The Countries Where It’s Best And Worst To Be A Woman

Discrimination against women and girls isn’t just a moral issue: It also carries a high economic cost.

There’s an obvious moral case for promoting gender equality around the world, but there’s also an economic one. Countries that give opportunities to girls and women tend to do better economically, while those that don’t do less well. Almost all the least well-off countries in the world rank poorly for gender equality, because, as a new report puts it, “discrimination against women and girls carries a high development cost.”


The OECD Development Center’s new Social Institutions and Gender Index looks at the “underlying structural barriers that deny women’s rights and their access to justice, resources and empowerment opportunities.” It’s based on data from 160 countries and covers “social norms, practices and laws”–like the age at which girls can legally marry, the level of “son bias” (where families deliberately push boys ahead girls), and access to financial services.

Unfortunately not all the 160 nations provided full data, so we don’t have a whole ranking. But you can see results for 106 countries here, and the top five and bottom five countries in the slide show above. Look how countries like France and Italy show low levels of discrimination (“very low” in the ranking) while countries like Bangladesh and Somalia are at the other extreme (“very high”).

Here is how the report describes the situation of girls in the lower-ranked countries:

Discrimination against the girl child, such as early marriage, limits her education, increases her chances of adolescent pregnancy, and restricts her decision-making authority within the family and her ability to make informed choices about her income or her family’s well-being. Future development goals, targets and interventions must take into account how discriminatory social institutions interlock and overlap throughout a woman’s life and thus compound women’s and girls’ inability to break the cycle of inequality.

The good news is things are getter better in many places. For example, the rate of early marriage in Malawi fell from 36% in 2010 to 26% in 2014 (for comparison, 16% of girls 15 to 19 years-old were married in the OECD-rich countries). And, 63% of parliamentary representatives in Rwanda are now women, compared to less than 10% in places like Brazil and Egypt.

The best performing countries, like Belgium, guarantee “women’s rights within the family, freedom from violence, access to resources, as well as civil and political rights.” They also have low levels of gender-based violence and, in Belgium’s case, are nearing 50% political representation.

By contrast, early-marriage customs and unequal property rights hamper women’s progress in Sub-Saharan Africa, the least advanced region. For example, women face legal or customary barriers to financial services in 16 states–say, to open a bank account or get credit.


The report:

Across the globe every day, women and girls experience some form of discrimination solely because they were born female. Throughout the course of their lives, they will encounter different types of discrimination that will affect their ability to access justice, to pursue their life choices and to fully benefit from opportunities for empowerment.

You can read more about the rankings here.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.