If you are a woman, the best country in the world to live is Iceland.
The World Economic Forum 2020 report says Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world. It is the 11th year in succession that the country has had this honour. Iceland is followed by three other European countries: Norway, Finland, and Sweden.
The World Economic Forum began measuring the gender gap index in 2006. More than 153 countries are surveyed and are given points based on the following factors: economic participation, education attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.
While Iceland is still 12.3 perceptual points away from closing the gender gap, there are other countries where the numbers are extremely disappointing. In the factors that affect gender equality, the political empowerment gap is the one that is bothersome when you look at all the countries in the world.
Iceland ranks number one in the world when it comes to political presentation. It has women’s representation of more than 70 percent.
What makes Iceland the best in the world when it comes to gender equality? The answer lies in its laws.
Let us look at some of the Icelandic laws which make gender equality possible:
Equal pay for equal work
According to Iceland’s equal pay law, companies that have 25 or more employees should guarantee that both male and female employees are receiving the same income for the same work. The law has been effectively implemented because companies are supposed to file an annual pay certification. It is interesting to note that there was an equal pay act that dates back to 1961, but it was never enforced. It was only when companies were levied fines daily for not adhering to the law that they started following it.
Parental leave policy
Known as the Icelandic Act on Maternity/Paternity and Parental Leave, which was created in 2000, this is considered the world’s best paternity policy. The law was later amended in 2006 - parental leave was increased from six to nine months. According to this policy, the government covers parental leave for birth, adoption, and foster care for all employees in Iceland. The law even applies to self-employed parents. In this, the parents split the time of leave equally to ensure children grow up with equal care and that their work is also balanced.
The Ministry of Gender Equality
To check its progress and demand accountability on creating an equal country, Iceland has even created a ministry whose only job is to concentrate on gender equality. The ministry includes the Equal Status Council, the Complaints Committee, and a new Centre for Gender Equality. These bodies research, advertise, advocate and check for instances where gender equality hasn’t happened yet. The goal of the ministry is to create a cultural, social, and legal approach to gender equality.
Gender equality is mandatorily taught in schools
According to Article 23 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, gender equality must be taught across all levels of education. From preschool to college, all institutions should include and practice gender equality. Here is what the law states: “Educational materials and textbooks shall be designed in such a way as not to discriminate against either sex.”
40 percent female representation in companies’ boards
Article 15 of the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men says that no public company board or government official or committee should have less than 40 percent gender equality. The law also states that a company with more than 25 employees must set up a gender equality programme and review its goals every three years.
Iceland has turned itself around after the economic crash of 2009.
After severe civilian protests, the conservative government was forced to resign, and a new government led by Social Democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir (the world’s first openly gay premier) took charge. It came to the conclusion that a male-dominated economy and business culture was the reason behind the crash in the first place, which is why you see policies like the mandatory 40 percent gender-equality in companies’ boards. All the progress that they have made in terms of pushing gender equality happened after this decision was made.
India, on the other hand, is placed at an unenviable 123rd position, according to the ‘Human Development Report 2020’ released by the United Nations Development Programme last week. The report says the difference in parents’ response towards boys and girls has even led to malnutrition for the latter. In India, even marital rape is not a crime.
India needs to introduce stricter laws and work on enforcing them so that women in our country are safe and are accorded all the rights that they deserve. Looking at how things are at the moment, it seems like a far cry, but we can only hope.
(Edited by Teja Lele)