To gain gender equity
Learning Gender Equality from Iceland
The most gender-equal country in the world is Iceland. According to the “Gender Gap Index” released annually by the World Economic Forum, Iceland has held the top position for 12 consecutive years. This achievement can be attributed to the existence of certain social systems.
Iceland’s First Lady, Eliza Reid, believes that one of the major success factors is the law enacted in 2017, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination. The law requires employers to submit proof of equal pay for both men and women, and penalties are imposed if compliance is not met. As a result, around 75% of women in Iceland are engaged in economic activities (compared to 56% in the United States).
Additionally, Iceland has a well-developed parental leave system. Couples are entitled to five months of leave each, and an additional two months can be taken together. Subsidized childcare also contributes to a more comfortable environment for working parents.
These social systems, along with other areas such as education, media, and labor, reveal the efforts made by different countries to promote gender equality. This week, we will explore these themes.
I visited the city of Merzouga in Morocco last week. It is a desert city with sand dunes of the Sahara right nearby. During my visit, I had a meal with a local family and was surprised to find that the dining table was strictly divided between women and men. Additionally, cooking and childcare were solely carried out by women, and it seemed that only men attended university.
Education is a significant foundation for social empowerment that can be built from childhood to youth and has a profound impact on one’s future life.
Relatively speaking, the gender gap index of African countries is low, but even in advanced countries like Japan, it is no exception. In 2021, while Morocco ranked 144th in the Gender Gap Index, Japan was the lowest among advanced countries at 120th place.
One factor contributing to Japan’s low index, despite both men and women having high educational levels, is the ingrained gender bias. While gender bias in the workplace is frequently discussed, unconscious influences on children through family education are equally important. Phrases like “You’re a big brother, so…” or “You’re a boy, so…” might unconsciously implant gender bias in children. As they are the ones who will shape the future, it is crucial to help them find a flexible and free world.
There is a term called “Toxic Masculinity.”
Psychologist Shepard Bliss coined the concept in the late 1980s, originally referring to how men’s repression of emotions can lead to violent behavior.
In recent years, it has been more broadly understood as encompassing not only sexism and violence towards women but also the suppression of men themselves, perpetuating stereotypes of masculinity.
Personally, I am no stranger to evaluating myself and being evaluated by the yardstick of “masculinity.” I have been teased for having a sensitive personality by being called “feminine,” and at times, I thought about doing weight training to be more “macho” (but it didn’t last for more than three days…).
Perhaps it is time to update our view of “masculinity.”
For instance, the movie ‘The Power of the Dog’, which received 11 Academy Award nominations, vividly depicts the negative aspects of “masculinity” that were once glorified in Westerns. It has become a topic of conversation.
Rather than portraying toughness, the new strength may lie in being able to open up about one’s struggles and conflicts. Instead of showcasing power, it may be about caring for others. This new form of strength may be what the future demands.
Flexibility in Life Design
Stanford University sociologist Shelly Correll warns that “the prevalence of burnout could have devastating consequences for women and set back gender equality by a generation.”
While there are voices expressing the desire to continue remote work in the future, the expectation for employees to be “always on” for work and family responsibilities has led to an increase in burnout. Many women who are trying to balance childcare and caregiving are considering leaving their jobs.
According to the latest Women in the Workplace report, 42% of women responded that they “always feel burned out” or “almost always feel burned out.” The burden of household work that women face silently is a serious issue.
Balancing work and family life is a challenging task that is not easily visible from the outside. Therefore, ensuring “mental fairness,” which is one of the factors contributing to burnout, even with the availability of “flextime” or “babysitter subsidies,” is difficult.
In the midst of this, Mercari introduced “egg freezing” as part of its welfare benefits. This is designed to offer flexibility in life events such as pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare, which often coincide with the time when one prioritizes their career. Efforts by companies to pursue gender equity through system improvements like this are expected to grow.
In such cases, the key is the attitude of “caring” for each other within the family, without being bound by gender. Making important decisions about whether or not to use such systems is likely to be supported by those closest to us.
Rather than indulging in “privilege,” let’s try to put ourselves in the shoes of people in various positions and imagine the daily path they walk.