Special Report

The Countries That Have Come Closest to True Gender Equality

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1. Iceland

Iceland has been at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the 10th year in a row. The small island ranks No. 1 in several of the measures used to create the Index, including wage equality for similar work, share of women who work in the professional and technical sectors, and political empowerment.

Some argue that the path to equality for Icelandic women all started in 1975 when 90% of them went on strike to demonstrate how dysfunctional society would be without them. Five years later, Iceland became the first country in the world to elect a woman as president and became known as “the world’s most feminist country.”

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2. Norway

Like Iceland, Norway has historically been considered among the best countries for gender equality. It ranked No. 2 back in 2006, No. 3 in 2016, and No. 2 again in 2018. More women than men work in professional and technical jobs — 52.9% of such jobs are held by women, one of the most even ratios among all 149 countries in the report.

Some of the gender specific actions the country has taken to bring equality are more radical than others, and some focus on men, rather than women. For example, employers are allowed to choose a woman over a man for a job if she is almost as well qualified. Similarly, men can be chosen over women in occupations related to child care, where men are underrepresented.

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3. Sweden

Sweden has dropped in the ranking over the last decade when it comes to gender equality, but only slightly. The Scandinavian country went from being at the top in 2006 to being No. 3 in 2018. One of the measures used to create the Global Gender Gap Index in which women fare particularly well is ministerial positions — more than half are women in Sweden.

However, women are still underrepresented in business. For example, in 2016, over 80% of managers at Swedish companies listed on the stock market were men and no new company had a female boss.

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4. Finland

Finland has a long history of promoting equal rights. It was the first European country to grant women the right to vote and stand for election in 1906. Organizations working for women’s rights were established as early as the 1880s.

A century later, Finland still leads the way. In 2017, the country established the world’s first International Gender Equality Prize, which is given to a person or an organization that has had a significant impact in advancing gender equality across the world.

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5. Nicaragua

Nicaragua has come a long way since 2006 when it ranked 62nd out of 114 countries when it came to gender equality. The Central American country is now one of three nations — right next to France and Iceland — on its way to completely closing the gender gap. It is forecast to do so within 16 years, fewer than the expected 24 years for Iceland.

The country’s fast improvements towards gender equality contribute to its ranking second among the 149 countries in the Index for political empowerment and first in the health and survival measures.

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