Gender equality by 2030? Those countries making most progress offer lessons on what to change

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kusum Kali Pal, Specialist, Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum


  • Progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5), Gender Equality by 2030, does not seem to be on track. Not even the most gender equal countries are on track to achieve gender equality by 2030.
  • COVID-19 and other intersecting shocks reversed previous progress, and the time projected to reach gender parity globally increased from 100 to 132 years between 2020 and 2022.
  • The Global Gender Gap Index provides a framework for action for countries to diagnose strategic areas that need effort and resources to tackle gender inequality.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 projected that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 132 years to reach gender equality globally.

The Index launched in 2006, and yet in the sixteen years that have followed, the gender gap closed by only 4%.

COVID-19 and other intersecting shocks reversed previous progress, and the time projected to reach parity increased from 100 to 132 years between 2020 and 2022. Gender equality in 2022 has receded to its 2016 level. Progress towards Sustainable Development Goal five, Gender Equality by 2030, does not seem to be on track. Not a single country is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. Progress even in the most gender-equal countries has not yet yielded full equality.

The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index measures outcomes across four key dimensions: economic empowerment, educational attainment, health attainment and political empowerment. It provides a framework for action for countries to diagnose strategic areas that need effort and resources to tackle gender inequality.

While all countries are struggling to achieve the Gender Equality goals, some are performing better than others — and all countries can learn from their work. These ten countries are leading the way.

1. Political empowerment is the gamechanger: Iceland

Iceland topped the Index for the 13th consecutive year. It has closed 90.8% of the gender gap, and is the only country to have crossed the 90% threshold. At this level of progress, Iceland will achieve gender equality by 2035.

As one of the early adopters of legislated parity in employment, Iceland has closed 80.3% of the economic gender gap and is on the verge of reaching gender parity in education and health.

But it is the political empowerment pillar where Iceland outshines others, ranking first for the 13th consecutive time with a parity score of 87.4% in 2022. Alongside relatively high female political representation, Iceland is second only to Bangladesh in years spent with a female head of state.

2. Professional mobility needs work: Finland

Ranks second on the Global Gender Gap Index, with an overall score of 86%. As the first country in the world to allow women to run for office in 1906 and with its long-standing efforts to include women in leadership, the country ranks worldwide in political empowerment. Finland also has narrower disparity in labour force and has attained parity in technical roles.

However, there has been less progress in the professional mobility of women into senior roles and income parity, and at the current rate of progress, Finland is projected to reach gender parity in 36 years.

3. Setbacks in economic parity: Norway

Norway has closed 84.5% of its gender gap. It has made steady progress towards parity in political empowerment but has slid back on the economic empowerment pillar since 2015. Norway has had a woman head of state for most of the last decade, pushing up its political parity score. Progress towards parity in Norway is slowing, however, in large part due to setbacks in economic parity. At the current rate of progress, Norway will achieve gender parity by 2077.

4. Income disparity has increased: New Zealand

The only country from East Asia and the Pacific in the top 10, New Zealand has closed 84.1% of its gender gap. A pioneer in women’s suffrage, New Zealand remains at the frontier of political parity. New Zealand’s parity in the economic participation pillar is also relatively high, owing to a narrower gap in labour force participation. But income disparity has increased in the past decade, and the government is considering strict policies on pay transparency. It has attained parity in educational attainment and is close to health parity, with a score of 96.6%.

5. Healthy life expectancy gap remains: Sweden

Sweden scores 82.2%, and has maintained its high parity score since 2006. It has made outstanding progress in gender parity in senior management positions and income since then. Sweden has also maintained a high share of women in ministerial positions and in parliament, 57.1% and 46.1% respectively. It has closed the educational attainment gender gap, but a widening healthy life expectancy gap has seen caused a decline in its health score.

6. Informal employment needs evening out: Rwanda

Rwanda is the highest-ranking African country in the Index, with a parity score of 81.1%. Having enforced activation policies for women including maternity leave and establishing childcare facilities, Rwanda has closed the gender gap on labour force participation.

Women are more likely, however, to be informally employed than men, and this translates into a wide gender gap in income. Politically, Rwanda’s gender quotas have resulted in high representation in parliament and government. It has also made progress in health and education.

7. Pandemic slowed labour force parity: Nicaragua

The only Latin American country in the top 10, Nicaragua has closed 81% of its gender gap. Boasting high female participation in politics, Nicaragua has tripled its parity score in political empowerment since 2006, attaining parity in both parliamentary and ministerial positions.

Economic parity increased until 2017, but declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic depressed the parity in labour force participation and wages in particular. A partial recovery in labour force participation in underway.

8. Wages and income gaps remain: Namibia

Namibia has closed 80.7% of its overall gender gap. It has almost tripled its parity score on political empowerment from 17.2% in 2006 to 46.3% in 2022, owing to a broad improvement in political representation of women. The share of women in ministerial positions has doubled to 39% since 2006. Namibia has progressed towards parity in economic participation and opportunity since 2006, now scoring 78.5%. The current level is, however, lower than its 2017 peak. The wages and income gap has widened since 2017.

9. Narrowly missed full health parity: Ireland

Ireland maintains its 9th rank at 80.4% parity, despite being below its 2015 peak score 80.7%. In Ireland, professional mobility continues to represent a challenge — only 36% of senior positions are held by women. However, in political representation, Ireland has shown progress — it reached 50.7% parity in 2022. 23% of Irish parliamentarians are women, the highest share so far. It has also closed the gender gap in educational attainment and narrowly missed full health parity.

10. Unsteady progress despite political empowerment: Germany

Germany re-entered the top 10 this year, with a score of 80.1%. 16 years of leadership by a female head of state, and women making up 40% of ministers, has meant steady progress towards parity in political empowerment.

Yet, Germany’s progress has been unsteady — it has reversed gains multiple times over the years. This volatility is the partial result of backslides in economic parity. Institutional factors such as the tax regime and lack of affordable care facilities have deterred women from entering or staying in the labour market, and almost 37% of employed women work part-time. The latest deterioration in disparity on this pillar took Germany back to 2016 levels, at 69.1%.

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