In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, Yahoo! Shine took a look at some of the key factors that make life better for women -- things like prosperity, personal freedom, and political rights -- in order to determine the best countries for women today. Of course, no one country has it all, but one really stood out from all the rest: Norway.
Norway passed its Gender Equality Act in 1978, long before other countries were concerned about equal rights for women; it's also the first country in the world to have a Gender Equality Ombud whose main duty is to enforce the act and make sure that jobs in the private and public sectors go equally to men and women. Women in Norway were allowed to inherit property in 1854, generations before women elsewhere, and earned the right to vote in 1913, seven years before women in the United States. But still, it's not perfect: Just 3.5 percent of businesses there are led by women -- less than in the U.S., Great Britain, and Spain -- and, in spite of the focus on equal rights, when it comes to housework women there still handle the bulk of it.
Here in the U.S., we've made our mark in the workplace and at home, winning a historic 20 spots in the Senate in last year's election and enrolling in college and graduate school in record numbers. But still, as the world celebrates the International Women's Day , one can't help but note that life is significantly better for women in some places than in others.
"Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do," President Obama said in a statement sent to Yahoo! Shine on Friday. "When women succeed, nations are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous."
Here's a look at the countries that made Shine's top five:
Women play a huge part in government in Norway, making up 40 percent of parliament, and holding a whopping 53 percent of the country's ministerial positions. It also has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, with just 7 out of every 500,000 women dying in childbirth, and scores high for working women, with plenty of women earning college degrees, holding top jobs in the workplace, and reasonable child care costs for working moms. But what puts Norway at the top of our list is its high standing in new happiness studies, like the World Happiness Report by the United Nations, where it received top scores for political freedom, stability, and strong social networks.
This tiny Nordic country scores well for women from all walks of life and is often referred to as one of the most feminist places in the world. In 2010, a third of the country's female population flooded the streets for "Women Strike Back," a protest against the gender pay gap and violence against women. Iceland gets top marks for the way it handles issues important to working moms, with excellent parental leave policies and reasonable child care costs. It also has high number of women in higher education and public office -- their Prime Minister, Johanna Siguroardottir, is female, and women hold 46 percent of the country's ministerial positions and make up 43 percent of parliament . Iceland -- and one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, with just 5 out of every 500,000 women dying of childbirth. Unfortunately, women in Iceland are constantly objectified by outsiders -- in spite of its feminist street cred, women in Iceland are often seen as little more than sexual playthings.
Like Norway, Sweden also scored well among working women and, according to the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index, is earned high marks for personal freedoms and economic prosperity, and the government emphasizes equality in the arts. Forty-five percent of its parliament is female, and the high number of women in government positions may explain why Sweden offers plenty of protection for women's reproductive rights, with no consent requirements for abortion and no restrictions on abortion before 18 weeks gestation. Swedish mothers also get one of the most generous paid maternity leaves in the world, along with laws that allow their partners to take time off to be with the baby, too.
In Canada, a third of the federally appointed judges are female, and women make up 25 percent of parliament. Depending on how long they've been employed, new moms can take anywhere from 17 to 52 weeks of maternity leave without losing their job or getting a pay cut. A third of the country's ministers are women, and women make up 25 percent of parliament. Universal health care and easy access to education help make Canada once of the best countries for women.
5. New Zealand
According to the "glass ceiling" index compiled by the Economist, New Zealand scored best when it came to the number of women with college degrees, percentage of women in the workforce, the male/female wage gap, the proportion of women in senior jobs, and child care costs. There are strong laws against domestic violence, sexual harassment, and marital rape, possibly because women make up more than a third of parliament and earned the vote in 1893, giving them plenty of time to influence public policies.
About International Women's Day
The first National Women's Day was declared in 1909, a year after 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better pay, shorter working hours, and the right to vote. The first International Women's Day was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911, with more than a million men and women rallying for women's rights.
This year, countries around the world are marking the International Women's Day with initiatives and events aimed at inspiring women, celebrating their achievements, and calling for equal rights for women. President Barack Obama recently signed a new, stronger version of the Violence Against Women Act, just in time to underscore this year's theme of ending violence against women.
"Despite the significant gains women and girls have made, too many challenges and barriers remain," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement sent to Yahoo! Shine. "In far too many places, women continue to be excluded from the ballot box and political leadership, and from land ownership and credit markets. In far too many places, girls are still kept home from school or are forced into early marriage. Too many women are being silenced, abused, or subjected to violence simply because of their gender. Many are risking their lives in the pursuit of justice. Their courage must inspire us to continue to work toward a world where every woman can live free of violence and pursue her fullest potential. "
So how does the United States compare? While five of the world's top 10 highest-paid female athletes are from the U.S., here women make up just 17 percent of Congress, and while government spending on healthcare is among the highest in the world, 22.9 million women still did not have access to health insurance in 2012 and 92 anti-abortion provisions were enacted at the state level in 2011. Approximately 24 out of every 500,000 women die in childbirth in the United states -- nearly four times as many as in Norway.
Also on Shine: