from the United States, around 24.8% of men have experienced unwanted sexual contact. The numbers show it’s much more common for women and girls. The true prevelance is unknown as sexual violence is significantly underreported.

#5. Women do more unpaid work

Life is more than paid work and play; people must cook, clean, do laundry, care for children and more. Women do most of this unpaid labor. According to Oxfam, the world’s women and girls complete more than ¾ of all unpaid work . That accounts for 12.5 billion hours of unpaid work every day. It’s worse for rural women from low-income countries. They can spend up to 14 hours a day doing unpaid care work. This limits their educational and economic opportunities.

Gender inequality can manifest in subtle ways. When I was in high school, the girls noticed that one of the male teachers only seemed to call on boys. We started an informal experiment where we raised our hands for every question. More times than not, he would always call on a boy if they had their hands up, too. While we could never prove he was sexist, we felt invisible and undervalued.

#6. Women cook more

Let’s look closer at one example of unpaid work: cooking. It’s an everyday task that takes significant planning, energy and time. According to one survey, women cook more meals than men in almost every country. In 2022, that totaled a little less than nine meals a week. Men cooked four meals a week. In places like Ethiopia, Egypt, Yemen and Nepal, women cooked eight more meals than men. Italy was the only place where men cooked more than women. The reasons vary, but cooking is typically considered a domestic and “feminine” job. Because of this stereotype, women end up saddled with extra unpaid work.

#7. Discrimination affects gender-diverse and transgender people more than their cisgender counterparts

Gender-diverse and transgender people don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth and/or traditional gender binaries. Gender inequality affects them, too. According to research, trans people are more than four times more likely than cis people to experience violence, including rape and sexual assault. Households with a trans person also have higher rates of property victimization. Discrimination extends into every area of life, including employment, housing and healthcare . According to the Human Rights Campaign, discrimination disproportionately affects young trans women of color.

#8. Women are sexually harassed at work more often

Work should be a safe place for everyone, but women deal with more sexual harassment. According to the International Labour Organization, young women are twice as likely as young men to experience sexual violence and harassment at work. Migrant women are especially vulnerable; they’re twice as likely as non-migrant women to report harassment. Not every industry is the same. According to the Center for American Progress, women who work in male-dominated fields, like warehousing and construction, are most likely to report harassment . Most people who experience harassment never report it, however, so harassment is happening a lot more often than we know.

#9. STEM jobs are gendered

The STEM field, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, has been male-dominated for many years. Gender stereotyping is one of the main reasons why. Historically, most societies didn’t believe women were fit for these types of jobs. The consequences are still with us today. According to research from LinkedIn, women fill only 3 out of 10 STEM roles around the world. This represents an improvement, but at the pace of progress, it will take 90 years for women to make up half of the global STEM workforce.

#10. Caretaker jobs are gendered (and undervalued)

While women are underrepresented in STEM jobs, they perform most caretaker jobs. According to the International Labour Organization, women fill 88% of the personal care worker jobs , which include home healthcare assistants, while men fill 12%. Women also dominate the cleaning, food prep, teaching and clerical support fields. Their work tends to go unappreciated, however. According to the Economic Policy Institute, American home healthcare and childcare workers make just $13.81 and $13.51 an hour . That’s half of the average hourly wage for workers in general.

Gender equality jobs can help reduce inequality and empower women and girls.

#11. Women experience worse mental health

Everyone can experience mental health problems, but women and girls are at a higher risk. According to 2017 data, women are three times more likely than men to have common mental health issues. They’re also three times more likely to experience eating disorders and PTSD. The picture gets more complicated when it comes to suicide. While men are 2-4 times more likely to die by suicide, women are three times more likely to attempt suicide . Stigma could be one reason why. Because of gender stereotypes, men may be less likely to report mental health problems or seek help, which is another example of how inequality hurts everyone.

