Iceland 'best country for gender equality'

Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir Iceland's government is led by a female prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir

Iceland remains the country that has the greatest equality between men and women, according to an annual report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

It is the second year in succession that Iceland has topped the foundation's Global Gender Gap Report.

Nordic nations dominate the top of the list of 134 countries, with Norway in second place and Finland third.

The report measures equity in the areas of politics, education, employment and health.

Lowest gender gaps in 2010

1 Iceland - no change from 2009

2 Norway - Up from 3rd

3 Finland - Down from 2nd

4 Sweden - No change

5 New Zealand - No change

6 Republic of Ireland - Up from 8th

7 Denmark - No change

8 Lesotho - Up from 10th

9 Philippines - No change

10 Switzerland - Up from 13th

11 Spain - Up from 17th

12 South Africa - Down from 6th

13 Germany - Down from 12th

14 Belgium - Up from 33rd

15 UK - No change

Source: World Economic Forum

Sweden is in fourth place, with New Zealand fifth.

"Nordic countries continue to lead the way in eliminating gender inequality," said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

"Low gender gaps are directly correlated with high economic competitiveness. Women and girls must be treated equally if a country is to grow and prosper."

The UK came 15th in the latest rankings - no change from 2009.

France was one of the biggest fallers, down to 46th place from 18th in 2009. WEF that said was a result of a decline in the number of women holding ministerial positions in the French government.

Meanwhile the US has risen to 19th place from 31st in 2009, because of a higher number of women in President Obama's administration and a reduction in the country's gender pay gap.

It means the US overtakes Canada to become the best-performing country in either North or South America.

At the bottom of the list of 134 countries, the widest gaps between women and men are in Pakistan (132), Chad (133) and Yemen (134).

WEF said that across all the nations surveyed, the divisions between men and women were lowest in health and education, but highest when it comes to economic participation and opportunity.

Ricardo Hausmann, co-author of the report and director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University, said: "Progress will be achieved when countries seek to reap returns on the investment in health and education of girls and women by finding ways to make marriage and motherhood compatible with the economic participation of women."

Lesotho was the best performing African country, ranking eighth, up from 10th place in 2009. The Philippines continues to lead the way in Asia, remaining in ninth position.

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