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What do UN Women and the Great British Bake Off have in common?

On face value it might seem like UN Women (set up with the grand aim of championing the empowerment of women worldwide) has little in common with the humble Great British Bake Off (apart from the fact that I am a fan of both, important point though that is).

But this week both institutions have inspired discussions about sexism. UN Women released a series of powerful adverts, cleverly illustrating the widespread nature of sexism through showing genuine common Google searches.

If you’ve seen the ads and don’t believe them, try it yourself. I just did and the top three searches when I typed “women shouldn’t” into Google were “women shouldn’t work”, “women shouldn’t vote” and “women shouldn’t have rights”. Nice.

Can you imagine how many people must have typed those words for them to be the top three search terms? And I thought Google only showed you stuff that is likely to appeal to you, clearly I’ve managed to keep my likes and dislikes secret from them (every cloud…).

UN Women’s adverts are shocking because it seems beyond belief that – in 2013 – typing “women need” into the world’s most popular search engine is most often followed by “to be put in their place”. Aren’t we past that?

Well here’s where the Great British Bake Off comes in (stay with me). GBBO, as it’s known to its fans, couldn’t be fluffier or less controversial if it tried. I mean…its entire raison d'etre is watching people make vol-au-vents and cream puffs in a tent. About as divisive as a new-born lamb skipping through a field full of heather.

And yet as GBBO contestant Ruby Tandoh wrote this week – in an excellently written article I might add (yes, she was always my favourite) – the show and its contestants attracted ridiculous levels of misogynistic criticism and abuse.

In fact Ruby’s descriptions of the kind of nastiness directed at her and others from the show exactly personifies the sexism UN Women are trying to draw attention to.

If GBBO contestants can attract such sexist abuse here in the UK, where we’re supposedly so far down the line of achieving women’s equality, what hope is there for women’s rights worldwide? UN Women’s adverts prove there is a long way to go. But that isn’t to say there is no hope.

If the existence of UN Women teaches us anything, it’s that sexism and abuse of women’s rights are global problems. If a woman is raped, or beaten, or oppressed, does it matter where she lives? Any action we take in the UK, whether in support of women’s rights here or abroad, contributes to the global fight for women’s equality.  

That’s why Amnesty International supports women’s movements and organisations that are fighting for women’s equality all over the world.

We’re supporting Saudi Arabian women who are campaigning to be legally allowed to drive, for example. We’re working with a number of Afghan women activists to support their work in pressing for their rights to protected.

And we campaign in support of individual women who have been targeted due to their human rights work. We’re currently calling for Indian school teacher Soni Sori, arrested following her peaceful activism, to be released from jail where she says she was violently sexually assaulted.

Please add your voice to the many calling for her release and take a stand in support of women’s rights worldwide.

And next time you type “women” into Google, follow it with something positive. It’s the little things, after all.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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I am not sure about this advertising campaign...for instance if you use the same words but substitute "women" for "men" you get equally stereotypical and rather distasteful statements but there is not big advertising campaign about that. I am much more of the "we are all human get over it" camp to paraphrase Stonewall.

greta.holmer 7 years ago

Hi greta.holmer,

Thanks for your comment and support. I'm not sure I agree that the common searches when you type things like "men need" into Google are equivalent - for example I just got:

men need women

men need to ejaculate

men need space

men need women quotes

Slightly strange maybe but they don't seem on par with things like "women shouldn't have rights". However it is true that men can be stereotyped as well as women, which can be damaging. I think the important thing that UN Women are aiming to highlight is that women experience certain negative stereotyping and inequality disproportionately when compared to men.

Karla McLarenStaff 7 years ago

I really sympathize with this.
I typed "women need to" on google and I felt so ashamed when the third and the fourth suggestions appeared were "women need to be dominated" and "women need to be know their place"
It's a shame...
Women does not need to know their place since their place is exactly the same place of other every human being
So in order to give a little contribute to avoid this kind of sexism I typed "women need to be respected" as everyone need to.
I hope and I dream of a time where this kind of sexism will disappear
That's why I joined this site

elisa.sangalli 7 years ago