Hooray for Iceland! Not only did it rank at the top of the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, it ranks #1 on our own list of countries with the best news for women. That’s when it became the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women for doing the same job. This law became effective January 1, 2018; and while similar legislation has been in place in Iceland since 1961, this is the first time specific steps have been drawn up to enforce this law for all companies with over 25 employees. If you just fell to earth from another planet, you might be confused as to why we need a law for what should be a given. If you’re an earthling, you won’t be surprised, since historically, presently and going forward, we have needed and still need laws to allow all “earthlings” to have equal opportunities in every segment of life! Iceland is so inclusive that they elected the first openly gay prime minister, Johanna Siguroardottir, in 2009.
The Nordic and Scandinavian countries top a variety of lists when it comes to being good countries for women. There has always been speculation as to why these countries earn this distinction as well as that of being among the happiest countries in the world. There is not one generally-accepted answer, but a contributor to this enviable status might be that because these countries don’t heavily invest in the war machine, they can use more funds to develop social programs that benefit their citizens. Among the most relevant programs supporting women are their generous maternity and paternity leave allowances. With an average of three months of leave for each parent after a child is born (taken separately), and greater in some of these countries, men now have equal work disruption time, so maternity leave does not automatically create as great a hindrance to women’s careers as it has in the past. Additionally, this shared leave-taking often leads men to continue taking on more child-rearing and household responsibilities as the child grows. Maybe the harsh climates of these countries and sparsely settled communities make excluding half of society based on gender simply untenable!
President Donald Trump’s alleged remarks about “ _ _ _ _hole countries” and how he would welcome more immigrants from Norway, is kind of ironic. He has, of course, denied making the former reference, but whether you believe him or not, it makes one chuckle and wonder why anyone would think Norwegians might be keen to come here—particularly women. For the past several years Norway has ranked in the top ten on the lists of both the best countries for women and the countries with the happiest people. “Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Trump,” might be the giving response of many Norwegian females.
Although the same countries are repeatedly touted for their women-friendly policies, there are some surprising advances in gender equality in unexpected countries. Those of you living in some of the following seven countries might say “Are you kidding?”. While we agree they may still have a lot of work to do, these countries stand out for their efforts and improvement.
When the name Rwanda is mentioned, for many it is usually only associated with the well-known 1994 genocide in that country. What is less known is that after that horrible period in its history, the widows and families of the genocide’s victims worked to have laws passed mandating Parliament be comprised of at least 30 percent women. The numbers kept growing from there without referring to the legal ruling. Without a lot of worldwide fanfare, Rwanda has been moving forward since that time, and it now has the highest percentage of women in Parliament of any country in the world—a whopping 64 percent for the last four years. Globally women hold a total of only 23 percent of parliamentary or Senate seats.
Rwanda has made great advancements in healthcare—for both women and men. Although its healthcare is still below par comparatively speaking, the improvements made over the past decade have been the most dramatic the world has seen in the last half-century! This is a direct result of their adoption of an almost universal healthcare plan—approximately 90 percent of its population has coverage, and Rwanda is considered a developing nation and certainly not a wealthy one!
Jacinda Arden. Photo Courtesy of fouroverfour
“Today you wouldn’t find a single Rwandan -- man or woman -- who disputes that the influence and leadership of women have been essential to Rwanda’s social and economic progress.” -Juliana Kantengwa, Member of Rwandan Parliament and Vice President of the Pan-African Parliament
2. New Zealand
New Zealand was the first country to grant voting rights to women, and this was in 1893! New Zealand’s current Prime Minister is Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest female head of state and the third female to hold the title in this country. She has just announced that she is pregnant and will be taking a six-week leave (notable because it’s a lot less than the generous 18 to 22 weeks granted by New Zealand’s Parliament).
While the gender pay gap has been slightly reduced over the last decade, New Zealanders are working vigorously to uncover reasons why a gap remains and how to achieve equality in this arena. The government has announced it will implement a set of pay equity principles that will make it easier for women to file claims with their employers rather than going through the courts, speeding up an often extremely lengthy process. In another push for equality, in 2017, Simplicity, a non-profit retirement fund provider, which owns shares in the top 50 listed companies in New Zealand, wrote to all top 50 CEO’s advocating for full diversity in board and senior management within five years.
You go, New Zealanders, toward more firsts in female empowerment!
