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EU: Do female heads of state ensure gender equality?

By Julia Harder and Gwen Rochat

Writers Julia Harder and Gwen Rochat, Journalism students at Windesheim University Zwolle, The Netherlands, noticed a tweet of the Icelandic prime minister. According to the Global Gender Gap, Iceland is the frontrunner of gender equality. They were curious if there is a connection between having a female leader and the overall score of gender equality, so they investigated the relationship between European female heads of state and gender equality according to the Global Gender Gap.


‘'When we place gender equality measures into the DNA of every aspect of government, we come closer to reaching the goal of gender equality”, says Icelandic Katrin Jakobsdóttir as prime-minister of the most gender-equal country in the world. But how equal are European member states, and does having female heads of state improve gender equality in a country? We will find these answers in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 from the World Economic Forum, an independent economic organization


For the eleventh time in a row Iceland tops the ranking of gender equality according to the World Economic Forum. Iceland’s success leads us to questions how equal European member states are. Below we have comprised a list of the twenty-seven European member states, ranked from most equal to least equal. On top of this list we have added Iceland as a reference point, although Iceland is not part of the European Union.

As you can see in the ranking, Finland has the most gender equal society of the European member states. The member state with the least gender equal society is Hungary.


The ranking

Female leadership

Does having a female head of state have any influence on the amount of gender equality in a country? Looking at Iceland, a country that has passed a significant amount of years under the leadership of a female head of state, you would think that it does.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the current Prime Minister of Iceland, thinks role models definitely matter. She says: “Vigdís Finnbogadottir was the president of Iceland for 16 years (from 1980-1996) so men and women of my generation grew up with a very impressive woman as the leader of our country. Her influence was great and to all of us who grew up with her as president, both the girls and the boys, seeing women in powerful positions is something that is just a given. As it should be.”


As the Icelandic Prime Minister, Jakobsdóttir works to improve gender equality by prioritizing gender equality in all policy making. “We have to get everybody on board when it comes to gender equality, involve every type of institution, grassroot organization, the private sector and the government. When we place gender equality measures into the DNA of every aspect of government, we come closer to reaching the goal of gender equality”, she says.


But looking at the results from the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, we see our question cannot be answered that easily. In the chart below, all European member states, and Iceland, have been ranked according to the amount of years. However, the chart below in which all European member states (and Iceland) have been ranked according to the amount of years they have had a female head of state.

When looking at the chart, you can see Malta has had 9.2 years with a female head of state, ranking it the sixth country in the chart. Interestingly, when looking at the ranking above you can see that Malta places twenty-sixth in ranking of countries with the highest gender equality. This means that Malta is not a very equal society, so there is a discrepancy between the amount of gender equality and the years under female leadership.


We can see in the chart that countries with a high amount of gender equality generally have more years under female heads of state, but this is not a requirement. For example, there are six countries (Iceland, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Denmark and Estonia) that rank high in the gender equality chart and also have had the most years with a female head of state. But there are also seven countries (Sweden, Ireland, Spain, France, Belgium, Croatia and Malta) where the charts do not match. For example, Sweden places second in the ranking of most equal European member states, just below Finland. But Sweden has never had a female head of state.


Conclusion

Having more years under female leadership does not have a direct impact on the amount of gender equality in a country, although countries with a higher amount of gender equality generally have had more years with female heads of state. However, we can certainly say that female leadership does have a positive influence on gender equality, as Katrín Jakobsdóttir pointed out. Iceland is proud to continue as the gender equality frontrunner and wishes to set a positive example for the rest of the world.


“We in Iceland will continue our own fight, and if we can lead by example in some areas it makes our fight even more urgent and valuable”, Jakobsdóttir says. “We plan to achieve the targets set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goal number five on gender equality, and we encourage other countries to do the same and step up their efforts to ensure the human rights of women and girls across the world.



These findings were based on the Global Gender Gap Report 2020.

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