#12. Healthcare professionals take women less seriously

Everyone should be able to go into a doctor’s office and feel respected. Because of gender inequality, women face more challenges. Doctors often take women less seriously and quickly label health issues as “anxiety,” which results in worse healthcare. According to one study, women who went to the emergency room with severe stomach pain waited 33% longer than men with the same symptoms. Black women face even more discrimination. According to research, doctors are twice as likely to deny Black women pain medication during birth than white women.

#13. Taking paternity leave is stigmatized

Paternity leave used to be rare. The prevailing view was that women were responsible for childcare, while men needed to stay at work. Now, 63% of countries guarantee paid parental leave. Only seven countries – including the United States – do not. Even in countries where paternity leave is provided, families deal with stigma. A small 2020 study from the UK found that 73% of men believed there was a stigma to taking paternity leave, while 95% wanted workplaces to “normalize” taking paternity leave. Gendered stereotypes about parenting harm everyone and allow gender inequality to thrive.

#14. Products for women can cost more

People of all genders use products like razors, soap and lotion, but the ones designed for women often cost more. According to data from the World Economic Forum, personal care products marketed to American women can cost 13% more than the same products for men. This disparity is called “the pink tax.” While it’s not an official tax, cost differences affect accessories, clothing, dry cleaning, and other products and services. Women may pay thousands of dollars more over their lifetimes because of their gender.

#15. Men get in more car crashes (but women are more likely to be trapped)

For many people, driving a car is an everyday occurrence. Women could face some unique risks. According to a study of UK data, while men were more likely to be involved in serious crashes, women were twice as likely to be trapped after a car crash. Women also experienced more injuries to the hip and spine, while men were injured on their heads, face, chest and limbs. While the cause of this disparity isn’t obvious, it could be because crash test dummies are modeled after male bodies. Identifying the less clear reasons for gender inequality is essential to people’s health and safety.

Want to learn more about gender equality? Here’s our Gender Equality 101 article .

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About the author, emmaline soken-huberty.

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

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Tackling gender inequality in a climate-changed world, agrifood and social protection systems can empower women and girls to build climate resilience..

A girl stands in a vegetable stall

Uganda, 2024: Charity Naturinda, attends to her mother’s vegetable stall at their home. Due to a disability in the leg, she had dropped out of school, but was able to go back after joining the GEG (Girls Empowering Girls) programme - the first urban social protection programme in Uganda targeting vulnerable adolescent girls.

Air pollution, rising temperatures, crop failures, and water shortages are increasing pressures on health and agrifood systems. During these crises, households often reduce food consumption, sell assets, migrate or adjust labor allocation between men and women. Women and children are at greater risk of food insecurity due to lower access to and control of productive resources, services, household decision-making, income allocation, and perceived expendability.

Climate shocks affect women and girls more

Female-headed households lose 8 per cent more income due to heat stress and 3 per cent more due to floods. This causes lower off-farm income and significant reductions in livestock holdings and agricultural expenditures. Women do not have an adequate level of education, have limited access to infrastructure and markets, and perform the biggest share of unpaid care and support work. Resource constraints can limit women’s non-agricultural employment prospects, their ability to adapt and increase their vulnerability. Moderate or severe food insecurity among adult women rose from 27.5 per cent in 2019 to 31.9 per cent in 2021.

Children, especially girls, experience similar hardships. Altered rainfall patterns have led to girls spending more time fetching wood and water over longer distances and taking on additional domestic labor, leading to increased exposure to violence and a higher likelihood of missing school. Adolescent girls are more likely to be forced to marry to alleviate financial difficulties caused by extreme weather events. Climate-related displacement also places pressures on social and health services such as menstrual hygiene and sexual and reproductive health. 

Overcoming structural gender inequalities and barriers is fundamental for climate-resilient development. Inclusive and gender-responsive social protection and agrifood systems can provide access to resources, services, and economic opportunities for women and girls to build their resilience in the face of climate change. 

Under a worst-case climate scenario, up to 158.3 million more women and girls could be pushed into poverty by mid-century, exceeding the number of men and boys by at least 16 million.

