International Roundup: Women Are Making Progress

Inspiring news about women’s progress comes from many parts of the world. We all need some good news these days, so I am glad to shine a spotlight on a few of them: Iceland: Katrin Bennhold, writing for the New York Times, identifies Iceland as practically a gender utopia. She explains that

  • Selling pornography has been banned in Iceland since 1869.
  • Iceland directly elected the world’s first female president in 1980.
  • Iceland elected the world’s first openly lesbian prime minister in 2009.
  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) has ranked Iceland first for gender equality for nine years in a row, using an index that includes educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity, and other factors.
  • Eight out of ten Icelandic women work.
  • The pay gap is due to be closed in 2022, while globally, the WEF says it will take 217 more years to close the gender pay gap.
  • A new law went into effect in Iceland on January 1, 2018, that requires organizations with more than twenty-five employees to prove they are paying men and women equally. Despite many measures of success in terms of gender equality, a gender pay gap has stubbornly persisted in Iceland and the government determined that additional measures are required to eradicate it.
Iran: Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times reports on a small number of Iranian women who are staging public protests against the government’s strict enforcement of Islamic law since 1979 concerning women’s clothing. These brave women are removing their head scarfs in public places, placing them on a stick, and waving them for all to see. Some have been arrested. More and more small groups of women are staging these public rejections of authority. As one woman stated, “If a lot of people do this, it will have more influence,” and the numbers are growing. Oxford, England: Stephen Castle writes in the New York Times that for the first time in the thousand years of Oxford University’s existence, incoming female students outnumber their male peers. He notes that this change could reflect the growing proportion of female academics at Oxford who could be positively impacting the unconscious bias that previously screened women out of the selection process. Castle cites Sam Smethers, chief executive of a gender equality charity, as saying that this may be only a step on a longer road. “What matters is . . . what happens when they leave,” she says. “We know that women are still underrepresented in math, science and engineering subjects, and female graduates experience a pay gap on entering the workplace.” Yes, but this is still an important step. South Korea: In South Korea, the #MeToo movement has broken down a wall of silence as sexual harassment complaints now trickle out on social media, reported by Choe Sang-Hun in the New York Times. A strictly hierarchical societal code and a command-and-compliance work culture leave women in South Korea particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault. The WEF ranks this country 118 of 144 in terms of gender equality, yet public accusations from actresses, a female prosecutor, factory workers, nurses, and writers in publishing houses are giving other women courage to speak out and demand change. Canada: Ian Austen and Catherine Porter of the New York Times write that thanks to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in the United States, “Canada is reeling from a maelstrom of accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior against men in positions of power, and their swift removal.” One big difference between Canada and the United States is that Canadian politicians from all parties are calling for change and supporting the victims, unlike the government in Washington. Women in Canada are not only emboldened by the #MeToo movement, but they are also galvanized by the election of President Donald Trump. They are determined to speak out to ensure that they do not ever end up with a prime minister who is accused of (and taped bragging about) sexual assault as is the case with Trump. In fact, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been leading the push for change and his government introduced a broad definition of sexual harassment as “any comment, gesture or touching ‘of a sexual nature’ that could offend or humiliate an employee.” Have you heard more good news for women in other parts of the world? Please share your stories.   Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>