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Girls & Women

These Are the Best Countries to Be a Woman

Flickr: Familjen Helsingborg, Lars Strandberg

There’s no country that can boast total gender equality yet, but some can proudly say they’re close.

Data reflected in the 2015 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report shows that more than 96 percent of the gender gap in health outcomes and 95 percent in educational attainment has been closed, while only 59 percent of the gap in economic participation and 23 percent in political empowerment (compared to 14 percent 10 years ago) has been closed. The five countries with the least gender inequality are still only about 80 percent of the way to gender parity.

Despite the great distance left to go, this is significant progress.

Here are the countries that are leading the way in women’s rights and gender equality through equal pay, economic opportunities, political representation, and access to education.

Iceland

Iceland — where the sun doesn’t set in the summer, the ponies are fluffy, and the gender gap is almost closed! The 2015 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report found that Iceland has closed 88 percent of its gender gap — which is not just “pretty good,” it’s actually the best (that the world has to date). Iceland has topped the list for smallest gender gap for the seventh year in a row. The levels of equality in access to healthcare, education, and economic participation and opportunities are close among the top five countries in the report, but Iceland outpaces the pack when it comes to gender parity in politics — with close to 72 percent of the gap closed, it’s more than 10 points ahead of the next closest contender (Finland). Iceland has had a female head of state for 20 out of the past 50 years and women are generally well represented in its political system.

The small country has come a long way from the historic strike of 1975, when 90 percent of the nation’s women went on strike — taking the day off from their office jobs, childcare, and housework — to rally for equal rights.

New Zealand

This small nation, whose sheep population outnumbers its human population, was the first to give women the right to vote in 1893. According to 2015 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, New Zealand can boast gender parity in access to education, and very nearly equal access to health care. It hasn’t reached perfect parity yet, but it’s certainly fairing better than most countries. New Zealand’s gender wage gap is (relatively) small, at 11.8% this past year — close to half that of the US — and women make up about 30% of its political representatives.

Finland

While women in New Zealand were the first to have to right to vote, Finnish women were the first to be elected to parliament in 1907 — 19 women members were elected. Today, women hold 10 out of 18 parliamentary posts. Finland also has a generous maternity leave policy, allowing women to begin their leave up to 50 working days before their due dates, and offering a maternity allowance for 105 working days — and that offer comes with very few strings attached, students, self-employed and unemployed women can all take advantage of it. But Finland doesn’t just expect women to do all the parenting — paternity leave is offered (and encouraged) for up to 54 working days and also comes with an allowance, which also means that new moms can re-enter the workforce sooner if they choose. Hopefully they’ll soon close the gender gap in equal parenting.

Denmark

Denmark gave women the right to vote in the second iteration of its constitution in 1915 — and more than 20,000 women marched to the palace to commemorate the achievement. More recently, Denmark was rated the best country for women, based on the responses of over 7,000 women who completed US News’ 2016 Best countries survey. Like Finland, Denmark has a flexible parental leave policies that encourage gender parity at home and in the office. It’s healthcare and education systems are “virtually free,” which has equalized access to both. And while Danes are often seen as some of the happiest people in the world, a study found that it’s older women are the happiest of the happiest — so they must be doing something right!

Sweden

Sweden has closed more than 80 percent of its gender gap and is often cited as an example of a nation close to achieving gender parity, perhaps because it reportedly has the “most progressive attitudes toward gender equality,” according to a YouGov poll. Sweden’s policies are similar the other Scandinavian countries — it has a welfare system that emphasizes work-life balance, parental leave policies to support that, and public services that enable men and women to access healthcare, education, and job opportunities equally. Sweden boasts the highest percentage of working mothers in the EU (more than 73 percent in 2014), in no small part due to its generous family benefits, flexible parental leave policies, access to quality education and day care.


It may surprise you to know that some of the most developed countries don’t even come close to the top 10 in gender equality — the UK weighs in at 18, while the US and Canada trail behind at 28 and 30, respectively. Australian women are poorly represented in their political system, putting them at 36, while Japan’s similarly under-represented women land them at 101 (of 145 evaluated in the 2015 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report).

On the other hand, Rwanda and the Philippines come in at 6 and 7, the only developing nations in the top 10, largely due to low levels of disparity in economic opportunities. In fact, Rwanda was the top performing country overall on wage equality for similar work.


No country has the total package yet, though some are farther along in the process than others. What’s more, many are taking active steps toward achieving gender parity. Girls and women deserve equal opportunities to thrive and achieve. Hopefully soon, we’ll be able to declare global gender equality.