What the United States has yet to achieve, Scandinavian countries have long been practicing. All five of the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark have the highest Global Gender Gap Index rankings in the world. These countries brought the issue of equality forward, rather than pushed the issue under the rug. Examples of their forward-thinking behavior is the fact that they were the first countries to grant women the right to vote in the early 20th century; Sweden’s parliament is made up of 45% women, while Norway and Denmark are politically led by women. Furthermore, all five of these countries made it a law that there be gender quotas within business boardrooms.
The major difference between the American and Scandinavian culture, which lead to the evident difference in their treatment of the issue of women’s rights, is the very sense of social justice. The Scandinavian countries’ governments have gone so far as to create a task force that enforces diversity in the workplace and have appointed ministers of gender equality, who gather twice a year, to enforce and later report their respective country’s progress on the matter. In the Unites States, there are no such laws, or any enforcement of a certain gender percentage within a given company’s board or staff.
The topic of women in business is rooted in the educational opportunities afforded women in these Nordic countries. Both men and women are offered either free or very low-cost higher education, as such, almost all women are able to attend university and be eligible for a position worthy of a college graduate. This very vital difference in this region in comparison to the United States is enough to change the gender landscape of the business world in the country.
Only recently, and thanks to Facebook co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has the American business world entertained the thought of paternity leave in addition to maternity leave. Little by little we see more companies giving the added ‘perk’ of giving fathers’ time off once they have a child. However, in Scandinavian countries, not only is paternal leave available, it is mandatory. In general, men take more time off work in order to be with their children than any other country in the world.
Affordable child care once parents are back at work is yet another element that helps the gender balance. Women are able to return to work after giving birth and continue with their respective careers, having children is not considered something that would make any woman fall behind in ‘the race’.
The issue of reproductive rights, from abortion to assistance with pregnancy, is a topic that has also gained some criticism within the Nordic countries due to the religious nature of the issue. However, every single one of the Scandinavian nations offer a form of what Planned Parenthood offers in the United States, namely birth control, sex education, abortions, and referral assistance during pregnancy. The open-minded and non-judgmental mentality runs very deep in countries like Sweden and Norway, whereas in the United States, the issue of abortion is still considered a shameful act that is taboo entirely.
What the comparison between these two regions shows us is that there is a way for women, such as the hundreds of thousands who marched in Washington, to achieve what they are rightfully after – equal rights, and what more, it will promote the economic, emotional and historical health of the country. In what we consider a modern era, the fact that women are still fighting archaic and misogynistic gender roles is as confusing as it is wrong.