Canada has become a matriarchy

The power of matriarchy is evident in Iceland

It's been seven years since Julia Gillard gave the most important speech of her life.

Back then, as Australia's Prime Minister, she confronted then-opposition leader Tony Abbott with a list of his most sexist comments. Word for word she rattled off his most discriminatory statements. This included a question he must have asked during an interview:

"What if men are physiologically or temperamentally better suited to exercising power or giving orders?"

The speech made waves. Hillary Clinton described her as "remarkable," but that didn't help Gillard save her political career. A year later, she resigned after losing an internal power struggle.

Since then, she has dedicated her life to promoting female leadership and battling beliefs like Tony Abbott's.

Australia's former Prime Minister Julia Gillard (left) is one of around 450 female executives who met for the Reykjavik Global Forum in Iceland.

Personal issues are just as important as political issues

Today she is one of 450 female executives from politics and business, universities and the arts who are in Iceland's capital Reykjavik Global Forum have gathered. The event was launched last year to encourage an exchange of ideas.

It is particularly noticeable that personal issues are just as important in the program as political issues. Promoting resilience is seen as worthy of discussion, as is strategic investments in Asia. "How to turn grief into action" is discussed as well as the question "How do we get our seas clean again?"

This broad approach is also due to the complexity of the topic. "Equality. It's easy to say, but it's difficult to implement," said World Bank Vice President Sandie Okoro of DW. "It is much more difficult for women than men in the public perception."

World Bank Vice-President Sandie Okoro believes it will be difficult to promote equality.

Victoria Budson, head of the Women and Public Policy program at Harvard University, agrees: "Research shows that women are more likely to have to prove themselves, while men are automatically expected to be competent."

This difference in perception could help explain why economic and political power is still largely in the hands of men. Less than a quarter of the seats in state parliaments and only 15 percent of supervisory board positions in companies are held by women. A study recently published by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) states that women continue to be underrepresented as managers in companies with a share of 26 percent.

Iceland is a pioneer in terms of equality

It is a good thing that the discussion for more structural balance is taking place in Iceland. The country with only 360,000 inhabitants regularly leads the way in equality ratings. According to the World Economic Forum's global gender equality report, Iceland is the best place to be to be a woman. Paid parental leave, equal pay laws and a consensus on equality in the political landscape are often cited as reasons for this success.

"We are a good example of how equality can lead to a better society," Iceland's Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir (article image) told DW. In the coming year, her government, like New Zealand and Scotland, intends to add well-being as a factor in the national budget. The decision is part of a joint initiative to measure the success of a country according to the quality of life of its inhabitants instead of the gross domestic product. Incidentally, the three participating countries are all run by women.

A core idea of ​​the Reykjavik Global Forum it is that beliefs must first be identified before it is possible to change them. Of course, you need measurable data for this.

How do you measure equality?

The organizers therefore commissioned the data consultancy company Kantar to find a measurable parameter for how people perceive women in management positions. The Reykjavik Index 2019 focuses on the G7 countries, i.e. the USA, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, France and Canada as well as on Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Iceland is the ideal place to be a woman, according to the World Economic Forum's Gender Equality Report.

One of the most surprising discoveries is that in Russia only eight percent of the population can imagine a woman as head of state. In Canada, 59 percent would feel comfortable with it, the top figure, even though Canada has only had one Prime Minister so far, and that only temporarily for half a year in the summer of 1993.

A safe place for women to exchange ideas

Laura Jones is a research fellow at the Global Institute for Women's Leadership, founded at King's College in London by Julia Gillard herself.

An analysis last year found that around nine out of ten experts cited in the UK media on economic and financial topics were men. This is particularly noticeable when you consider that female economists are far more likely to rely on government intervention than on market self-regulation.

"It has nothing to do with genetics or biology," Jones told DW. "It's because of life experiences."

For three days, Reykjavik was the ultimate safety zone for women to share these life experiences in a protected space. Many decision-makers took the opportunity to make promises to actively support the things that are important to them.

But the world out there isn't always that open-minded. Four thousand kilometers away in Washington, the power center of the world's largest economy is run by a man who prides himself on touching women by the genitals, regularly criticizes women in public for their looks, and led chants against his political rival Hillary Clinton who demanded to "lock them up". Last week, Prince Andrew caused a stir in the UK when he described the behavior of his former friend and alleged sex criminal Jeffrey Eppstein as "improper".

In her closing speech, Iceland's premier spoke about climate change, the rise of populism and other problems that urgently need a female hand: "In the past, women have repeatedly worked together across borders to reach compromises and bring people together on different topics. The world needs these skills today more than ever. "