Let’s Wrap the Gap
The Best and Worst Countries for Gender Equity Policy
Globally, only 76 out of 189 countries have laws that mandate gender equality. Gender-based disparity and gender gaps, especially in labor, have the potential to undermine a country’s competitiveness and limit its economic growth.
An examination, of gender disparity around the world revealed that basic elements of society, including strong social and health systems, must exist to achieve gender equality. It is also clear that conflict and war are not environments conducive to gender equality or human life for that matter.
Below is a closer look at the best and worst place in the world for gender equity:
The Best – Iceland
For the past decade, Iceland has ranked the best place in the world to be a woman, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. For over a century, gender equality has been an important part of Iceland’s national agenda and is an essential part of the country’s culture.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the county’s current Prime Minister, has prioritized Iceland’s gender equality goals to reach gender parity in 5 years. On its current trajectory, the world average is set to reach gender parity in a little over 200 years.
The average unemployment rate of advanced global economies is 4.9% while Iceland’s is 2.9%. While there are many factors that influence the average percentage of people who do not work, Iceland’s family-friendly legislative policies hold a major stake in its population’s economic participation. Women make up more than 80% of Iceland’s workforce, and are empowered to work because of national universal childcare and a parental leave policy that extends to both parents for up to 9 months.
As a group, Nordic countries have set themselves apart as global leaders in gender equality. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland all rank in the top 5 on the Gender Gap Index. The Nordic Council’s concentrated leaderboard presence is directly attributed to its inter-parliamentary cooperation and shared social policy model for closing the gender gap.
Iceland’s Major Legislative Steps Toward Gender Parity:
In many countries, universal childcare and parental leave are considered luxuries rather than essential for parents to participate in the workforce. In the year 2000, Iceland implemented it universal childcare model, that transformed the economy, women’s equality, and their ability to participate in the workforce.
The Equal Pay Standard is Iceland’s legal requirement for all companies, with a staff of over 25 full-time workers, to certify their compensation and pay practices are non-discriminatory. This equal pay certification was enacted in June 2017 as an amendment to the Equal Status and Equal Rights for Women and Men Act of 2008.
In an expansion of gender recognition in the law, Iceland’s Equal Treatment in the Labor Market Act, came into force in September 2018. This law, enforced by the country’s Equal Opportunities Agency, prohibits direct or indirect discrimination in the labor market based on race, ethnic origin, religion, belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, sexual characteristics or gender expression. The goal of such equality legislation is to remove barriers to participation in the labor market. This, in turn will mitigate factors like societal isolation and poverty, promoting active labor participation within the Icelandic economy.
The Worst – Yemen
Yemen holds the ill-fated title of being the worst place in the world to be a woman. The sovereign republic, on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, is also one of the poorest countries in the region. Yemen has been the center of serious conflict, civil war, famine, and a deadly cholera epidemic in recent years. The Fragile States Index scores Yemen as the world’s most fragile and vulnerable nation. This ranking is also an indicator of poverty and inequality. All of this adds up to a state of heightened vulnerability for the citizens of Yemen, especially women. The 2018 Global Gender Gap Index ranked Yemen as the worst country in the world for gender equality. Unfortunately, Yemen has held the bottom ranking on the Gender Gap Index every year since its first publication in 2006, measuring 144 global economies.
Violent political conflict affects men and women differently, and a direct link can be drawn between fragile conflict areas and gender inequality. Violence against women and girls, particularly sexual violence and rape, are a devastating atrocity of war. Infrastructure, as well as social and health services in Yemen, were strained before the conflict due to the underdevelopment of the country.
Since the violence began, a deterioration of basic services has resulted in terribly inadequate health resources. Women, especially of reproductive age, are at high risk of life-threatening complications. Without adequate medical services treatable conditions become fatal. Malnourishment is also a present and dangerous risk for women as well as children. The United Nations estimates that over 53% of the country’s population, around 15 million people, are at risk of starvation.
Already, tens of thousands of Yemenis, have lost their lives as a result of the famine. Instability in Yemen has driven 2 million Yemini citizens into forced displacement either internally or in neighboring nations. Without intervention and support the future for Yemen and potential fall-out within the region is dire.
Humanitarian Responses to the Crisis in Yemen
A nation amid an extreme and complex humanitarian crisis with active violent conflicts does not have the capacity to build equality until some form of peace, normalcy, and political stability is re-established. The United Nations Refugee Agency, the Norwegian Refugee Council, The World Food Program, Oxfam, and many other NGOs and humanitarian agencies are working to respond to the immediate need amid the crisis in Yemen.
In February 2019, 16 UN member countries pledged a total of $2.6 billion to aid in Yemen. Since February, according to an update from the UN, a major humanitarian program had to end operations because less than half of the promised pledges arrived. This failure to answer the call of the world’s most vulnerable not only means that Yemen’s work toward peace and achieving equality are that much further, but that millions of lives will remain at risk.