In the Blog

Best Countries for Women?

November 14th, 2008     by Thea Lim     Comments

Earlier this week published an article on the World Economic Forum’s Best Countries for Women study:

“Norway, Finland and Sweden are ranked the best countries for gender equality, according to a recent study from the World Economic Forum, the nonprofit organization known for its annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, for global leaders. Those Nordic countries and their Western European neighbors account for 16 of the top 30 countries with the greatest gender parity in the world. Meanwhile, the U.S. ranked surprisingly low at No. 27, behind Lesotho (No. 16), Mozambique (No. 18) and Moldova (No. 20). Not surprisingly, the worst-ranked countries were sprinkled throughout the Middle East and Asia. Garden spots like Chad (129th), Saudi Arabia (128th) and Pakistan (127th) populated the bottom of the list.”

It’s a pretty standard article - though I have to say I didn’t share the writer’s CAN YOU BELIEVE THE US IS NOT FIRST??? sentiment. (Annnd I also didn’t care for the flippant way the Middle East and Asia were called out. Not that I’m doubting the numbers, I just don’t like your tone, young man.)

However, I did have two thoughts:

1) Norway (or Finland or Sweden or…) is the best country for which women?
It’s interesting how the study positions women as a monolithic block, as if to say, “If you are a woman, any woman, you will like it here!” I’m guessing that the study is based on the average woman’s experience of Norway. But who is the average woman? Perhaps you can average out age and economic status, but what about race, family size, or occupation? Is there an average race, or average job?

I suppose the study is saying that a middle-class Norwegian woman with two kids and a male partner experiences more gender equity than a middle-class white American woman with two kids and a male partner. But what about a newly immigrated woman of colour, who doesn’t really speak Norwegian and is a single mother to three? Is she able to partake in the Norway’s high levels of gender equity?

Access to gender equity is always mediated by class, race, sexuality, ability, region, etc. For example, as a university-educated, single-income, straight woman who lives in downtown Toronto, I have excellent access to contraception. But if I was an Aboriginal woman living on a rural reserve in Northern Ontario, I might have a different time of it.

I’d like to know how the World Economic Forum (WEF) takes into account all the other aspects of a person’s social status - and how the impacts equity - other than their gender.

2) How does the rate of violence against women impact how good or bad a country is for women?

The Forbes article mentions work, educational attainment and political empowerment, but it doesn’t mention violence. I wonder if the WEF study considers the rate of violence against women when it is picking its best country. Considering how assiduously we ignore violence against women as a national epidemic and a systemic problem, I would not be surprised if the WEF forgot to count in violence.

I would be curious to see a worldwide ranking of countries based on their rate of VAW - though it would definitely be a difficult thing to read.

Ok, that is all the nitpicking I have to do.

Tags: in my opinion..., news flash, race and racism

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