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Scandinavian countries top the charts for gender equality 

By Ilana Kegel
January 2006 

According to the World Economic Forum, the leading countries for gender equality are Sweden (1), Norway (2), Iceland (3), Denmark (4), and Finland (5).  The primary factors for this tendency are government involvement and culturally progressive outlooks. 

            The World Economic Forum administered a survey to investigate the “gender gap” in 58 selected countries from around the world.  They analyzed disparities in five categories: engagement in the workforce, level of education attained, degree of political participation, economic possibilities, and overall wellness.  By choosing these categories, the forum was able to go beyond the basics of salary comparisons and look for the contributing circumstances such as literacy.  The results of this survey placed Germany at number 9, France at number 13, the United States at 17, and Egypt came in last at number 58, to give a few examples.

The Nordic welfare state has been described as the “woman-friendly welfare state.”  The governments of these countries provide extensive programs that make it possible for women to support families as well as participating in the workforce.  For example, the state provides childcare and generous maternity leave for its citizens.  This structure fosters a society in which the women can be less restrained by family obligations.  Furthermore, many Scandinavian governments are enforcing parental benefit quotas: the father must take a certain amount of parental leave to allow the mother to work or the couple will lose their benefits.   

The Scandinavian culture of tolerance supplements this foundation of assistance for women.  Annica Kronsell, a researcher and professor in the department of Political Science at the Lund University in Sweden, has written many articles and completed research concerning the gender gap in various countries, especially the Scandinavian ones.  Her research has discovered that in contrast to the EU, there is a popular opinion “represented by Scandinavian feminists who tend to view the state as benevolent and open to women’s concerns and agendas.”  She believes that because there are more women representatives in the government and more extensive welfare policies, the state is better able to deal with women’s issues; these specific policies and outlooks are the reason that the Scandinavian welfare state is described as the “woman-friendly welfare state.”  The EU countries, on the other hand, are more heavily represented in the government by men, and the focus of their policies is also dominated by male interests.  Therefore, the gender gap is not only felt physically through the lack of female government officers, but also through the programs the government establishes.

In Sweden, the government appoints a 50:50 ratio of female and male government ministers.  However, according to the personal observations of Jahn R. Hedberg, the Consul of Sweden to the State of Washington, this policy has resulted in a “success in Sweden [that] is because of the government, but not [found] in the private sector.”  The majority of working Swedish women is employed by the state, as opposed to working for independent companies.  Hon. Jahn Hedberg also commented “generally speaking it is fair to say that the Swedish women have been in the workforce longer than the women in this country, but there are very few [female] CEOs in Sweden as opposed to here.”  All Swedish women work, but these women are not necessarily ambitious about pursuing prestigious careers.  The extensive welfare programs and generous maternity leave policies that the Swedish government offers allow the women to work and support themselves without needing to pursue top positions.

Although the Scandinavian countries have had more success at achieving gender equality than others, there is still much room for improvement. 


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