< Go to Homepage

Why Iceland Might Be the Best Place to Be a Woman

Travel By
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND - JUNE 17: A woman with girls is seen as Icelanders celebrate the Icelandic National Day in Reykjavik, Iceland on June 17, 2016. Celebrations commemorate the foundation of The Republic of Iceland on 17 June 1944 and its independence from Danish rule. (Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Icelandic women and girls celebrate the Icelandic National Day in Reykjavik, Iceland on June 17, 2016. (Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


For an island with a population of barely 330,000, Iceland has a lot to recommend it. There’s the incredible natural beauty, of course, and a cuisine that is now being saluted as a culinary delight. Yet while Iceland appeals to all, it has a particular allure for one gender. Quite simply, it may be the best place on Earth for women.

Noreena Hertz explores why in an article for The Guardian. Hertz reports the honors it has recently received include The Economist naming it the world’s best place for working women and a six-year run topping the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index. Having established that this is a place where—by most measures—women fare particularly well, she tries to explain why.

Hertz finds some of it may be explained by historic tradition:

“For centuries, this seafaring nation’s women stayed at home as their husbands traversed the oceans. Without men at home, women played the roles of farmer, hunter, architect, builder. They managed household finances and were crucial to the country’s ability to prosper.”

Friends running on mountain road in Iceland. (Portra Images/Getty Images)
Friends running on mountain road in Iceland. (Portra Images/Getty Images)

She also cites a particularly vital piece of parental leave legislation from 2000:

“Today, every parent receives three months’ paid leave that is non-transferable. Parents then have an additional three months to share as they like….Because the pay is significant—80% of salary up to a ceiling of £2,300 a month—and because it’s on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, 90% of Icelandic fathers take up their paternal leave.”

The result? Unsurprisingly, women return to work more quickly, but there was also a change with the other gender: “Research shows that, after taking the three months’ leave, fathers continue to be significantly more involved in childcare and do more housework.”

This isn’t to say Iceland is a place of perfect equality. A gender pay gap of approximately 14% remains. It’s better than in most nations, but still surprising in a land that strives so hard to be equitable. (It’s also being addressed: Iceland’s government has pledged to eliminate it by 2022.)

To read more about the tiny nation that continues to have a disproportionate impact on the world and its strategy for gender equality, click here. Or, fall in love with Iceland’s beauty even more by watching the stunning timelapse video below.