Adaptive and gender-responsive social protection systems

Long-term investments in social protection systems and short-term adaptations can help women and girls  reduce their vulnerability to climate or economic shocks. Some adaptations measures include:

  • cash and in-kind assistance alongside livelihood diversification
  • connections to early warning systems and anticipatory action
  • linkages for women and girls to access to social services, including health insurance

Social assistance helps households meet their basic needs and improve their coping responses. This facilitates the uptake of climate-adaptive practices and reduces the need for maladaptive actions like child marriage that often disproportionately harm women and girls.

A woman and her two children walking through a field.

Combining social protection instruments such as labor market policies with agriculture skills development and climate insurance can support the delivery of adaptation measures and help address inequalities women and girls may face in the green transition . This is possible only when adaptation measures are gender-responsive and age-sensitive, thus not increasing women’s and girls' time burden or reinforcing households' discriminatory divisions of labor.

It has been demonstrated that investments that improve access to social protection and decrease poverty can considerably reduce overall climate risk for 310 million children. For this reason, UNICEF, with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development ( BMZ ) has initiated a 5-year evidence-collection process through the project ASPECT – Adaptive Social Protection: Evidence for Child Outcomes in fragile settings. Focused on fragile contexts, this project aims to generate evidence on the contributions of adaptive social protection in building the resilience of households to climate-related and other shocks for achieving better outcomes for children and their families.

Inclusive and gender-responsive agrifood systems

Agrifood systems represent a pivotal source of livelihood and are a major employer for women globally. In South Asia, 71 per cent of women work in agrifood systems, compared to 47 per cent of men. Projections suggest that if half the small-scale producers benefited from women’s empowerment within agrifood systems, the incomes of an additional 58 million people and the resilience of 235 million people could be enhanced .

Evidence has shown that gender-responsive interventions in agrifood systems are successful in strengthening resilience through:

  • community-based approaches
  • policy engagement
  • increased access for women to essential resources, and
  • services and social protection

Community-based approaches foster capacity development tailored to women's needs and enhance access to information, resources, finance, and collective agency.

Access to financial and advisory services can help build resilience; digitalization can further address mobility constraints and improve financial autonomy. For instance, IFAD's (International Fund for Agricultural Development) Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme ( ASAP+ ) has introduced sustainable technologies for gender-sensitive, climate-resilient agricultural practices while ensuring that women and girls constitute at least 50 per cent of the beneficiaries. Through these efforts, IFAD helps break down barriers that prevent women from realizing their full potential in rural societies. 

Two women ploughing a field with, one of them with a baby on her back.

5 ways to adaptation

Climate financing should be directed towards inclusive agrifood and social protection systems by adopting an integrated approach, and formulating gender-responsive and transformative innovations that are locally informed and tailored to the needs and preferences of women and adolescent girls.

UNICEF, IFAD, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), and IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) call on policymakers, multilateral donors, and international organizations to:

  • Adopt and finance inclusive, gender-transformative, and adaptive social protection and agrifood systems for building the climate resilience of women, girls, and other at-risk groups.
  • Ensure agrifood and social protection systems are designed with an inclusive gender, age, and disability lens to capture the needs of those facing specific risks due to social and economic vulnerabilities and exclusion.
  • Improve women’s and girls' access to these systems to equip them with natural and productive resources, services, employment opportunities, social assistance and insurance.
  • Collect, analyze and disseminate data disaggregated by gender, age and other social characteristics to generate evidence for guiding inclusive policies and investments related to climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience building.

Support gender-responsive budgeting for climate action to ensure adequate financial resources are allocated towards gender equality, including the empowerment of women and girls.

Clara Ceravolo is Social Protection and Gender Consultant, UNICEF. Ilaria Sisto is Gender and Development Officer, FAO. Lauren Whitehead is Social Protection and Gender Lead, UNICEF. Matthew Walsham is Social Protection Specialist (Climate), FAO. Morane Verhoeven is Gender and Social Inclusion Consultant, IFAD. Shalini Roy is Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI.

