The Best and Worst Places for Women

Oct 20, 2014 by

[This post was originally published in June 2012]


In September 2011, Newsweek/The Daily Beast analyzed data for 165 countries to determine which countries offer women the most expansive rights and the best quality of life. Several components were included in the overall index: justice, health, education, economics, and politics. The overall score out of 100 was determined by weighing these factors according to a complex formula. The map of the resulting index, which I’ve created, is posted on the left.

Some not unexpected regional patterns emerge. The highest category consists of Canada, Switzerland, and the Nordic countries. United States, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Western and Central Europe find themselves in the second category. Perhaps more surprising is the placement of Kazakhstan and Mongolia in the same category as United Kingdom and Germany. Countries of the former Soviet Union—with the exception of two out of three Baltic states, Belarus, Moldova, and Kazakhstan, whose index is in the 80s, and Tajikistan, whose index is in the 60s—belong to the 70-79 category. Most of Central and South America, as well as Southeast Asia belong to the middle categories, with Costa Rica and the Philippines having a higher standing. Also unsurprising is the low standing of most countries in South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Some of the results concerning the component indices make sense as well: for instance, Ukraine’s 46th place is due to a very high education index, but also very low politics index. Russia’s rankings are a bit lower than those of Ukraine, but the overall pattern is the same: women are highly educated, but their participation in politics and the economy is very limited.

There are, however, a few surprises too. Among them is a high ranking of Moldova (#16), whose education index of 95.9 and economic index of 80.3 are higher than those of Belgium (92.5 and 79.6, respectively), and whose justice index of 88.7 is higher than those of Belgium or United Kingdom (73.1 and 79.5, respectively). Another surprising ranking is that of Rwanda, which occupies 38th place, ahead of Spain (#44), Ukraine (#46), and Austria (#49). While the health and justice components of Rwanda’s ranking are pretty low, its economics index is higher than those of any of the top ten countries in the list, and its position in the politics index is also very high. Conversely, Israel’s 51st place is unexpectedly low. It appears to be due largely to the low politics index (41.0), far less than that of Mali (49.8) or Côte d’Ivoire (50.5). While several factors contribute to the politics index, one of the most obvious—women’s representation in the country’s legislature—would suggest the opposite ranking, as Israel, with 20% of the Knesset members being females, is far ahead of either Mali (10%) or Côte d’Ivoire (11%).

But perhaps the most astonishing is Serbia’s ranking at #145. Unsurprisingly, its education index is very high, matching that of Iceland, which is ranked at #1. Serbia’s heath and justice indices are high too, matching those of New Zealand (#11) and Finland (#5), respectively. Thus, the low standing of Serbia must be due to relatively low standings in the economics and politics indices, but they too match those of countries that rank much higher overall, without doing much better than Serbia in other respects. For example, Serbia’s economics index of 56.2 is close to that of Turkey (54.2), yet Turkey ranks at #114, even though all its other indices are the same or lower than those of Serbia. Similarly, Serbia’s politics index of 44.2 matches that of Romania (45.5), but Romania scores at #20, compared to Serbia’s #145, without high positions in other categories. Thus, it seems that Serbia’s low placement has to do with the computation of the overall index, or a calculation error.


But despite these errors, the present ranking is a big improvement over previous efforts at mapping gender disparities. For example, the map posted on the website, places Canada, United States, Argentina, and Chile—which according to the Newsweek/The Daily Beast ranking belong to four different categories—into the same top category. Nor does the SocialWatch map discriminate the levels of gender disparities in Nordic countries, Western European countries such as France and Germany, and most of the former Soviet Union. Equally ridiculous is the placement of Saudi Arabia in the second-best category, same as Tunisia, Romania, or Ukraine. The Global Women’s Index or GWI, posted by and reproduced on the left, appears to be much more accurate, but its application is limited, as it covers only 98 countries; no rankings are provided for most of the sub-Saharan Africa, South or Southeast Asia. The Gender Inequality Index map, posted by, also makes strange implications, placing the UK in the same category as China but one category below Italy or Spain, and putting the United States in the third-best category, same as Oman or Libya.

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