Global Review: countries with the most and least gender equality

The gap between genders still remains a contentious issue. Here, the countries with higher rankings have greater gender equality in economic, political, education and health-based criteria


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1. Iceland (Rank 1)

For the sixth year running Iceland has topped the leader board with the lowest gender equality gap. The country’s journey to the top began 40 years ago, when many of its female population protested against wage disparity between genders. Of Iceland’s population, 25,000 women went on strike for a day – prompting the government to form the Gender Equality Council. Since then, Iceland has made massive strides with high numbers of women in education and parliament. A state-run school system has given Icelandic girls access to some of the best teaching and academic institutions in the world. In 2013, the number of women graduating from the University of Iceland was two women for every man.

2. Finland (Rank 2)

Finland, along with neighbours Sweden and Norway, has one of the strongest global reputations for gender equality. The Scandinavian country’s government uses a systematic and target-oriented approach to tackle sexism, and has its own Gender Inequality Policy. Finland’s parliament has worked hard to improve the labour market, ensuring that career development and pay conditions for men and women are the same, and that jobs are not divided into gendered roles. Its parliament is one of the most balanced in terms of its gender split, with high numbers of women in lead positions. Academic outcomes are good for Finnish girls, with all expected to move into primary, secondary and tertiary education.

3. Germany (Rank 12)

Germany consistently outperforms its European neighbours when it comes to economic performance, and yet falls flat on the treatment of women. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of women trafficked into the country for sexual exploitation increased by 70 percent. It has one of the continent’s highest gender pay gaps, which its government has desperately tried to address. In March it controversially introduced boardroom quotas, coming into effect in 2016. This will mean major companies have to issue 30 percent of their supervisory seats to women. It follows a number of steps politicians have taken to promote female representation, with some even looking to change Germany’s ‘sexist’ traffic lights that only show men.

4. South Africa (Rank 18)

Installing gender equality has been a struggle for South Africa, which has poor scores for female economic participation and opportunity, and even worse credentials for girls’ literacy levels. It was set a series of millennium development goals in 2000 by the UN to achieve in 2015. Many of these targets set out to address gender inequality, with the aim of promoting parity for men and women across educational and workplace settings. OECD commentators suggested that South Africa will miss these, however, because of the extent of gender-based violence in the country. It has a justice system that is more favourable to men, according to reports. Both these factors are stagnating all other forms of growth.

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5. US (Rank 20)

In spite of its global standing, the US is no better than many developing countries when it comes to gender equality. While plenty of economic opportunities exist for women, they are generally paid a lot less than male colleagues and work in lower-ranked positions. Perhaps the US’ worst offending area is political empowerment, as women rarely get into important governmental positions. There are large disparities in how women are treated across the country, with southern women generally earning less than their northern counterparts. The status of women is also dictated largely by their race and ethnicity. Some commentators believe public figures such as Hillary Clinton will help close the gap.

6. Australia (Rank 24)

While Australian women have a healthy life expectancy and are one of the most educated groups in the world, they are stifled by inadequate workplace conditions. Data collected in 2013-14 by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that women face more barriers than men in employment, with female representation on a steady decline when being promoted. It also suggests that one third of employers have no key female management personnel. Women are more likely to suffer from harassment going about their daily work. The country ranked low for women’s political empowerment, but the government has vowed to tackle gender inequality, which is seen as damaging to economic growth.

7. UK (Rank 26)

The UK’s position on gender equality sent shockwaves around the world, as it dropped eight spots from the previous Global Gender Gap report. The country has been on a negative slide ever since 2006, when it was ranked in ninth place, and it is believed changes in income estimates are behind the dramatic fall. While education is strong throughout the country, women are poorly represented in parliament and positions of power, and are inadequately remunerated at work. Other reports corroborate that women are generally paid much less than men, and that there is often an unequal representation of them in sport, culture and social spheres.

8. Yemen (Rank 142)

Yemen has a dreadful record for parity between the sexes. Though women are fairly equal to men in terms of health, they are grossly behind for rankings relating to economic participation and opportunities. The country has no female members of parliament, with only one in 10 ministerial positions held by women. The gaps between the sexes in terms of enrolment in education, as well as the literacy rate between girls and boys, are some of the largest. Times are tough for Yemeni women in general, with ‘honour’ killings and high incidences of rape and violence. A 2013 demographic and health survey showed that around 92 percent of women said violence against women commonly occurs in the home.

Source: World Economic Forum