“…But the day when a female leader becomes so commonplace that it doesn’t merit comment – that will be the day when everything really will have changed.” - Jacinda Ardern
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti, but it still has narrowed some gender gaps. Most notably, women’s representation as lawmakers, senior officials and managers is 40 percent, much higher than in many more developed countries. Its gender equality in health and survival rates is also quite good, and there are more girls and women than boys and men in secondary education. Nicaraguan women still face many challenges, but they are moving forward, albeit slowly. Rosario Murillo, the wife of President Daniel Ortega, was elected vice president in 2016. She is much more than a figurehead as she has great influence on government policies and is the official voice of the administration. While this may be the Ortegas’ bid to create another dynasty, for now, Ms. Murillo is the champion of many, giving women a very visible presence in this country’s government.
“…..As more women are present in the economic, social and political spaces, more women’s leadership is promoted because we have identified our leadership abilities.” -Rosario Murillo, First Lady and Vice President
Rosario Murillo. Photo Courtesy of La Prensa
Since their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenia has been making enormous leaps and bounds towards their goal of gender equality. Most notably, it boasts a third more women than men in tertiary education, and men earn less than 10 percent more than women. Why they should earn any more anywhere is an obvious question, but this is remarkable considering the global average is 27 percent. This means worldwide a woman earns about 73 cents for every dollar a man earns.
In Slovenia, women earn about 90 cents for every dollar men earn. Slovenian women are close to the finish line when it comes to eliminating gender gaps in education and pay. Women are taking on more and more entrepreneurial roles, and in 2017 Slovenian Ana Ros was voted the World’s Best Female Chef of the Year by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. On the minus side, female showing in technology hasn’t risen to the levels of other fields, and women have only a 37 percent share of seats in their national parliament. However unequal, this percentage is still higher than the global 23 percent average.
“…I continue to firmly believe that education is the most powerful way to promote and ensure women’s rights.” - First Lady Melania Trump
Choir of women in the Republic of Namibia. Photo Courtesy of LWF Assembly
The Republic of Namibia won the 2017 African Gender Forum Award for its legal policy framework and for the promotion and protection of women’s rights in Africa! They have worked hard for women’s equality, and as of 2017 women’s enrollment in the Namibia University of Technology is slightly higher than that of men. The constitution of their country is one of the few with gender-neutral wording, and women now comprise over 50 percent of the working population. Although they have risen in numbers, women in government are still under-represented, but not when compared with many other African nations.
“We, in Namibia, believe that gender equity is equally important for a stable and harmonious society. In this regard, a policy decision by the ruling party to introducing a 50-50 representation at all party levels has led to a significant improvement of the representation of females, to 48 percent in Namibia’s National Assembly.” -Dr. Hage G. Geingob, President of Namibia
Education equality is the real takeaway when discussing gender roles in the Philippines. Women represent a larger percentage in higher education than men, and the Philippines continues to have a larger representation of women in professional and technical fields. They have also risen to positions of enterprise and leadership and occupy a high percentage of ownership in partner-run businesses. As of 2017, women in parliament have almost double their numbers since 2005. However, the number of men in these roles is still almost twice that of women. Some Philippine women have complained that having more women in the workplace has only served to make men stay at home more without working or taking more responsibility for household tasks.
“But women cannot win this fight alone. We need men—evolved ones, kind ones, brave ones who are willing to stand up and speak against misogyny and bigotry, and help us create spaces for our women to lead in society.” -Former Vice President of Philippines, Leni Robredo, when addressing the First Southeast Asia Women’s Summit in 2017
Maybe some will cringe at the mention of Ireland as improving in gender equality, but it has moved forward toward bettering the role of women in a land that historically has treated women as lesser members of society. Here are a few legal restrictions in place as recently as 1970 that are now off the books:
- Women couldn’t keep a public service job once they got married.
- You had to be a property owner to be a jurist, thus excluding most women in Ireland.
- The import, sale and distribution of contraceptives were illegal, so most women virtually had no access.
- Women couldn’t get restraining orders against violent partners.
- It wasn’t until 1976 that women were given the right to own their own homes.
Thankfully, there have been many more women-friendly changes in this country that still has a less than stellar reputation concerning gender equality. Women now rank equally with men in education and work in technical and professional areas. Their grades for equality in healthcare are also equal. Right now, their biggest impediment to equality is the lack of women in parliament, but their recent vote on abortion was a resounding step forward in the right direction.
“I was elected by the women of Ireland who instead of rocking the cradle rocked the system.” Mary Robinson, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997
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This article was first published on 2/18.
Dr. Victoria Bateman, an esteemed economist best known for her nude protests for gender equality, uses her body as a form of art that serves to challenge the stigma around women's bodies and women's rights, in the world of economics. In March 2018, Bateman attended the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society in Brighton stark naked with the word "respect" written across her chest and stomach. Unbashful in delivering her message, Bateman was determined to start a conversation.