In November 1918, hot on the heels of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 was passed. The Act finally allowed women to be elected to the UK Parliament.
One hundred years later and the world is a different place for women, although there’s still a long way to go, as highlighted by movements such as #MeToo.
In the UK, 489 women have been elected MPs over the last century (with six women in the current Cabinet, including the Prime Minister) – although that number only just surpasses the number of men sitting in the House of Commons at this very moment. Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians worldwide, with women holding 63.8% of seats in the lower house. Meanwhile in Canada, self-confessed feminist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put his country’s money where its mouth is and made the single biggest contribution in bi-lateral funding ($150 million over five years) to global women’s rights organisations. And in a bid to end period poverty, Scotland has become the first country in the world to provide low-income families with free feminine products.
The march to equality is, however slowly, progressing, with a few notable exceptions. But which countries are pulling ahead when it comes to women’s rights and achieving gender equality?
Where in the world is the best place to live for women today?
1. Best overall: Denmark
Denmark is the best country in the world for women to live in, according to the 2018 Best Countries report from US News & World Report. The ranking methodology takes into consideration five equally weighted country attributes and is based on the responses of 9,000+ women who filled out surveys for the 2018 Best Countries report. Unsurprisingly, Northern European countries dominated the top five, with Sweden in second place, followed by Norway, Netherlands and Finland.
Danish women over 65 came out as the happiest in Europe, and Denmark also ranks as the best country in the world for raising children. Mothers and fathers are entitled to 23 weeks of parental leave, and mothers are entitled to four weeks of maternity leave before the due date. There’s an earnings-related daycare system in place too.
- Best for gender equality: Iceland
The Land of Fire and Ice take the top spot in the Global Gender Gap Index – for the eighth year running – proving there’s even more to this rugged island than Northern Lights, volcanoes, geysers and glaciers. Iceland has closed more than 87% of its overall gender gap; remains the best performing country in Political Empowerment; and sits in the top 10 when it comes to Economic Participation and Opportunity, thanks to solid increases in the number of female legislators, managers and senior officials. The country’s Educational Attainment gender gap has been closed since 2009.
Work on gender equality starts early in Iceland, with gender equality lessons given in pre-school, and measures are in place for every stage of life, including multiple laws in the work place designed to protect women. Women aren’t sexualized in the media either, thanks to laws that ban discriminatory advertising.
And if that’s still not enough to make you want to up sticks and relocate to this remote and rugged country, Iceland also takes the top spot in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2018 Global Peace Index, making it the most peaceful country it the world (for the 10th year in a row), thanks to its record-low crime rates and practically non-existent tensions between economic classes.
- Best for women in politics: New Zealand
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been smashing barriers for women in politics – and in the workplace – left, right and centre since she took office in 2017. She wasn’t the first woman to give birth while in office (that title goes to Pakistan’s late two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutton) but she was the first world leader to take her baby to the United Nations General Assembly, where she delivered a speech at the Nelson Mandela peace summit.
Even more appealing is that Ardern isn’t the only female political figure to get to the top in New Zealand. In fact, women have held office in each of the country’s most prominent constitutional positions since we arrived in the 21st century, including governor-general, chief justice and speaker of the House of representatives. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the fact that Kiwi women have been voting in parliamentary elections since 1893.
New Zealand is also ranked the second most peaceful country in the world in the Institute for Economics and Peace 2018 Global Peace Index. Oh, and have you seen the scenery?
- Best for safety: Finland
Finland may pin its international tourism reputation to Santa Claus and saunas, but this Northern European country has an impressive record on public safety too. According to the World Economic Forum’s latest biennial Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report (2017), Finland is the safest country in the world.
Here at Thelma & Louise, we firmly believe that a woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be, but we also understand that travelling as a woman, especially solo, can be daunting. Knowing that heading somewhere with the lowest overall threat level from medical risks, security and road safety in the world makes it that much easier to pack your passport!
Throw in the fact that Finland also came first in the 2018 World Happiness Report and it was the first country in the world to apply true universal suffrage and you’re on to a winner, whether you’re a safety-conscious traveller or not.
- Best for life expectancy: Japan
Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies for women, especially in Okinawa. According to The World Bank, life expectancy at birth for Japanese women is 87.14, second only to women from Hong Kong (87.30). By comparison, women in the UK can expect to live to 82.8, and in the USA 81.2.
As well as a lean and balanced diet of fish, seafood, tofu, whole grains and veggies, perhaps the ability to live to a ripe old age is in part thanks to Japan’s ranking in the Institute for Economics and Peace 2018 Global Peace Index. The country comes in at ninth place, thanks to its high levels of peace (despite being considerably more densely populated than Europe or the USA) and quality of life. The number of crime recorded hit a record low of 915,111 in 2017, and 3.7 billion yen-worth of lost cash was handed in to Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department. That sounds like low-level-stress living to us!
Which of these countries do you find most appealing?