Olwethu often jokes about moving to another country and I’ll often respond by mimicking an impassioned middle-aged White woman declaring that they were leaving South Africa for Australia right before the first two democratic elections. 

After one of these exchanges about two weeks ago I started wondering what it would take for me to consider leaving South Africa again?

This got me thinking about what  I’d want from another country that South Africa couldn’t offer me? So I did some research to find out which countries are the most economically equitable for women. Unsurprisingly four of the top 5 countries leading in gender equality are Nordic countries. Surprisingly Sub-Saharan Africa makes an appearance in the top 10! 

Every year The World Economic Forum releases its Global Gender Gap Index report. This report takes into account the following four key elements;

  • Economic Opportunities and Participation. 
  • Educational Achievements.
  •  Health and Survival. 
  • Power and Empowerment.

The Gini Coefficient 

The Global Gender Gap Index studies and ranks countries throughout the world by using the Gini Coefficient (Gini index or Gini ratio); a statistical measure developed by statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini. The Gini index measures the distribution of income across a population narrowing in on statistical dispersions that are intended to represent income inequality or wealth inequality within a nation or a specific social group. While other index measures exist the Gini index method is the preferred economic measure of the World Bank and the United Nations. 

How The Gini Index Works

Countries are ranked between 0 (disparity) and 1(parity): A lower Gini index indicates greater disparity, with high-income individuals receiving much larger percentages of the total income of the population. For example, if a country is ranked 1 it would indicate a fair distribution of income, wealth and equity among all the inhabitants of the country. However, if a country is ranked 0 that means that the country’s wealth is controlled by one person or a select few. Each country is analysed with the intended purpose of not only having a realistic understanding of where they stand globally in reducing gender inequality but also helping each country design an effective plan to address the issues/obstacles that prohibit them from reducing the gender gap. 

The Top 5 Most Equitable Countries 

Unsurprisingly four of the top 5 countries leading in gender equality include four Nordic countries, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden; surprisingly Sub-Saharan Africa makes an appearance into the top 10 but if you’ve been paying close attention to economic development within the content it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that, that country is Rwanda!  


Gini Coefficient: 0.877

The current population of Iceland is 344,757

According to the World Economic Forum, when taking into account all measurable parameters Iceland is the most egalitarian country in the world and is in the top 3 countries concerning their distribution of wealth. The country of Iceland joined the European Union in 2013 and has a rather low population and an unemployment rate of around 4%, this helps with the equitable distribution of the Icelanders revenue. 

In the late 1970s, Icelandic women entered the labour market at an increased rate in the 1970s. What has helped Iceland become an equitable country at a much faster rate than other countries is the fact that ninety per cent of children between the ages of 1 to 5 years are in daycare. In Iceland childcare for preschool children is considered a legal right so that parents can return to their jobs after childbirth.

In 2000 the country revised their parental leave law to a collective total of nine months. Each parent is given 3  non-transferable months in addition to another 3 months that they can divide between themselves however they choose. Parents who have been working full-time are entitled to eighty per cent of their salary up to a certain ceiling.  


Gini Coefficient: 0.842

Current Population of Norway: 5,498,120 

The second country with the most egalitarian economy in the world is Norway. Its high rent per capita helps the Scandinavian country to implement policies aimed at the redistribution of wealth. Norway is one of the few countries that distributes its wealth upward and not downward like most other countries in the world. 

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), reported that the country’s “wage inequality is low, and redistribution through taxes and benefits system is carried out on a large scale so that the distribution of net income is even more equal. 


Gini Coefficient: 0.832

The current population of Finland: 5,552,946

Finland is one of the best examples of holistic equality because they are not only in the top 5 economically but also hold the top spot for social equity. Since the early 70s Finland’s economy has been bolstered by the agroforestry sector which they successfully transitioned into highly technological industrialisation. Finland is also a leader in quality of life and is always in the top rankings concerning education and a low unemployment rate of  7.6%, which is below the European average.


Gini Coefficient: 0.820

The current population of Sweden: 10,201,799

For years Sweden has been the economic mirror for countries within and outside the European borders. Sweden’s success lies in their structures that have ensured  proper distribution of resources. The Nordic country has done a phenomenal job in balancing their redistribution of wealth between the public and private sectors by encouraging private property and economic support cooperatives without ruling out the nationalisation of some strategic sectors.

When implementing social measures, special needs such as education, family life and work, decent wages, grants, subsidised loans, housing facilities, etc…are also taken into account.


Gini Coefficient: 0.804

The current population of Nicaragua: 6,756,734

The South American country of Nicaragua is the only non-nordic country ranking in the top 5 highest on the list, surprisingly beating all of North America. When asked how she felt about the consistent improvement, Nicaraguan Vice-president, Rosario Murillo said the fact that the Central American country is at the top of the list in its region can be attributed to Nicaragua, being a Latin American country that is committed to gender equity. In 2006, Nicaragua ranked  62nd. “We were there (62nd) when we came to the government. (From there) to fifth place! Murillo said that gender parity will continue to be a key focus of her administration and she’s happy that Nicaragua is noted as having one of the highest proportions of women in parliament. 


Gini Coefficient: 0.791

The current population of Rwanda: 13,506,654

The East African country of Rwanda is holding us down and making us proud by ranking number 9 out of 149 countries! 

Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa (1,060/sq mi) and a young, mostly rural population that has gotten behind the agenda set forth by their political leaders. In 2005 Rwanda introduced a quota that would ensure that thirty percent of civil servant positions were reserved for women and clearly the quota system has not only paid off but even exceeded initial expectations. 61.3 percent Rwanda currently holds the highest percentage of women parliamentarians.

It’s important to note that the promotion of gender equality in Rwanda is not just reserved for politics. There’s currently a new crop of women in senior management: the CEOs of the government-owned airline RwandAir and the Bank of Kigali are women. 

Where Do Other African Countries Stand?  

Lesotho is reportedly sitting at number 16 and is holding its place as the second highest ranking African country for the fourth consecutive year. Despite having lost two points this year – which can be attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic prompting a decrease of women in the workforce and a small drop in wage equality for similar work. Lesotho is also the only country from the continent that has managed to close the gender gap in both educational attainment, and health and survival. 

South Africa – slipped down one place to number 17 – mostly because of a slight decrease in women’s economic participation and opportunity. This can also be attributed to the global pandemic. In spite of the huge gender disparities in the recent municipal elections, South Africa continues to hold their position as one of the best global performers in political empowerment – holding the fifth position in the number of women representation in parliament and the 11th for women in ministerial positions.

Burundi – holds the 22nd spot in the ranking, moving up two spots from last year. This East African country is ranked third in labour force participation and is also the best performer in the region for economic participation and opportunity. 

When I think about the fact that the Rwandan genocide was only 28 years ago it shows that having the right people in leadership is key. Rwanda’s story honestly fuels my hope for South Africa and the rest of the continent. While Africa still has a long way to go in achieving gender parity, and as egalitarian as the Nordic countries are at the moment, I don’t think I’d ever leave Africa again.