Published 9 March 2023 in Surveys, News
Ahead of March 8, International Women Rights Day, Focus 2030 intends to provide a snapshot of women’s rights around the world and to highlight the actions of those who are mobilized on a daily basis for gender equality and, more broadly, for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Focus 2030 : Jennifer Hudson, you’re the director of the Development Engagement Lab (a project Focus 2030 is a partner), Professor of Political Behaviour and Dean of UCL Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences in London. Since 2015, you have been tracking attitudes and public perception on issues related to development and global solidarity in four countries (Germany, UK, US, and France). If any, what changes in public support for gender equality as a global issue have you observed in your comparative studies, particularly since the emergence of the #MeToo movement ?
Jennifer Hudson : Our latest gender survey, completed in February 2023, was one of the most in-depth examinations of public attitudes toward gender equality in France, Germany, the United States and Great Britain. We embarked on that survey largely because we had noticed – along with our NGO and government partners in those four countries – that gender equality typically scores relatively low compared with other global priorities. This has been true since we began tracking in 2019, without much change.
Focus 2030 : What are the main findings of this survey ? Based on the data you collected, what are the best drivers for individuals to support gender equality around the world ? Are there specific groups of individuals who are more supportive or reluctant of gender equality and their government’s actions in this regard ?
Jennifer Hudson : The findings vary from country to country, but there is notable agreement for certain issues. For example, we found that people in Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States consistently believe that progress toward gender equality has been slower in developing countries compared with respondents’ own countries. Also, the reasons why men and women are treated differently are also similar across the countries we survey : All four countries believe "Men’s resistance to change" and "The role of culture and history" are most to blame in their own countries, while the difference in treatment between the genders in developing countries is down to "religion" and "the role of culture and history". We were also pretty surprised to see the popularity and level of agreement across countries with statements behind tackling gender inequality. The most popular was, "Addressing gender inequality is the morally right thing to do", with all four countries expressing majority agreement. Not far behind was "Ending discrimination against women and girls is necessary to ending global poverty", which also received majority agreement.
One area where we noticed divergence in opinion however, was abortion. It should be said that all countries support protecting abortion rights both at home and in developing countries, but the U.S. was significantly less supportive than other countries, at 58 %. France was the most supportive, with 80 % agreement that protecting abortion rights overseas is "important" or "very important" 70 % in Germany and 78 % in Great Britain.
We did not conduct a drivers analysis in these surveys, but we come across two interesting findings around how people support gender equality : We found that including the phrases "feminist" or "gender-inclusive" in a policy’s name tends to lower support in all countries except for France, though support for the policy in all countries remains in the majority.
We also found that stating another country’s high spending prioritisation for gender equality tends to boost support for increasing spending on gender equality in the respondents’ own countries – an important finding for policymakers and campaigners alike.
In terms of groups, women are more supportive of efforts to reduce gender inequality, as well as young people (aged between 18-24), while support drops for those 65+. Macron supporters are also more supportive. To our surprise, in France, the most highly educated group (Master, Grandes écoles, Doctorat) are among the least supportive. In France again, people who make between 50,000-59,000 euros per year are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports tackling gender inequality.
Focus 2030 : Have you noticed any particularities in the way the French public differs from the other countries studied ? How is feminist foreign policy received and understood by the public ?
Jennifer Hudson : The findings show that France is an outlier in many respects. When we look in particular at the public’s perception of the scale of problems facing women, like the global gender gap, the French public perceive it to be a much bigger problem than other countries. They are also less optimistic about closing the gender gap : Only 14 % say they feel optimistic about closing the gap, compared with levels of optimism in Germany, Great Britain and the United States, who all scored in the twenties.
Fewer French respondents also believe that women and men have become more equal over the past ten years. This is a remarkable difference : Only 44 % of the French public have seen progress in the last decade, compared to 70 % in Germany and 58 % and 57 % in Great Britain and the United States. This all says to us that the French clearly observe a more difficult situation both at home and abroad when compared with other countries.
However, there is stronger belief among the French that taking action against gender inequality is morally right, with a whopping 75% believing that reducing gender inequality is "the morally right thing to do", compared with other countries, whose agreement ranged from 54% in the U.S. to 65% in Great Britain, still ten percentage points below France. This helps to explain why the French do not shy away from policies that explicitly mention feminism or tackling gender inequality : while other countries are less likely to support policies tagged in this way.
The message from France is a loud and clear call for change to the status quo for women and girls, both at home and abroad.
NB : The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Focus 2030.