Why Iceland is the best place in the world to be a woman

Since 1975, the Nordic country has blazed the trail in gender equality and now, from infancy to maternity, women and girls enjoy a progressive lifestyle. But how did they achieve it?

Rebekka is so tiny that, even on her tiptoes, arms aloft, she cannot reach. So her teacher lifts her up to the unvarnished wooden monkey bar. “One, two, three,” her classmates count. She hangs on, determinedly. When she reaches 10, she jumps to the ground. “I am strong,” she shouts proudly.

It’s an ordinary morning for this single-sex class of three-year-olds at Laufásborg nursery school in Reykjavik. No dolls or cup-cake decorating on the lesson plan here. Instead, as Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir, the school’s founder, tells me: “We are training [our girls] to use their voice. We are training them in physical strength. We are training them in courage.”

It’s a fascinating approach to education. And a popular one. In a country of only 330,000 people, there are 19 such primary and nursery schools, empowering girls from an early age.

For the past six years, Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index and looks likely to do so again this week. The Economist recently named Iceland the world’s best place for working women – in comparison, the UK came in at No. 24. Ólafsdóttir’s philosophy seems to sit well with the nation’s progressive accomplishments, but her network of schools has been going for less than 20 years. So, if preschoolers trained in feminism aren’t the reason for this gender success story, what is?

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