What Can Canada Learn from the World’s Most Gender-Equal Countries?

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report highlights the growing urgency for action surrounding gender equality. The report benchmarks 153 countries and examines gender-based gaps among four key dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

“None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. That’s the sobering finding of the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, which reveals that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years.”
World Economic Forum, 2020

According to the report, Western Europe has made the most progress on achieving gender parity. Iceland is ranked the most gender-equal country in the world for the 11th time in a row and has closed almost 88% of its overall gender gap. Norway, Finland and Sweden followed, each illustrating strong commitments to making progress on achieving gender parity. On the other hand, the report noted that progress stalled in 2019 across North America. For instance, Canada dropped three spots from 2018, falling to #19. See image for a comparison of scores.

Image 1 – WEF The Global Gender Gap Report

Although Canada has stated great commitments to gender equality, we can still learn from the world’s most gender-equal nations and further action. Here’s how top countries have pushed gender equality to the top of their agendas:

#1: Iceland: Making Equal Pay a Legal Requirement. Iceland is the first country to make it illegal to pay men more than women. The new equal pay policy will require both public and private companies with more than 25 employees to obtain a certificate demonstrating they pay all employees equally. In 2018, Canada introduced the Federal Pay Equity Legislation, which will require federally regulated employers to ensure that female and male employees receive equal pay for work of equal value. This legislation has the potential to advance pay equity, but it only applies to a small section of the private sector as opposed to the wider reach of Iceland’s policy.

#2: Finland: Leader in Workplace Flexibility Polices. Coming into force in 2020, Finland’s new Working Hours Act will give the majority of full-time employees the right to decide when and where they work for at least half of their working hours. In 2017, Canada made amendments to the Canada Labour Codes to allow federally regulated workers to request flexible work arrangements, such as working from home. However, the main limitation of this legislation is that it only applies to less than 10% of the Canadian workforce, which reduces its ability to have a widespread impact across the country in all sectors.

#3: Sweden: The World’s First Feminist Government. Sweden has declared itself as the first feminist government in the world, embedding gender equality at the core of the government’s decision-making and resources allocation processes. Similarly, Canada also has a feminist government, and has committed to prioritizing gender equality. However, it ranked #25 in political empowerment, mostly due to low female representation (27%) in parliament.

This report emphasizes the importance of gender equality to a country’s human capital development, level of competitiveness and degree of inclusivity. It is essential that Canada learns from other countries and harnesses public-private cooperation within the country to close the gender gap.