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Gender bias and mental health

By: Anna Cristina Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 15,2023 - 07:45 AM

The Gender Social Norms Index by the United Nations (UN) Development Programme, based on data from 91 countries, reported that gender biases against women have not improved in a decade. Eighty-five percent of the total population worldwide hold biases against women, including women themselves. Even more horrifying, three out of four people worldwide believe it was justified for a man to beat his wife.

In the Philippines specifically, 99.5 percent of the entire population hold biases against women. Three out of four Filipinos have political biases against women, such as believing that “men make better political leaders than women do.” Some question this by citing that we have had two female presidents and therefore we are not biased against female leaders. Need I remind you that it had to take a people power revolution before installing each one? This kind of defensive argument is akin to the fallacy of “I’m not biased against women, I married one!” Yes, you can have relations with women and still be biased against them. Even women can be biased against women, as evident in the report. Internalized sexism is an insidious problem that provides an illusion of credibility to such biases, since, hey, women think it too!

Others, still, cite the even more dismal record of the United States not having yet installed a female president as proof that we are better. This should not excuse our poor attitudes toward women as they still comprise the minority in positions of power. Aside from politics, the report also cited widely held negative biases against in women in the field of business, education, economy, and physical integrity.

In psychology, we consider all people to have some form of bias. No person is completely bias-free. It is a much wiser starting point to assume you have unconscious biases. This way, you strive to increase self-awareness to have better control over them. It is a dangerous assumption that we hold no biases. By insisting lack of bias, we avoid self-reflection and thus attribute problems to things outside of us. More simply, by insisting (falsely) that we have no bias, we can feel justified in blaming others.

Unchecked negative biases can lead to prejudice which can lead to discrimination. Believing that “men make better business executives than women do,” an item in the study, can lead to people choosing men over women when it comes to management positions. Seeing more men in the boardroom can then serve as its own confirmation bias, perpetuating the vicious cycle. Women, seeing the uphill climb for promotion, are less likely to apply for leadership positions and therefore opt out themselves. This leads to the other fallacy that “we’re not biased, women simply aren’t applying” or worse—that women aren’t ambitious enough.

Is it any wonder then that women are suffering in the workplace? Another survey cited by the UN, this time conducted by the mental health organization MindNation, saw that nearly half of Filipino female employees struggle with depression and anxiety in the workplace. Around seven in 10 women find it more difficult to strike a balance between work and personal life compared to their male counterparts. This should come as no surprise since women still take up most of the responsibility for the family and household regardless of them having a career.

Aside from offering general mental health solutions such as counseling or mental health leaves, a sound mental health policy in the workplace should cover an extensive review in hiring and promotion practices. When the pandemic hit, the number of published academic work written by women dropped drastically compared to men. What contributes to this difference is that women had to hold down the fort with their families, particularly with childcare during quarantine. This disparity in productivity led to disparity in academic promotion as university and research careers are driven by the motto “publish or perish.”

Addressing the burden of childcare can equalize the productivity and stressors of men and women in the workplace. If childcare was easily accessible or if it was designed in a way that can easily coexist with work, then this couldn’t be used against women. Good practices include having a daycare service within the workplace as well as allowing men concrete opportunities and incentives to participate more in childcare. For example, the seven-day paternity leave is not quite adequate given that it takes women roughly around six weeks to physically recover from childbirth. If the parental leaves aren’t so disparate, employers wouldn’t be so biased against hiring women for fear of having to provide months-long leaves.

We don’t need to be defensive or be in denial of our biases. We all have them. It is wiser to acknowledge them and strive to do better.


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TAGS: gender equality, women

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