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Examining why the Nordics are leading the way for gender equality

The Nordics

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While the world is a considerable distance away from achieving complete gender equality, the Nordics have emerged as a front runner. When people think of countries like Sweden, stylish designs and minimal lifestyles often spring to mind, but gender equality is one of the cornerstones of modern Nordic society. These countries continuously stand out in the Global Gender Gap Report, which measures equality in all areas from education, employment to economics. So, what’s the Nordic secret? Here we discuss how these countries are removing the obstacles preventing gender equality.

The Nordic trio of Norway, Sweden and Finland are leading the way in gender equality. Out of these countries, Finland has the largest female labour-force participation, as 83% of women, including mothers, work full time. This is largely due to Finland’s excellent public childcare system. Here, children under the age of seven have the right to child care and preschool by law, regardless of family income. This has allowed mothers to maintain full-time employment without sacrificing the care of their children, which has ensured for more women in the workplace.

When it comes to higher education in all three countries, it is either free or very affordable, so it’s much more accessible. As a result, it has paved the way for a highly skilled workforce and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to strive for a prosperous career. The results of investing into early and higher education can be seen in the decreased salary gap between men and women, which is among the lowest in the world. In 2015, it was reported that Nordic countries on average had the smallest difference between the proportion of men and women employed.

One of the most important factors that has contributed to decreasing the gender gap in the Nordics is their mandatory parental leave policy. While women still get the most time off for parental leave, Nordic men take more time off work to spend time with their family, than any other part of the world. Sweden, in particular, has a generous parental leave policy that has allowed people to achieve a great work-life balance. In fact, Sweden has the most generous parental leave policy in the world, as new parents are entitled to 480 days leave at 80% of their normal pay. Also in Norway parents can choose between 49 weeks at 100% salary or 59 weeks at 80% salary, but both parents are required to select the same degree of coverage. These Nordic policies have cultivated a unique balance between work and family time, through minimising financial pressures.

The Nordics have also seen a rise in female political representatives. Their commitment to gender equality in politics dates back to the early 20th century, as Nordic countries were among the first to give women the vote. Today, Sweden has one of the world’s highest representations of women in parliament, at 43.6%, according to the Inter-Parliament Union’s world ranking for the percentage of women in national parliaments. 

Compared to the rest of the world, these countries have the most positive attitudes towards gender equality, especially in the workplace. However, there is still work to be done to really establish gender equality as a real issue and not an isolated problem. Norway, Finland and Sweden are all working to bring gender equality even more closely to the spotlight, with gender mainstreaming being seen as the best way to achieve this.

Gender mainstreaming is a globally accepted strategy towards realising complete gender equality in all areas and levels of political, economic and social life. It’s a public policy concept and essentially the idea of bringing gender issues into the public eye, while promoting equality and diversity among men and women. Mainstreaming involves integrating gender perspectives and ensuring the goal of gender equality is central to all activities, including decision making and regulatory measures. All things considered, other countries should look to Nordic countries as a model in order to learn how to improve their own gender equality policies.

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