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Have you ever fantasized about a magical place where balancing after-work mixers with school play rehearsals always magically worked out? Where morning commutes were easy breezy, and you never stayed later than 6pm? Unfortunately, that place may only exist in your dreams—but in some places around the world, working women really do have it easier than they do in the USA.
Iceland comes the closest to being a working woman's paradise, inasmuch as Icelanders have more or less settled the battle of the sexes. For the past three years, the Scandinavian country has held the number one spot in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report. This means that Iceland boasts the greatest equality between men and women in terms of politics, education, employment, and health. The women of Burundi are also particularly active when compared with their male counterparts. The sub-Saharan nation is the only country in the world where a greater percentage of women (92%) than men (88%) are part of the workforce, according to a recent article by British newspaper The Independent.
In recent years, the lack of women on executive boards has become a subject of public debate. In 2003, Norway decided to put its money where its mouth was by introducing a female quota (40%) in boardrooms of publicly traded companies. Nine years later, the country has the highest representation of female directors in the world, according to a recent article in Time. Several other European countries have since followed Norway's lead. Belgium, on the other hand, is the trailblazer when it comes to wage gaps. According to a 2010 report by the European Commission, Belgian women earned just 9% less than their male counterparts that year. To put that number in perspective, the wage gap is double that at 18% in the States, according to a U.S. Congress report recently released in preparation for the Paycheck Fairness Act.
No one country has all of the solutions, however, and even the smallest wage gap is still unacceptable. Similarly, no one woman holds all the answers to balancing a job, family, and friends. You might be tempted to think that if you just work a little harder, or make do with a little less sleep, everything would be different—but some issues really do go over our heads. Let this be a reminder that while women have made phenomenal strides all over the world, there remains a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to empowering women in the workplace—both here and across the border.
—Linda A. Thompson