Exiled Iranian politician, Mahnaz Afkhami once declared, “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life. The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace is increasingly apparent.”
In other words, if you want a more peaceful society, let girls and women flourish.
No seriously, if there’s a silver bullet or a shortcut to world peace it’s this: remove the barriers that inhibit opportunities for girls to become successful women.
And this week I discovered if you want the best opportunities for your daughter, you’d better move to Sweden or Norway or Denmark or Finland. Heck, just get her to Scandinavia as quick as you can.
To coincide with International Day of the Girl, Save the Children released their ranking of the best and worst countries in which to be a girl, and those four countries topped the list. Which makes sense since along with Volvo, Abba and pickled herring, Scandinavia is definitely known for peace.
Embarrassingly, some other wealthy developed countries like Australia (21), South Korea (27), USA (32), and Japan (35) ranked down the list.
In fact, it’s better to be a girl in Kazakhstan than America, or in Serbia than Australia (ouch!!).
So how does that work?
Well, Save the Children identified five key predictors of the ability for girls to thrive:
- Rates of early marriage (child marriage triggers a cycle of disadvantage across every part of a girl’s life);
- Adolescent fertility (teen pregnancy impedes a girl’s ability to thrive);
- Maternal mortality (complications during pregnancy or childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls);
- Women in government (indicating a girl’s freedom to speak out and influence decisions);
- Lower secondary school completion (a limited education also limits employment options).
Obviously, countries where girls may face sexual and gender-based violence or harassment crashed to the bottom of the list, as did countries in war zones. The bottom 25 places went to African countries. And Afghanistan.
But while rich countries might be doing okay with their lack of conflict and child marriage, many of them slipped down the ranking because their low proportion of women politicians and their relatively high rates of teen pregnancy. Australia, UK and Canada were all dragged down the ranking by these factors.
While the USA, the world’s biggest economy, ranks down at position 32 because it also has high teen pregnancy rates and low women’s representation in government. Women hold 19.4 percent of the 535 seats in Congress, while the Swedish parliament comprises 44 percent women.
But America was also let down by relatively high maternal mortality rates. Fourteen women died per 100,000 live births in the USA in 2015; a similar number to Uruguay and Lebanon, and far higher than the three deaths per 100,000 in Poland, Greece and Finland.
Long story short: not enough women in politics; too many teen pregnancies; too many women dying due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth; too many girls dropping out of high school.
Wealthy countries are sometimes oblivious to the degree to which girls and women are held back in their societies, presuming that economic wealth is the only indicator of freedom. But if we want to address brokenness and violence in society, if we want to reduce injustice and poverty, make it a better world for women and girls. Provide greater opportunities for political representation. Provide better sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare. Provide better educational opportunities.
Oh, and if we want to bring peace and democracy to other parts of the world, instead of invading or bombing them, maybe we should just help make it a better world for the girls there.
If we did that we really could change the world.