When more than half of the world's population wakes up on Thursday - the 101st International Women's Day - it will be hard to know whether to celebrate or give in to despair.

A British woman will face the prospect of at least 14 more general elections before women equal men in the House of Commons.

But a woman in Qatar will be six times more likely to go to university than the man next door.

The global gender gap defies simple solutions: 85 per cent of countries have improved conditions for women over the past six years, according to the World Economic Forum, but in economic and political terms there is still a long way to go.


"From London to Lahore," says Oxfam, "inequality between men and women persists."

Here the Independent explores the best places to be a woman today.

1) Best place to be a woman: Iceland

Iceland has the greatest equality between men and women, taking into account politics, education, employment and health indicators. The UK comes in at 16th place, down one since 2010.The worst is Yemen, and the most dangerous is Afghanistan.

2) Best place to be a politician: Rwanda

Rwanda is the only nation in which females make up the majority of parliamentarians. Women hold 45 out of 80 seats. Britain comes in at 45th place, behind Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. The worst countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Oman and Belize, have no women in Parliament.

3) Best place to be a mother: Norway

Norway is the world's safest place to be a mother, with low risks of maternal mortality - one in 7600 - and skilled help with childcare. The worst is Afghanistan, where women face dangers during childbirth and from bombs and bullets.


4) Best place to read and write: Lesotho

Literacy rates among women in Lesotho exceed those of men, with 95 per cent of women able to read and write, compared with 83 per cent of men. The UK is ranked 21st. The worst country is Ethiopia, where only 18 per cent of women can read and write, compared with 42 per cent of men.

5) Best place to be head of state: Sri Lanka

Women have run Sri Lanka for 23 years. Dozens of countries, including Spain and Sweden, have never had a female head of government.

6) Best place to be a woman in the arts: Sweden

The Swedish Arts Council has launched initiatives to improve gender equality in the arts. The Swedish Film Institute insists that film grants be distributed evenly between men and women and there are quotas for women in film production. In the UK, only 6 per cent of film directors and 12 per cent of screenwriters are women.

7) Best place to be a top dog: Thailand

Thailand has the greatest percentage of women in senior management (45 per cent). The lowest is Japan, where 8 per cent of senior management positions are held by women.

8) Best place to give birth: Greece

Greece is the world's safest place to give birth, with a one in 31,800 risk of dying in childbirth. The worst place is thought to be the world's newest country, South Sudan, where there are fewer than 20 midwives.

9) Best place for economic participation: Bahamas

The Bahamas holds the top spot globally for economic participation and opportunity for women. The Bahamas has closed its gender gap by 91 per cent in the past six years, while the lowest-ranking country, Yemen, has closed only 32 per cent of its economic gender gap in the same period.

10) Best place to be a journalist: Caribbean

The Caribbean is the region with the highest proportion of TV, print and radio news stories reported by women (45 per cent). The worst region is Africa, with 30 per cent of stories reported by women. Europe comes in at 35 per cent.

11) Best place for the right to choose: Sweden

Sweden permits women to have abortions without restrictions for the first 18 weeks of pregnancy and there are no mandatory consent requirements. El Salvador, the Philippines and Nicaragua are among the worst because of a ban on all abortions. British women can have an abortion up to 24 weeks; two doctors have to give consent.

12) Best place for labour force participation: Burundi

Burundi in sub-Saharan Africa ranks first for labour force participation and is the only country where the female labour force participation rate (92 per cent) is higher than that of men (88 per cent). The worst country is Pakistan, where the labour force is made up of four times as many men as women.

13) Best place to earn money: Luxembourg

Luxembourg shares the top spot (with Norway) for estimated earned income. When income is capped at US$40,000, women and men are as likely to earn the same amount. The lowest female earners are in Saudi Arabia, where women earn US$7157 to men's US$36,727.

14) Best place to go to university: Qatar

In Qatar six women are enrolled in tertiary education for every man. Questions remain as to whether their investment in education has led to the integration of women into the economy. The worst country is Chad, where three times as many men are enrolled as women.

15) Best place to live long: Japan

Women in Japan can expect to live longest (87), beating men by seven years. Female life expectancy is shortest in Lesotho (48), but only two years less than men. Britain has the smallest gender gap, four years, of any country in the EU.

16) Best place to be a lady of leisure: Denmark

Women in Denmark spend only 57 more minutes each day on unpaid work than men, the lowest in the OECD. Mexican women have it hardest, spending four hours 21 minutes more on unpaid work than men.

17) Best place to be an athlete: United States

Five of the top 10 highest-paid female sporting athletes in 2011 were from the US. The worst country, Saudi Arabia, has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics and bans girls from sports in state schools.

18) Best place to leave your husband: Guam

The Micronesian island of Guam has the highest divorce rate in the world, and Guatemala has the lowest.

19) Best place to drive a car: India

New Delhi is the best place for women wanting to break into the male-dominated world of taxi drivers. The worst country is Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world to ban women from driving.

20) Best place for high-skilled jobs: Jamaica

Jamaica has the highest ratio of women in high-skilled jobs, such as legislators, senior officials and managers. Almost 60 per cent of these roles are filled by women. Yemen comes last. Women there take up only 2 per cent of high-skilled jobs.

- Independent