UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. women's agency is teaming up with actress Geena Davis to support the first global study of how women and girls are portrayed in family films, saying the images have a strong impact on how females see themselves.

Gender representation in film influences the perception of women and girls, their self-esteem and the relationships between the sexes, Lakshmi Puri, acting head of UN Women, said Monday.

"We cannot let the negative depiction of women and girls erode the hard gains that have been made on gender equality and women's empowerment," Puri said. "We hope that the study will address factors that positively impact the perception of women in society."

UN Women said the study will examine the top-grossing international movies in Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The Academy Award-winning Davis, who played the first female president in the television series "Commander in Chief," said the dearth of female characters of substance in the media means children are being taught that girls and women "don't take up half of the space in the world."

"Media images have an enormous impact on children's self-esteem and aspirations," she said in a statement. "This is why we decided to launch a global gender in media study: If girls see it, they can be it."

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media commissioned the study with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and UN Women. Results will be released in late 2014.

Previous research by the Geena Davis Institute revealed that in U.S. family films only 28.3 percent of all speaking characters were female. Many were depicted in stereotyped and sexualized roles. Only 3.4 percent of business leader characters and 4.5 percent of high-level politicians were women.

Davis, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for "The Accidental Tourist" in 1988 and starred in "Thelma & Louise," is also a special envoy of the U.N. International Telecommunication Union to promote the empowering role that technology can play in the lives of women and girls.