7 Unexpected Countries Pioneering Change In The Women's Movement


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.

1. Rwanda

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

3. Nicaragua

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

4. Slovenia

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

5. Namibia

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

6. Philippines

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

7. Ireland

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:

  1. Women couldn’t keep a public service job once they got married.
  2. You had to be a property owner to be a jurist, thus excluding most women in Ireland.
  3. The import, sale and distribution of contraceptives were illegal, so most women virtually had no access.
  4. Women couldn’t get restraining orders against violent partners.
  5. 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

How does your country rate? Check it out this website.

This article was first published on 2/18.

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I Have Been Bullied Both At School and At Work. Here's What It Taught Me

Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.

Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.

I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!

My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.

And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.

Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.

It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."

Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.