Best and Worst Countries for Women, From Iceland to the U.S. to Pakistan and Afghanistan

A list of countries that offer women the most expansive rights and the best quality of life.

Fredrik von Erichsen / EPA-Corbis

In the last year, Denmark elected a female prime minister, Brazil elected a female president and a female took the helm of the International Monetary Fund. In the last decade, Ethiopia passed the most progressive abortion laws in Africa to combat unsafe abortion rates and Mali passed a law that says women are not required to obey their husbands. It seems the state of women’s rights and freedoms worldwide are perhaps better than ever before. But, large and sobering discrepancies remain. Women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, are subject to genital mutilation in Mali and are killed for honor in Pakistan.

Newsweek/The Daily Beast sought to parse the statistics on women’s rights country-by-country to put the global status of women in perspective—creating a list that highlights not only where women are enjoying relative freedom and access to human rights and justice, but also where deficiencies remain. The list is designed to recognize steps forward by even the poorest nations and emphasize the areas that lag in countries that earned top marks overall.

To compile the rankings of the best and worst countries for women, we analyzed data across five categories—justice, health, education, economics, and politics. To determine the overall ranking, each country was given an overall score of 0 to 100 based on those five factors, where 0 was the worst country and 100 was the best. In this scale, 100 is not perfect—it’s the best. Likewise, the overall score is not an average of the category scores.

Individual categories were scored the same way, with 0 given to the worst country and 100 to the best in that category. Each category included between four and 10 data points, depending on the reliable data points available for all 165 countries as well the data points that are most illustrative of the state of women’s rights and circumstances according to experts we interviewed.

To analyze each data point, we relied on some widely used statistical approaches, calculating its standard score, which equals how far a country’s statistic deviates from the average. We used standard scores because they are a measure of a country’s performance relative to cumulative status quo of the rest of the world. Certain statistics, such as literacy rate, were relatively similar for all countries; other statistics such as the share of women in ministerial positions, varied greatly from country to country, which is reflected in the standard scores.A final standard score for each category was calculated by averaging the standard scores for all the data points in each category. Not every data point was available for every country, but missing data points were excluded from category averages so they did not negatively or positively affect a country’s final scores. Each country’s final ranking is based on the average of the five final category standard scores. Each of the five categories was equally weighted in the overall ranking. In other words, the final ranking is based on how much better or worse a country is for women when measured against the average level of women’s rights for all 165 countries.

The full list of data points considered and sources is as follows:Justice:-Prevalence of early marriage-Existence of laws preventing violence against women (domestic violence, sexual harassment, marital rape)-Prevalence of intimate partner physical violence-Prevalence of intimate partner sexual violence-Civil liberties:Ability of women to move freely outside of the houseLevel of women’s access to bank loansLevel of women’s access to land and property other than landWhether inheritance practices favor male heirsHealth:-Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)-Maternal mortality rate (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)-Contraceptive prevalence (percentage of women ages 15-49)-Proportion of women with unmet need for family planning (aged 15-49)-Proportion of women attended at least once by skilled health personnel during pregnancy-HIV incidence rate-Proportion of women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV-Number of unsafe abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44-Whether abortion is legal: To save woman’s life To preserve physical health To preserve mental health In cases of rape/incest In cases of fetal impairment Economic or social reasons On requestEducation:-Female adult literacy rate-Female youth literacy rate-Percentage of female population over age 25 with no schooling-Female survival rate to last grade of primary school-Gender parity in enrollment in primary education-Gender parity in enrollment in secondary educationEconomics:-Whether women can work in all industries-Percentage of women in the labor force-Women’s wages as a percentage of men’s-Ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadershipPolitics:-Share of women in ministerial positions-Percent of women in Parliament-Percent of women in senior positions-Ratio of female legislators, senior officials and managers compared to male Sources: -Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Gender, Institutions and Development Database 2009 -United Nations Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012 -World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2010 -World Bank, World Development Indicators -World Health Organization World Health Statistics 2010 -UNESCO Institute of Statistics Global Education Digest 2010 -United Nations Development Fund for Women Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals