What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Iceland? Volcanoes? Geysers? Well, actually, it should be gender equality.

For nine years this tiny Nordic nation has held the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, which ranks 144 countries based on how close they are to achieving gender equality. The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 reveals that Iceland has now closed more than 87% of its overall gender gap.

But globally the gap has widened this year – for the first time since the annual report began in 2006. The average remaining distance to gender parity is now 32%, up from 31.7% last year. The report measures the equality between men and women in four key areas: health, education, economics and politics.

It’s not all bad news. Many countries have bucked this depressing global trend and improved in the last 12 months, with more than half reducing their gaps.

The top 10

There are no new top 10 entrants this year, but plenty of jostling for position: Norway and Finland swap places again, taking second and third respectively; Rwanda climbs one place to fourth; while Nicaragua rises from 10th to sixth place.

Iceland is a leader on female political empowerment and a strong performer on wage equality. However, the country wasn’t immune to the global trend – this year its gender gap in the areas of economic participation and opportunity and educational attainment widened.

Nicaragua (sixth) and Slovenia (seventh) have closed more than 80% of their gender gaps for the first time. Nicaragua reached gender equality in ministerial positions for the first time in three years, and also has the fifth highest share of female parliamentarians in the world at 46%.

Region by region

As reflected in the top 10 of the index, Western Europe is the best performing region.

At the other end of the scale is the Middle East and North Africa. Countries in this region have an average gap left to close of 40%.

South Asia is also a poor performer, relative to the rest of the world. Of seven countries, just one features in the top 100 – Bangladesh.

You can explore the situation across the world using our heatmap.

A long way to go

A hundred years.

That’s how long it will take to close the overall gender gap in the countries covered since the report began. Last year it was 83 years, highlighting the backward steps the world has taken in the past 12 months.

The picture for the economic gap between men and women is even more bleak. This won’t be closed for another 217 years.

Thankfully, there is some good news. There could be gender parity in education by 2030, and significant progress is being made in closing the gap in politics - although it remains the widest across the four key areas measured.