UNICEF Blog

The UNICEF Blog promotes children’s rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from the world's leading child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in more than 190 countries and territories. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

Explore our blog topics:

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    100 Gender Research Topics For Academic Papers. Gender research topics are very popular across the world. Students in different academic disciplines are often asked to write papers and essays about these topics. Some of the disciplines that require learners to write about gender topics include: Sociology. Psychology.

  4. Twenty years of gender equality research: A scoping review based on a

    Gender equality is a major problem that places women at a disadvantage thereby stymieing economic growth and societal advancement. In the last two decades, extensive research has been conducted on gender related issues, studying both their antecedents and consequences. However, existing literature reviews fail to provide a comprehensive and clear picture of what has been studied so far, which ...

  5. Twenty years of gender equality research: A scoping review based on a

    Introduction. The persistent gender inequalities that currently exist across the developed and developing world are receiving increasing attention from economists, policymakers, and the general public [e.g., 1-3].Economic studies have indicated that women's education and entry into the workforce contributes to social and economic well-being [e.g., 4, 5], while their exclusion from the ...

  6. Gender inequities in the workplace: A holistic review of organizational

    9.1. Theoretical contributions and calls for future research. Our review of the literature has led us to create a model of gender inequities that develop from cumulative processes across the employee lifespan and that cascade across multiple levels: societal, organizational, interpersonal, and individual (see Fig. 1).The societal level refers to factors and processes occurring at the national ...

  7. Gender inequality and restrictive gender norms: framing the challenges

    Gender is not accurately captured by the traditional male and female dichotomy of sex. Instead, it is a complex social system that structures the life experience of all human beings. This paper, the first in a Series of five papers, investigates the relationships between gender inequality, restrictive gender norms, and health and wellbeing. Building upon past work, we offer a consolidated ...

  8. Gender inequality as a barrier to economic growth: a review of the

    The vast majority of theories reviewed argue that gender inequality is a barrier to economic development, particularly over the long run. The focus on long-run supply-side models reflects a recent effort by growth theorists to incorporate two stylized facts of economic development in the last two centuries: (i) a strong positive association between gender equality and income per capita (Fig. 1 ...

  9. Promoting Gender Equality: A Systematic Review of Interventions

    The Global Gender Gap Index 2022 benchmarks 146 countries on the evolution of gender-based gaps in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment (World Economic Forum, 2022).Although the Index measures gender parity (defined in Table 1) rather than substantive equality, it is a useful tool for analysing progression and regression.

  10. Gender equality in research: papers and projects by Highly Cited

    Gender equality and empowerment is a complex topic with numerous facets. Many of the 2021 recipients of our Highly Cited Researchers program have tackled this important problem from a variety of angles. Our analysis of papers related to SDG 5: Gender Equality produced a list of 116 HCRs working in this area, and 574 Highly Cited Papers™ published on this topic.

  11. Meeting the challenge of gender inequality through gender

    This article explores six case studies of gender transformative research across Africa, Asia, and Latin America supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Footnote 1 and how the research led to reductions in gender-based violence and early and forced marriage, and addressed deep gender inequalities in fisheries, water and ...

  12. Gendered and feminist inequalities: A review and framing notes

    The article approaches the topic by interrogating the meanings associated with inequalities and then turns to the gendered and feminist scholarship to assess the relevance of an evolving literature in providing a lens, both conceptual and empirical, within which African theorisations also accrue. The argument centres on limitations that arise ...

  13. Top 10 Gender Research Topics & Writing Ideas

    Issues modern feminism faces. Sexual orientation and gender identity. Benefits of investing in girls' education. Patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes in family relationships. Toys and games of girls and boys. Roles of men and women in politics. Compare career opportunities for both sexes in the military.

