Nordic countries have the narrowest gender gap in workplace and political participation and their empowering of women also boosts their competitiveness, a global study has concluded.
A study by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the first to assess the gender gap by assessing the economic and political participation of women as well as their levels of education and health, places Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland as the five nations which have had the greatest success in reducing inequality between men and women.
The survey scored nations on five criteria, including equal pay and access to jobs, the representation of women in decision-making structures, access to education and access to reproductive healthcare.
Commonwealth countries emerged strongly from the survey of 58 nations, with New Zealand ranked sixth, Canada seven, Britain eighth, Germany ninth and Australia tenth.
The Baltic republics - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - ranked 11th, 12th and 15th, with France in 13th place.
But despite high educational levels for women, the United States only managed 17th place, reflecting a lack of maternity rights, meagre maternity leave, limited state childcare provision and also scoring poorly on health and well-being.
In the EU, Greece emerged in 50th place out of 58, with Italy faring little better in 45th position. Both were described as being "notorious for their patriarchal cultures".
Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt made up the bottom of the table. Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico were also in the bottom 10.
WEF economist Augusto Lopez-Claros said the Nordic countries, with their comprehensive welfare systems and transparent governance, served as a "useful benchmark" for gauging the economic importance of equality between the sexes.
"While no country has yet managed to eliminate the gender gap, the Nordic countries have succeeded best in narrowing it and, in a very clear sense, provide a workable model for the rest of the world," he said
"It is not surprising that the Nordic countries also occupy privileged positions in the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness rankings," he said.
"These societies seem to have understood the economic incentive behind empowering women: countries that do not fully capitalise on one-half of their human resources are clearly undermining their competitive potential."