No Passport Required: A Look at Where Women Have It Best

November 11, 2014

Where is the best place in the world to be a woman? The World Economic Forum has some opinions on the matter. They recently released their Global Gender Gap Report 2014, which ranks 142 countries in a hefty 395-page report that breaks down things like political representation, the pay gap, and health. At the rate we’re going, the report says, it’ll take us 81 years to close gender gaps in the workplace globally.

We broke the results down for you to give a little insight into why some women are faring better than others around the world. Here are the top 10 places where women have it best, according to the criteria of the Global Gender Report.

1. Iceland

Former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly gay head of government.

Former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly gay head of government. Photo credit: Halldor Kolbeins

Iceland has been sitting at the top of the Gender Gap Report for six consecutive years. So what sets Iceland apart? It has closed its gender educational gap, and most notably, it ranks first in political empowerment. Iceland has had a female head of state for 20 of the last 50 years. Iceland is also making huge strides in gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, making it one of the countries with the best representation of women STEM graduates.

2. Finland

Finland baby box

Image by Visa Kopu, Flickr Creative Commons

Finland ranks second on the list for the third straight year, earning high marks for women’s representation in politics. Finland is also known for generous parental leave policies and most notably for their maternity package. The maternity package is a benefit of the Finnish social security institution to all expectant or adoptive parents to provide all Finnish children with access to basic needs. The package includes a sleeping bag, outerwear, diapers, clothing, bathing products, bedding, and a mattress in a cardboard box that can serve as the baby’s first crib. The “baby box” has been credited with reducing Finland’s infant mortality rate over the last 75 years from 65 out of 1,000 births to 3.38 out of 1,000 births (the U.S. infant mortality rate is almost double that).

3. Norway

Photo credit: Norwegian military

Photo credit: Norwegian military

While Norway comes in behind its neighbors, it is leading the way on issues such as educational attainment and the pay gap. Norway has also made recent strides in gender equity in their military by expanding mandatory military service to include women. This makes Norway the first European country to extend compulsory conscription to all citizens, regardless of gender, during a time of peace. Norway follows Israel in establishing a gender-inclusive military force.

4. Sweden

The Swedish children's book Kivi och Monsterhund

The Swedish children’s book Kivi och Monsterhund

Like their Nordic neighbors, women in Sweden enjoy a high level of gender equality. Sweden is ranked number one in literacy, enrollment in tertiary education, and the number of women currently holding ministerial positions. However, what has brought Sweden to the forefront in the global gender debate is their effort to break down gender stereotypes, most notably through the introduction of a gender-neutral pronoun into the Swedish language. “Hen” was added to the language in 2012 as a more inclusive alternative to “hon” and “han,” she and he. Today, Swedish retailers are eliminating traditional blue and pink colors in toys for kids, and androgynous characters have started appearing in children’s books.

5. Denmark

Photo credit: Claus Tom Christensen

Photo credit: Claus Tom Christensen

Denmark is one of 25 countries that has closed its educational gap. Danish women suffer from a 17 percent wage gap, but this month labor unions in Denmark are telling their female employees to take the rest of the year off in protest. Because of the wage gap, women are essentially unpaid for their work for the remainder of the year. The suggested walkout is, of course, mostly symbolic, but it has gotten media attention in Denmark. One union leader said that all women should “go to a tropical island for the rest of the year.” We could get on board with that.

6. Nicaragua

Violeta Chamorro

Violeta Chamorro. Photo credit: White House photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Nicaragua is the highest ranked country in Latin America. This is the third consecutive year that Nicaragua has made it to the top 10, with significant improvements in the past few years. Nicaragua is ranked fourth in the category of political empowerment. This is largely attributed to the county’s history of electing women to high political offices. In 1990, Violeta Chamorro was sworn in as the first woman president of the country; it was the first peaceful transition of power in Nicaraguan history. Chamorro immediately went to work on peace reforms, trying to heal the country after years of civil war.

7. Rwanda

Photo credit: “Women in Kigali” by Fanny Schertzer - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: “Women in Kigali” by Fanny Schertzer – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rwanda joins the top 10 for the first time, making it the only country from sub-Saharan Africa to ever make the top 10. The women of Rwanda have found success in many professions, with a large presence in the police force and judicial sector. In 2008, Rwanda made waves when it became the first country to have ever had a female majority in parliament; women leaders have been credited with helping to heal their nation in the years since the genocide. Strides are now being made regarding women’s ability to inherit and own land, more serious legal responses to domestic abuse, and women’s ability to get loans, among many other pressing issues.