  14. The impact of gender discrimination on a Woman's Mental Health

    This finding was robust to all adjustments for confounders that could otherwise increase risk for depression such as poverty, level of social support, and gender role inequality. This strongly suggests that perceived gender discrimination is an important factor in a woman's mental health. The biological research being conducted on the etiology ...

  15. (PDF) Exploring Theories of Workplace Gender Inequality and Its

    "workplace gender inequality," "gender discrimination," and "gender bi as." We limited our search mostly to articles published in peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 20 21.

  16. Gender Equality: An Exploratory Qualitative Study of Social ...

    However, the gender inequality issue is much wider, which leads it to be considered as structural in Portugal [24, 25]. There are clear indicators of gender inequality in the workplace, in the family and in social life, which materialize in higher levels of unemployment, risk of poverty, domestic violence, discrimination and sexual abuse .

  17. (PDF) [Full Topic Research] Gender equality and women's empowerment in

    The eradication of gender inequalities requires not only the integration of all the voices that have built social knowledge but also the overcoming of gender stereotypes within the education ...

  18. Gender equality: the route to a better world

    The road to a gender-equal world is long, and women's power and freedom to make choices is still very constrained. But the evidence from science is getting stronger: distributing power between ...

  19. A qualitative study on gender inequality and gender-based violence in

    Background Gender inequality and violence are not mutually exclusive phenomena but complex loops affecting each other. Women in Nepal face several inequalities and violence. The causes are diverse, but most of these results are due to socially assigned lower positioning of women. The hierarchies based on power make women face subordination and violence in Nepal. The study aims to explore ...

  20. 12.2 Gender and Gender Inequality

    This same inequality is pervasive in children's movies (Smith 2008). Research indicates that in the ten top-grossing G-rated movies released between 1991 and 2013, nine out of ten characters were male (Smith 2008). Television commercials and other forms of advertising also reinforce inequality and gender-based stereotypes.

  21. Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational

    Introduction. The workplace has sometimes been referred to as an inhospitable place for women due to the multiple forms of gender inequalities present (e.g., Abrams, 1991).Some examples of how workplace discrimination negatively affects women's earnings and opportunities are the gender wage gap (e.g., Peterson and Morgan, 1995), the dearth of women in leadership (Eagly and Carli, 2007), and ...

  22. Addressing workplace gender inequality: Using the evidence to avoid

    An understanding of the degree to which gender inequalities persist, and in particular the denial of gender inequality, forms a key aspect of sexist attitudes, such as those captured by the modern sexism scale (Swim et al., 1995). Indeed, there are a number of very real consequences of failing to acknowledge the persistence of gender inequality.

  23. Studying Gender and Sexualities with Qualitative Methods

    We believe it is because qualitative methods lend themselves to studying the building blocks of gender expression and sexual identities—the interactional, the discursive, and the performative—and how these buttress systems of inequalities. Quantitative methods do a great job of detecting and measuring the effects of gender bias and ...

  24. (PDF) Gender Awareness: Classroom Experiences of Senior ...

    For this study, the aim was to determine gender awareness of sen ior high school students in the classroom in. terms of their (a) levels of awareness of gender laws; (b) perceptions of gender ...

  25. Neglecting sex and gender in research is a public-health risk

    The data are clear: taking sex and gender into account in research and using that knowledge to change health care could benefit billions of people. The data are clear: taking sex and gender into ...

  26. 15 Examples of Gender Inequality in Everyday Life

    14. Products for women cost more. 15. Women get trapped in car crashes more often. #1. Women make less money than men. The pay gap is one of the most consequential examples of everyday gender inequality. According to the UN, women make only 77 cents for every dollar men earn, even when they do comparable work.

  27. Tackling gender inequality in a climate-changed world

    Inclusive and gender-responsive social protection and agrifood systems can provide access to resources, services, and economic opportunities for women and girls to build their resilience in the face of climate change. Under a worst-case climate scenario, up to 158.3 million more women and girls could be pushed into poverty by mid-century ...