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These are countries women should, and shouldn't, live in.

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A new study has revealed which countries in the world are the best places for women to live – and which ones are the worst.

The OECD Development Center‘s Social Institutions and Gender Index 2014 shows which countries have focussed on improving gender equality and are delivering results for women within their borders.

The Gender Index also shows which countries are still failing women and girls abysmally.

The best…and the worst

The Index collated data from 160 countries, tracking measures such as the age girls can legally marry, the level of bias towards sons, laws against domestic violence and rape, and female access to financial services.

522079935 (1)The best performing places on the Gender Index scale included Belgium, Serbia, France and Italy. All these governments have placed a comparatively higher premium on “women’s rights within the family, freedom from violence, access to resources, as well as civil and political rights.” They have also legislated against gender-based violence and prioritised increased female political representation.

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These steps have been important in encouraging–and enabling– women to take advantage of empowerment opportunities.

Conversely, the worst performing regions, Chad, Mali, Gambia and Yemen, still enforce many patriarchal family codes. These assign unequal inheritance rights to girls, identify the man as the head of the household, do not recognise female parental authority and do not allow women to initiate divorce.

Globally, the Index shows that 30 per cent of females worldwide have faced domestic violence in their lives, ranging from 7% in Canada to almost 80% in Angola. Over 90 million women are currently reported missing around the world. In the 28 countries where female genital mutilation is a widespread practice, 47% of women and girls have been victims.

What are these countries doing right…and wrong?

The countries that ranked the best haven’t just spoken about gender equality. They have taken targeted measures to ensure female outcomes improve.

Practices such as engaging men and boys in addressing gender-based violence, implementing family-friendly measures in the workplace, building on women’s capacity to become political leaders, boosting women’s legal literacy and increasing women’s public participation have all proven to be effective strategies.

147917245When governments do not work to combat gender inequalities and violence towards women, female empowerment is significantly hindered. For example, the report shows forced or child marriage often limits a girl’s education. This in turn 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.

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Some of the key structural and cultural issues identified by the report as still holding holding women back:

  • Early marriage: The number of early marriages is decreasing in developing countries, but the practice remains pervasive: on average in non- OECD countries 16% of girls 15-19 years old are married, ranging from less than 1% in Lithuania to 60% in Niger.
  • Unpaid care work: Caring responsibilities are mainly performed by women, who typically spend three times more of their time on unpaid care work than men, ranging from 1.3 times in Denmark (where women spend on average four hours and men three hours on unpaid care activities) to 10 times in Pakistan (where women spend on average five hours and men less than 30 minutes on unpaid care activities)
  • Inheritance: Only 55 countries in the Index give women the same inheritance rights as men, both in law and in practice.

What about Australia?

Indigo Piaf Albr

While Australia was not considered in the OECD study, it is fair to say we have our own challenges when it comes to gender equality.

KPMG have estimated that the cost of violence against women last year was $14.7 billion. One in 3 Australian women over the age of fifteen reports having experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Eighty nine Australian women were killed by their partners between 2008 and 2010, and almost 1 in 5 of us experience sexual violence.

Worldwide, we have so much work to do.

At home, where we have the capacity to act directly, decisively and effectively, we have the chance to do even more.

We should give credit to the countries that have made strides towards gender equality this year.

But we should not miss this opportunity to continue to encourage our own government to keep making steps to ensure that Australia is at the top of any list of places for women to live and thrive.

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