October 27, 2013
Bonnie Erbe' Bonnie Erbe'

BY BONNIE ERBE'

If you haven’t seen the series of powerful ads created this week by UN Women, you should take a look. (http://www.unwomen.org/en) The gender equality arm of the United Nations commissioned ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Dubai to produce the campaign. It’s executives typed in provocative phrases such as “women cannot”, “women should,” “women need to,” and “women cannot” and used Google’s autocomplete function to see what followed. Google was used (as opposed to Chrome or DuckDuckGo or others) because it is the world’s most popular search engine.

Google searches such as, “women cannot”, “women should”, “women need to” and “women shouldn’t,” ended up with these autocomplete results: “women need to be put in their places,” “women cannot be trusted,” “women shouldn’t have rights,” and “women should stay home.” The results are reflective of Google’s most popular search terms.
They displayed the most popular responses as pieces of paper slapped over the mouths of models, so the end result looks like each woman is silenced by the stereotypical responses. To the seach for “women should,” for example, the responses were: 1-stay at home, 2-be slaves, 3-be in the kitchen and 4-not be in church. Each image is time-stamped with the date, 09/03/13, which was when actual Google results were found.
Pretty shocking, in this day and age, eh? Or maybe not. There is no doubt women are making progress across the globe when it comes to economic, educational and political empowerment.
In this country, those of us who consume positive images of women in the media are now used to seeing women as U.S. Senators, as Cabinet Secretaries, as heads of major corporations (a recent Forbes article described women executives practically taking over the defense industry) and women as models of success in just about all industries.
Unfortunately, negative images of women in the media overwhelm the positive images and women suffer cultural media stereotypes as a result. Most Americans think we are ahead of the rest of the world in terms of women’s equality. That was true decades ago. But even we have fallen woefully behind many other countries. Each year the World Economic Forum produces a Global Gender Gap Report ) (http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-gender-gap) rating 132 countries on how women are faring. There is progress worldwide, but it is perilously slow. The United States ranked 22nd in the world in last year’s report (the Forum’s most recent.) There are four benchmarks used to rate women’s progress: how each country fares in terms of women’s access to healthcare, economic empowerment, education and political empowerment. As you might surmise, we rank quite high when it comes to the first three categories. However, our low ranking in the fourth category, political empowerment, holds us down to 17th in the world, after such countries as Iceland (first) and New Zealand that have had female country leaders and have much larger percentages of women in national political office.
Granted, even as 22nd in the world, the United States is still a much better place to be a woman than many others. We don’t suffer from something called “gendercide,” as do India and China (our closest economic competitors.) In those countries a male child is more valuable than a female child. This gender bias causes parents to commit horrendous and desperate acts, such as killing infant girls, because they are too expensive to raise or because they want more or only boy children.
Experts believe the key to women’s advancement is in expanded political participation. So if you happen to see one of the UN Women ads, please stop and absorb it for a while, and share it with someone you know who could use a little gender education. That will help us all get to where we want to go, faster.