When we think about the best places in the world to be a woman, Northern Europe typically springs to mind. And, indeed, countries such as Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are perennial heavyweights in rankings of gender equality. Sweden, for goodness' sake, offers women (fine, men too) 480 days of paid maternity leave -- at 80 percent of salary -- which can be taken at any point until the child is 8 years old. But the picture is more diverse than you might think. As the Independent recently pointed out, Rwanda is the only nation on the planet in which females make up the majority of parliamentarians, while Burundi is the only country where women have higher labor-force participation (92 percent of working-age females) than men (88 percent).
During the 101st International Women's Day on Thursday, March 8, there will no doubt be much talk of the work that must still be done to achieve greater gender equality. Women, Oxfam notes, earn only 10 percent of the world's income but clock two-thirds of the world's working hours. They hold a mere 14 percent of the world's parliamentary seats (see this great visualization of women in politics) and make up more than two-thirds of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty across the globe.
Yet the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s 2011 ranking of 135 countries by the economic, educational, health, and political gaps between men and women also surfaces a handful of nations that are doing surprisingly well when it comes to narrowing gender disparities. Here's a look at five that jumped out to us.
Not only does the Philippines appear eighth overall on WEF's list, but it ranks first in "educational attainment" and "health and survival" and was the only Asian country to close the gender gap in those categories in 2011. Just this week, the country's Senate passed a bill aimed at ending gender discrimination in the workplace. A 2009 "Magna Carta of Women" promises that the state will "provide the necessary mechanisms to enforce and guarantee the realization of women's rights."
Childbearing, however, remains a contentious issue among Filipinos, 80 percent of whom are Catholics. Abortion is illegal, and access to contraception is not widespread. The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of Filipino women who want contraceptives can't get them.
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