Women in Europe. Where is best?

by | Aug 9, 2016

The best places to live for women in Europe - from business to body autonomy.

women in Europe

How do women in Europe pick where to go?

The Brexit vote has focused the world’s attention on European politics.  Britain wants out, Turkey wants in.  The Greek economy is collapsing while Germany and France are growing.  Polish politics is being destabilised by the far right and Italian politics by the far left.  And that’s just within the EU.  As you’d expect, women in Europe have a very different experience of equality depending on where they live.

Read: Brexit - The Safety Pin movement

The Front Runners

Iceland seems to be the best choice for women in Europe, as it has no gender gap at all in education or politics and the country had a female head of state for 20 of the last 50 years.  For the last 5 years it’s been rated the most equal country in the world by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap Index, which ranks countries according to women’s health, education, and economic and political power.

Women in Norway have the highest chance of running a business, and Norwegian men do a greater share of unpaid work (like childcare) than any other nation.  Neighbour Finland has a government with 63% female ministers.  In Sweden, women earn 95% of what men make doing the same job, one of the smallest gender pay gaps in the world.

It’s no surprise to see the Northern Europeans at the top of the pile.  But there are several countries which don’t have such a reputation for gender equality, yet are still excellent places for women in Europe.

Read: Circular ambition – the latest gender equality red herring

The long-shots

Slovenia was ranked 9th in the world for gender equality by the WEF, and is one of the fastest-rising countries in the annual ranking.  In 2014, it had 18% female government ministers: today it has 44%.  It also offers the second longest paid parental leave in the world (after Iceland.)

Bulgaria is another country with an incredible maternity leave package: new mothers are entitled to over a year off at 90% of full pay.  Greece is also generous, offering 43 weeks at 50% of pay, although the high rate of unemployment means women are often getting half of nothing.  France has recently passed a law allowing parents to share up to 3 years of unpaid parental leave, which will hopefully lead to a more equal division of child rearing.

The non-starters

Malta, Armenia, and Turkey all failed to make the top 100 rating by the WEF and don't seem to offer a great deal to women in Europe. All three scored highly for women’s health and education, but have few women in positions of political power or high-level business positions.  Sex-selective abortion has led to 114 boys being born in Armenia for every 100 girls.  Malta retains an old law in which a man who kidnaps a woman can evade punishment by marrying her.  Turkey still sees 'honour killings' in some rural areas and the recent failed coup in Turkey will not improve the situation for women.

WEF research focuses on economics and politics rather than women’s rights, which throws up some unexpected results.  Ireland is officially ranked 5th in the world for gender equality, largely because 40% of its cabinet ministers are female, but the country’s retrogressive stance on reproductive rights sees women travelling to England for termination. The UN has ruled that the country’s super-strict laws on abortion amount to a human rights violation.

So even the WEF can't tell us exactly where is the best place for women in Europe, it certainly helps set the standard that everywhere should be aiming for. [Tweet "When women and girls do well, the country does well."]

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Alice Bell Contributor
"Alice writes online about business, popular science, and women's lifestyle. After a few years working her way around the world, she has settled in the north of England and taken a day job as a maths teacher. Her life's ambition is to earn enough money to start repaying her student debt."

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