Women are reportedly more equal to men in Iceland than any other place in the world. But does this mean that we have reached the goal of gender equality?
In international media and discourse, Iceland is often portrayed as the best place to be a woman. We certainly use it to market ourselves to tourists and boast of it in our own media. This is in large part due to the recognition we have received from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. For four years in a row now, Iceland has been ranked as number one on the Global Gender Gap index, which means that we have the world’s lowest “Gender Gap.”
The Gender Gap is measured by comparing women’s status to that of men in four categories: Health and survival, economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment and educational attainment. The status of men in the specific country is always measured as the digit 1. They then measure the status of women by how much it differs from the men’s. This way, the Forum avoids ranking countries by their level of development.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that we have the world’s smallest gender inequality (if that can even be measured?) because the gender gap is not a sufficient measurement for gender equality. For instance, just because women are doing the same thing as men does not mean that the genders are equal, have equal opportunities or experience equal treatment.
One of the main reasons that Iceland ranks high on the Global Gender Gap index is the fact that for sixteen years (1980–1996), we had a female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first female president in the world to be elected in a democratic election. Also, after the financial crisis in 2008, the number of women in government grew exceptionally from 31,7% in 2007 to 42,9% in 2009.
These facts contribute to our high score on the index but do not mean that being involved in politics in Iceland is easy for a woman. Women in politics is still a rarity, with men far outnumbering women in government, even though there have been equal voting rights for almost 100 years! And those women who do work in politics often do not last as long as men and they less frequently inhabit the higher positions.
Although Iceland has the smallest Gender Gap, there is still much room for improvement and it is important not to deduce from Iceland’s relatively small gender gap that Iceland is a country with gender equality.
Freyja is a Masters student in the Gender Studies department at the University of Iceland.
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