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Women do best economically in Sweden, Belgium, Norway

“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed.” Clare Boothe Luce

“Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors.” Evelyn Cunningham

“Most women are one man away from welfare.” Gloria Steinem

Those are not the voices of “crazy, frustrated women”. All three women were well-known and respected in their professional roles within politics and journalism. And frankly, those voices still can be heard all over the world. True, compared to the past, the protection of women’s rights has improved dramatically, but at work, are men and women today really equal?  And how do we even begin to measure that? It’s common knowledge that theory can be far from practice. Is there an objective way to quantify and express the situation as it is today?

The Economist Intelligence Unit believes that there is.

The Women’s Economic Opportunity Index

The Women’s Economic Opportunity Index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative scoring model constructed from 26 indicators that measure specific attributes of the environment for women employees and entrepreneurs in 113 economies.

The 26 indicators, which were selected and validated by a panel of gender experts, evaluate every aspect of the economic and social value chain for women, from fertility to retirement. By exploring the binding constraints that women face, the report points to steps governments can take to improve opportunities for women and boost overall economic performance.

“Countries have made good progress in levelling the playing field for women over the last few decades, but too many women still cannot exercise their full economic rights,” said Leila Butt, a senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit and research manager for the project.

Women’s economic opportunities are influenced not just by a country’s regulatory environment but also by social attitudes and customs. As a result, women’s participation in the formal labour force remains well below that of men. Women are also paid less than their male counterparts, and men continue to dominate in sectors with higher wage-earning potential, such as technology and finance. The study finds that even where legislation is intended to help women, implementation is often weak and opportunities remain limited.

Nevertheless, attitudes are changing as economies develop and opportunities for women expand. Countries with stagnant or slow-growing populations increasingly realise that women are essential to an expanding labour force.

Points highlighted in the report

  • Sweden, Belgium and Norway occupy the top spots in the Index. These countries have particularly open labour markets for women, high levels of educational achievement, and liberal legal and social regimes.
  • Hong Kong (China) performs best in the Asia region, ranking in the top 25 percent in most categories. Mauritius is Africa’s best finisher; its labour policies are among the most favourable to women in the region.
  • Excluding Canada and the US, Brazil edges Chile and Mexico for the best score in the Americas. Eastern European countries, especially Bulgaria, have particularly balanced labour-law protections.
  • Inequality in labour opportunities and outcomes can occur because a disproportionate share of unpaid work falls on women. Social protection schemes, such as the provision of maternity leave and benefits, help to mitigate this.
  • Women often face greater difficulties than men in securing credit due to a lack of collateral. Women’s access to property is restricted either by law or custom in many countries, leaving them with few assets.
  • Many women face greater barriers than men in setting up businesses. Women’s enterprises are often particularly small and concentrated in the retail or services sectors. This calls for training programmes in management to provide the skills needed to run a successful business.


Click here to download the full report.