8. Ireland

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin. Image by Gonzalo Sanchez del Pozo

Ireland slipped two places from last year to number eight. The researchers did not explain the drop in ranking, but it is noteworthy that opportunities for women in the workplace have increased by 4 percent since the first study in 2006. Ireland has consistently received high marks for educational opportunities for women, especially in holding tertiary degrees: 55 percent of Irish women compared with 42 percent of Irish men have completed tertiary education.

9. The Philippines

Photo credit: Airman Gerald B. Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Airman Gerald B. Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Philippines is the only country representing the Asia/Pacific region in the top 10 this year. The Philippines is the only country in the region to have successfully closed their gender educational attainment gap and health and survival gap. Historically, the Philippines has had quite a few women lawmakers, perhaps none so beloved and remembered as Corazon Aquino, the country’s first woman president. Aquino was one of the faces of the People Power Revolution of 1986, which overturned a 20-year dictatorship. When Corazon Aquino’s husband, Benigno Aquino Jr., was assassinated, she ran for president during a snap election.

10. Belgium

Watch video on YouTube.

2014 is the first year that Belgium has broken into the top 10. Belgium ranks high in political participation and access to education, but more interesting, the country has been a strong advocate in the movement to end street harassment. Long before the recent New York City video went viral, women in Belgium were exposing street harassment through the 2012 video “Femme de la Rue.” Earlier this year, legislation was introduced to punish street harassment in the country with a fine of about $1,500 or a prison sentence of up to one year.

This post was co-written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants staff members Lauren Byrnes and Laura Blyler.


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By:   |   November 11, 2014


  1. I am happy to see my country, Rwanda, in the top 10. Girls in Rwanda have been being encouraged to love and study sciences and the technology, which in old times were entitled only for men. But nowadays, you would see more girls in those fields, and they are allowed to choose what they want, not what it is said they should study. So proud of my country.

  2. Maureen Aptowicz says:

    Is this a joke? Rwanda ?!

    And I don’t remember those top #5 northern Europeon countries being overly welcoming to immigrants, especially people of color.

    A country’s worth –even to women–involves more maternity leave, military membership, political office and ‘the introduction of a gender-neutral pronoun (s)’. Yikes….


    Great blog entry! There is no doubt that the increasing political representation of women in Latin America is a major achievement for the region. According to the Global Gender Gap Report (2014), recently released by the World Economic Forum, the presence of women in ministerial level positions in Nicaragua along with greater access for women as professional and technical workers has positioned this country as an example to follow in improving the gender gaps in the region. However, despite these advancements, there is still a lot of work to do to achieve economic and social gender equality in Latin America. As I mentioned in a blog post about Equal Pay Day for women in Latin America earlier this year, women still earn 36 percent less than what men make. Part of the cause for this wage gap is that women in Latin America are more likely to join the informal economy which leads to fewer opportunities to build wealth and have access to secure retirement plans. Women’s educational advancements in STEM- related professions and a greater participation in the workforce should also include greater access to stable jobs and the development of public policies that do not reinforce the double burden of working women in the region. More on my opinion of the pay gap in Latin America and a discussion of the gender gap in the region in these links:

    In Spanish:

  4. I am surprised that we only landed in 9th place. = )
    Growing up in Southeast Asia (can’t speak for the whole of Asia) most of the people I know never experienced such discrimination especially of not being given top positions in the work place simply because of gender.  Many of the female doctors back in the Philippines hold key positions in the hospitals and medical societies. In fact the current Philippine Medical Association president is a woman. We have many female politicians and have in fact had 2 female presidents. After Corazon Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Ours is an egalitarian society though most of us believe its predominantly Matriarchal. Most of us grew up knowing that mom always has a big hand at dads decisions but despite that we have to respect dad and mom knows how to make him look good. Sometimes we would joke about it that the Men in our country would always have the last say but it would be “Yes Dear”.  The men are brought up having a high respect for women in their family. I think to close the gender gap the men also have to realize the value and complimentarity of women.

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