As a solo female traveler, traveling through gender equal countries does make things easier.
Looking back on my travels, I’ve realized the majority of my big stints abroad have been in countries that are the best in the world for gender equality. As a feminist and someone who is fascinated by gender politics, this didn’t come as a big surprise. During my travels I was impressed how gender was approached in these countries.
However, I felt dismayed to learn that North America is not doing so hot in gender equality. The World Economic Forum‘s (WEF) 2012 Gender Gap Report has ranked Canada the 21st and the United States at 22nd in the world.
While the ranking by the WEF is based on the larger issues such as economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival, I had the opportunity to see and experience what daily life is like for women in the gender progressive countries, such as Finland.
I felt comfortable, confident, and secure. Before I had traveled, I never noticed the small stresses of gender inequality at home. After living in Finland and Belgium, I’ve realized that North American women still face inequalities concerning job opportunity, wage, parental leave, and political participation. It’s not all roses for women in North America. Don’t get me wrong, I value the freedoms we have, which were hard won by the feminists before us, but it’s clear there is still work to be done.
So what are we missing in North America that could improve the lives of women? Let’s look at some of the unique initiatives that are happening in the top five gender-equal nations of 2012.
1) Iceland has passed legislation for companies to include ‘feminine values’ into mainly male spheres of private equity, wealth management, and corporate advice. In terms of political empowerment, they have almost reached gender parity in government. Iceland banned strip clubs and is in the process of banning hardcore pornography, which portrays violence against women. These initiatives have a high level of support from Iceland’s population. Their attempts to phase out the sex industry in Iceland are based on the belief, ‘It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold’. ‘Nuff said.
2) Finland has many women in management and government roles with a high level of power. They also approach gender equality from the male viewpoint; this means support for parenthood and aims to increase men’s involvement in gender equality, policy debate, and the promotion of gender equality. There is also the famous Finnish baby box, a gift to new mothers from the Finnish government filled with useful products. This has resulted in one of the lowest child mortality rates in the world. Parents also enjoy publicly funded daycare from centers like Elwood child care so they are still able to work and study.
3) In Norway, gender quotas were set in business and politics. For example, 40% of company board members must be women. There has been critique that this law would be harmful to Norway’s economy and international competitiveness. However, since these quotas have been in practice, the conversation has changed to seeing women as an untapped resource.
4) Sweden focuses on introducing gender equality conversations to children in their early formative years. They use teaching methods that encourage each child to be a unique individual rather than encouraging gender stereotypes. Sweden also has generous parental leave structure. Parents can take up to 480 days of leave that is coupled with a pay allowance of 137 USD per day up to 390 days.
5) Ireland has made big changes towards gender equality in recent years. Women in Ireland have a relatively low wage gap at 12.5%. Quotas have also been introduced for those running for office, which requires 30% of party candidates to be women. Most recently, a change was made to Ireland’s abortion law to allow abortions if a woman’s life is under threat or if she is suicidal. The law has been subject of much controversy by pro-choice as well as anti-abortion groups.
Other countries can still learn a lot from the top five about improving gender equality. The path to change is long but it can start at home by discussing gender issues, equally distributing household chores, supporting each other’s careers, and challenging gender stereotypes.