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Iceland is considered exemplary in terms of equal rights. It reported that the country was number one in the Gender Gap Report. News media has called the country a feminist paradise. However, as is often the case here, a crooked picture emerges. For example, Iceland is also a leader in other ways:
The number of women in higher education all over the world has decisively outstripped the number of men. These include almost all 36 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and 39 out of 47 countries of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which covers Central and Western Asia. And nowhere is the gap as bad as in Iceland, where there are two women per man in college today – the biggest imbalance in the OECD.
Not only are more women opting for college. Fewer men are doing so, which affects, among other things, their chances and their lifetime earnings.
The reasons for this, its implications and the thorniness of dealing with it make this sparsely populated nation a laboratory for the countries heading in the same direction.
“It’s a crazy cycle,” said Adrian Huerta, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who deals with gender-based access to college. “We know that having a university education will have a positive impact on your health, and you will live longer, education is important for employment stability and civic engagement, and you are less dependent on social services.”
But even in Iceland, the shrinking number of men in higher education has so far attracted little attention, said Eyjólfur Guðmundsson, rector of the University of Akureyri in northern Iceland, where 77% of the 2,389 students are women.
“We just wake up and understand that this is a problem,” said Guðmundsson, who spoke openly on this issue. “The world is awakening.”
But some people still ask him why they should be worried, reports Guðmundsson.
He replies, “It is worrying for exactly the same reason why we were worried 30 years ago that women were not fairly represented in higher education, or in the United States people of different ethnic backgrounds” who did not go to college.
“It is not an issue at the top of the agenda and it is not discussed in the media,” said Steinunn Gestsdóttir, Vice Rector at the University of Iceland.