Iceland has been rated the best country for women by the World Economic Forum – for five times in a row.
Frequently referred to as the world leader in women’s rights, as well as a “feminist’s paradise,” it is hands-down the most woman-friendly country in the world.
So, what is it that Iceland’s doing differently from, for instance, the United States, which has so far failed to make it into the top 10 of the list?
Let’s do a brief analysis.
First Lesbian Prime Minister:
One of the biggest indicators of Iceland’s success in women empowerment is its politics.
Not only does Iceland has a high number of female politicians – almost half the parliamentarians are women – but in 2009, it became the first country in the world with an openly gay head of government when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became prime minister.
Iceland has several laws that protect women from sex crimes.
A 2009 law criminalizes the purchase of sex while another in 2010 closed down the strip clubs and eliminated lap dancing.
Politician Birgitta Jónsdóttir said the ban could mean the death of the sex industry:
"Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale."
Gender Equality In Icelandic Higher Education:
Iceland is working hard toward making higher education more equal for women.
Dr. Svafa Grönfeldt, president of Reykjavík University, the largest private university in Iceland with more than 3,200 students and over 500 employees, believes having women in positions of power in the education sector is not only intellectually beneficial but also economically.
"The result turns out to be better profit. Every single year, the bottom line of the university is up - and I attribute that to this team,” Grönfeldt stated, referring to the female-dominated top level management of Reykjavík.
Dr. Margret Jonsdottir, the university’s director of international affairs, added having women in top positions in the education sector has become the norm in Iceland, and makes for a less biased system.
"We have created this fabulous dynamic culture. It has been voted the best place to work in Iceland twice over the last five years," she said.
A Step Closer To Equal Pay:
Although not equal – yet – the pay gap between men and women in Iceland is expected to narrow further in the coming years.
Icelandic women earned on average 19.9 percent less than their male colleagues in 2013, according to Eurostat’s study, "Gender pay gap in unadjusted form." But only a small part of this pay gap – less than 8 percent – is unexplained, according to 2010 figures from Statistics Iceland.
A 2012 voluntary program, which offers businesses to document the extent of their dedication to equal pay, is considered a “step closer to equal pay.”
Last year, around 20 major companies in the country that participated were awarded certificates, showing they gave their male and female employees equal pay for equal work.
Prenatal care is free of charge to Icelandic women who have had legal residency for over six months.
Maternity leave in Iceland is up to nine months for both the father and mother. The maternity leave is paid at 100 percent of the salary.
A Growing Culture Of Women's Entrepreneurship:
For the past decade, one initiative has had political priority because of its significant support and promotion of women's entrepreneurship. Brautargengi (Prosperity) is a business start-up/development course.
"The increasing positive media attention on successful businesswomen has an influence on the entrepreneurship culture. These women become role models, and the existence of role models is an important driver for women to start a business,” Nordic Center for Spatial Development quoted Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, the project manager of Brautargengi.
A March 2010 law requires companies with more than 50 employees to have at least 40 percent of both genders represented on most government boards of mid-size and large businesses.
In 2010 same-sex marriage was also legalized in Iceland in a law that also allows access to donor eggs and sperm for single women and gay couples.
Iceland was one of the poorest countries in Europe before the Second World War. However, it went on to become one of the wealthiest and developed nations in the entire world after realizing one simple fact – the narrower the gender gap, the happier you’ll be.