No Passport Required: A Look at Where Women Have It BestNovember 11, 2014
Where is the best place in the world to be a woman? The World Economic Forum has some opinions on the matter. They recently released their Global Gender Gap Report 2014, which ranks 142 countries in a hefty 395-page report that breaks down things like political representation, the pay gap, and health. At the rate we’re going, the report says, it’ll take us 81 years to close gender gaps in the workplace globally.
We broke the results down for you to give a little insight into why some women are faring better than others around the world. Here are the top 10 places where women have it best, according to the criteria of the Global Gender Report.
Iceland has been sitting at the top of the Gender Gap Report for six consecutive years. So what sets Iceland apart? It has closed its gender educational gap, and most notably, it ranks first in political empowerment. Iceland has had a female head of state for 20 of the last 50 years. Iceland is also making huge strides in gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, making it one of the countries with the best representation of women STEM graduates.
Finland ranks second on the list for the third straight year, earning high marks for women’s representation in politics. Finland is also known for generous parental leave policies and most notably for their maternity package. The maternity package is a benefit of the Finnish social security institution to all expectant or adoptive parents to provide all Finnish children with access to basic needs. The package includes a sleeping bag, outerwear, diapers, clothing, bathing products, bedding, and a mattress in a cardboard box that can serve as the baby’s first crib. The “baby box” has been credited with reducing Finland’s infant mortality rate over the last 75 years from 65 out of 1,000 births to 3.38 out of 1,000 births (the U.S. infant mortality rate is almost double that).
While Norway comes in behind its neighbors, it is leading the way on issues such as educational attainment and the pay gap. Norway has also made recent strides in gender equity in their military by expanding mandatory military service to include women. This makes Norway the first European country to extend compulsory conscription to all citizens, regardless of gender, during a time of peace. Norway follows Israel in establishing a gender-inclusive military force.
Like their Nordic neighbors, women in Sweden enjoy a high level of gender equality. Sweden is ranked number one in literacy, enrollment in tertiary education, and the number of women currently holding ministerial positions. However, what has brought Sweden to the forefront in the global gender debate is their effort to break down gender stereotypes, most notably through the introduction of a gender-neutral pronoun into the Swedish language. “Hen” was added to the language in 2012 as a more inclusive alternative to “hon” and “han,” she and he. Today, Swedish retailers are eliminating traditional blue and pink colors in toys for kids, and androgynous characters have started appearing in children’s books.
Denmark is one of 25 countries that has closed its educational gap. Danish women suffer from a 17 percent wage gap, but this month labor unions in Denmark are telling their female employees to take the rest of the year off in protest. Because of the wage gap, women are essentially unpaid for their work for the remainder of the year. The suggested walkout is, of course, mostly symbolic, but it has gotten media attention in Denmark. One union leader said that all women should “go to a tropical island for the rest of the year.” We could get on board with that.
Nicaragua is the highest ranked country in Latin America. This is the third consecutive year that Nicaragua has made it to the top 10, with significant improvements in the past few years. Nicaragua is ranked fourth in the category of political empowerment. This is largely attributed to the county’s history of electing women to high political offices. In 1990, Violeta Chamorro was sworn in as the first woman president of the country; it was the first peaceful transition of power in Nicaraguan history. Chamorro immediately went to work on peace reforms, trying to heal the country after years of civil war.
Rwanda joins the top 10 for the first time, making it the only country from sub-Saharan Africa to ever make the top 10. The women of Rwanda have found success in many professions, with a large presence in the police force and judicial sector. In 2008, Rwanda made waves when it became the first country to have ever had a female majority in parliament; women leaders have been credited with helping to heal their nation in the years since the genocide. Strides are now being made regarding women’s ability to inherit and own land, more serious legal responses to domestic abuse, and women’s ability to get loans, among many other pressing issues.
Ireland slipped two places from last year to number eight. The researchers did not explain the drop in ranking, but it is noteworthy that opportunities for women in the workplace have increased by 4 percent since the first study in 2006. Ireland has consistently received high marks for educational opportunities for women, especially in holding tertiary degrees: 55 percent of Irish women compared with 42 percent of Irish men have completed tertiary education.
9. The Philippines
The Philippines is the only country representing the Asia/Pacific region in the top 10 this year. The Philippines is the only country in the region to have successfully closed their gender educational attainment gap and health and survival gap. Historically, the Philippines has had quite a few women lawmakers, perhaps none so beloved and remembered as Corazon Aquino, the country’s first woman president. Aquino was one of the faces of the People Power Revolution of 1986, which overturned a 20-year dictatorship. When Corazon Aquino’s husband, Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated, she ran for president during a snap election.
2014 is the first year that Belgium has broken into the top 10. Belgium ranks high in political participation and access to education, but more interesting, the country has been a strong advocate in the movement to end street harassment. Long before the recent New York City video went viral, women in Belgium were exposing street harassment through the 2012 video “Femme de la Rue.” Earlier this year, legislation was introduced to punish street harassment in the country with a fine of about $1,500 or a prison sentence of up to one year.
This post was co-written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants staff members Lauren Byrnes and Laura Blyler.
Nnenna Agba gained popularity when she went on the widely watched television show America’s Next Top Model. She holds degrees in chemistry and urban affairs, and she is the face of an NGO that provides Nigerian girls with scholarships.
Molly Rockett is a rising senior at the University of Connecticut, a resident adviser on campus, and former president of the College Democrats. She also holds a local government position in her hometown.
AAUW Fellow Rabita Rajkarnikar works to empower Nepalese women with the skills they need to decrease societal and economic dependence on men.