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The best place to be a woman? | The Economist

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Published on Dec 19, 2018

In the battle for gender equality Iceland is leading the world. The tiny island is pioneering news ways to close the gender pay gap, root out stereotypes and get more mothers back to work.

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Supported by Mishcon de Reya

Today women around the globe have less access to power wealth and education than men - but one tiny island is leading the world in bridging these gaps. Iceland is pioneering ways to get more mothers back to work, to root out gender stereotypes, and to close the pay gap.

Could Iceland inspire the world to solve one of its greatest problems?

Iceland has topped gender equality rankings for nearly a decade. One of the secrets to their success? Start early. This kindergarten in the capital Reykjavik focuses on challenging extreme gender stereotypes before they take root in boys and girls. It's a mission that's led to the creation of 17 schools across this tiny country - all focused on developing a healthy balance of characteristics in both sexes. Girls and boys are separated to allow girls to nurture traits traditionally viewed as masculine, like being bold, independent, and taking risks. And boys are given time to learn traits traditionally viewed as feminine, like being more group oriented, empathetic, and caring - and the signs are that this is working. Research suggests that in later years children from this school have a greater understanding of gender equality when compared to children from other schools.

Iceland is also promoting gender equality by encouraging fathers to share the childcare burden with mothers. In 2000, it introduced what is known as a daddy quota - three month statutory paternity leave. It's an allowance that goes much further than most other countries in the world. Here over 70% of fathers take up the full three months leave. Why? Because the state covers 80% of a salary during this period up to a cap of $4,600 a month. One beneficiary of this generous system is Egill Bjarnson who is looking after his son Valer. Egill believes the high cost of the daddy quota to taxpayers is justified because it helps get more women into work.

But even in Iceland men are still paid nearly 6% more than women for similar work. This year Iceland became the first country in the world to pass legislation not just to expose but to tackle the gender pay gap. Companies with over 25 employees like Reykjavik Energy now have to prove they are paying men and women equally for similar jobs. Every job at the company must be measured against a set of criteria - this produces a score. For jobs with the same score workers must be paid the same. When Reykjavik Energy used this pay calculator the inequalities came into sharp and immediate focus.

The company rectified this by raising the wages of its female employees. Critics of the law point out there will be significant financial consequences for companies as they rectify their pay inequalities - but many argue this is a necessary price to pay. Gender equality will be an ever more pressing challenge for wealthy countries across the world. Could the ambitious measures being tested in Iceland provide practical solutions?

What are the forces shaping how people live and work and how power is wielded in the modern age? NOW AND NEXT reveals the pressures, the plans and the likely tipping points for enduring global change. Understand what is really transforming the world today – and discover what may lie in store tomorrow.

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