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Who are the Most Gender-Equal Countries in the World?

A symbol for gender equality

Gender parity has a bearing on whether or not economies and societies will thrive. Gender equality means having the right to equal opportunities and resources, regardless of gender.

The World Economic Forum measures gender gaps since 2006 in its annual Global Gender Gap Report. It tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. The World Economic Forum reviewed the percentage of men and women working, educational attainment, economic opportunities, health status, and political empowerment to measuring gender equality in 143 countries.

According to the latest report, here are the top 10 countries to close the gender gap as we enter the new decade:

1. Iceland

Iceland has been leading the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for a decade. This small European island ranks No. 1 in several measures used to rank the countries, including political empowerment, the share of women working in the professional and technical sectors, and wage equality.

Iceland was the first country in the world to elect a female president after electing Vigdís Finnbogadóttir into office in 1980. In 1975, 90% of women in Iceland went on strike to show how dysfunctional society would be without them. The strong women movement led to the country being known as “the world’s most feminist country.”

2. Norway

Norway has had a long history of rooting for women’s rights and gender equality. The government puts effort to increase opportunities available to women, promote their right to self-determination, and empower them. In 2019, more women than men working in professional and technical jobs in the country.

Some of the gender-specific actions the country has taken to achieve equality are more radical than others. Some actions focus on men rather than women. For instance, employers are allowed to choose a woman over a man for a position if she is almost as qualified as the man. Similarly, men can be chosen over women in jobs related to child care where men are under-represented.

3. Finland

Finland has always been a world pioneer in gender equality, especially in politics and human rights. It was the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote and stand for elections in 1906. Organizations working for women’s rights were existing even as early as the 1880s.

After a century, Finland still leads the way. In 2017, the country established its first International Gender Equality Prize, which was given to an organization or an individual that offered a significant impact in advancing gender equality across the world. Since the start of the century, it had two female prime ministers and a widely-liked female president who served for 12 years.

4. Sweden

Sweden has come a long way, as the country was often considered a role model for gender equality.  The Scandinavian country went from being at the top in 2006 to be the third in 2018, to fourth in 2019. Women fare particularly well in ministerial positions in the country. However, women are still underrepresented in business. Like for instance, in 2016, over 80% of managers at companies listed on the stock market were men, and no new company had a female boss.

Though Sweden has dropped in ranking for over the last decade when it comes to gender equality, the country was ahead among other nations when it comes to giving equal rights to women. In 1846, divorcees, widows, and unmarried women were entitled to work in certain areas. And in 1919, all women were given the right to vote.

5. Nicaragua

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has made a lot of progress in narrowing the gender gap over the past years. In 2006, the country ranked 62nd out of 114 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index. The Central American country is one of the nations on its way to closing the gender gap.

The gender gap index in the country rose to 78% in 2015 as women scored significant gains in education, health, and political representation. The fast improvements towards gender equality bring Nicaragua to 1st in rank for health and survival measures, and 2nd in rank among the countries for political empowerment.

6. New Zealand

New Zealand is at the top rank when in gender equality among East Asia and the Pacific region. It has closed about 80% of its overall gender pay gap, taking the 7th spot in the world. The increasing share of women in parliament leads to the country entering the top 10 of this list for the first time.

In the last decade, New Zealand has nearly closed the gap in educational attainment, as nearly equal shares of the male and female population received primary and secondary education, and slightly more women have a college degree. Also, women are given no restrictions to equal rights of property and land ownership, regardless of marital status.

7. Ireland

The gender gap ranking of Ireland has been slipping since 2016, but it still belongs to the top 10. The European island country has managed to close more than 79% of its overall gender gap. It saw considerable improvements in income equality among men and women.

The difference between male and female life expectancy at birth in the country has completely closed. There are near-equal shares of men and women who attend college, and the shares of men and women employed in technical and professional jobs in Ireland are also near equal.

8. Spain

Gender equality has been one of the fundamental goals of Spanish cooperation. In 2019, Spain made strides for its massive marches of the feminist movement. During the International Women’s Day, 350,000 protesters in Madrid and 200,000 in Barcelona marched to the streets to denounce gender disparities present in their societies.

Today, Spain is in the top 10 of the Global Gender Gap Index, as the country is considered as one of the global leaders in fighting gender discrimination in the political, economic, and social spheres. Spain also became one of the most improved countries when it comes to gender equality, as it jumped 21 places from last year, up to the 8th position.

9. Rwanda

Rwanda is an unlikely champion of equal gender rights. Unlike most of the countries on the top 10 list, it does not have an advanced economy, it has a turbulent history, and its life expectancy is low. But in 2018, Rwanda ranked 5th for gender equality and 9th in 2019. The government is committed to ensuring equal rights for men and women without prejudice to the principles of gender equality. Women are respected in education, healthcare, and government. It also took an active stance against rape in genocide and is pushing towards ending gender-based violence.

So how did Rwanda managed to be on top, beating the USA, UK, France, and other rich countries? First of all, Rwanda has one of the highest rates of female labor force participation in the world. But the reality is, this wasn’t entirely by choice. After the Rwandan genocide in 1994 that killed almost a million people in three months, 70% of the remaining population were women, and they were forced to step up and fill all the jobs.

10. Germany

When it comes to the closing gender gap, Germany seems to be going the opposite direction, as it ranked 5th in 2006 but landed on 14th spot by 2018. It made strides to improve, bringing it back to the top 10 list. Gender equality advanced in Germany due to the greater participation of women in politics.

However, the main reason why Germany wasn’t performing well in the past few years is that economic equality lags in international comparison. In other modern countries where there’s a high population of female politicians, there’s also a high proportion of females in high-power jobs, but this is not the case in Germany. Many women still do not enjoy equal career opportunities and equal pay, and they remain a minority when in decision-making positions.

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