Despite cold, dark, Finland tops 2018 global happiness index

This image grab from the World Happiness Report 2018 shows the top 20 countries in the happiness ranking.
Updated 14 March 2018
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Despite cold, dark, Finland tops 2018 global happiness index

HELSINKI: If cold weather and a lack of sunlight in winter are enough to get you down, chances are you’re not Finnish.
The World Happiness Report published Wednesday put Finland at the top among 156 countries ranked by happiness levels, based on factors such as life expectancy, social support and corruption.
Finland has emerged as the happiest place to live even though little sun and low temperatures are often blamed for high rates of depression.
“Well, our politics and our economics. I think the basics are quite good in Finland,” said Sofia Holm, 24-year-old resident of Helsinki, the Nordic country’s capital. “So, yes, we have the perfect circumstances to have a happy life here in Finland.”
And that’s not forgetting other plentiful attractions like skiing and saunas and, for children of all ages, Santa Claus.
“It’s a great thing to live in the happiest country although it’s snowing and we are walking in this wet snow,” said Helsinki resident Inari Lepisto, 28. “Yes, we have many things that make me happy.”
This year, the annual report published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network also evaluated 117 countries by the happiness and well-being of their immigrants.
In 2015, more than a million migrants entered Europe, and a few thousand made it to Finland, a relatively homogenous country with about 300,000 foreigners and residents with foreign roots, out of its 5.5 million people.
Finland’s largest immigrant groups come from other European nations, but there also are communities from Afghanistan, China, Iraq and Somalia.
John Helliwell, a co-editor of the World Happiness Report and professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, noted that all the countries in the Top 10 scored highest both in overall happiness and regarding the happiness of immigrants. He said a society’s happiness seems contagious.
“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” Helliwell said. “Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”
Europe’s Nordic nations, none particularly diverse, have dominated the index since it first was produced in 2012. In reaching No. 1, Finland nudged neighboring Norway into second place.
Rounding out the Top 10 are Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. The United States fell to 18th place from 14th last year.
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute, said the five Nordic countries that reliably rank high in the index “are doing something right in terms of creating good conditions for good lives,” something newcomers have noticed.
He said the happiness revealed in the survey derives from healthy amounts of both personal freedoms and social security that outweigh residents having to pay “some of the highest taxes in the world.”
“Briefly put, (Nordic countries) are good at converting wealth into well-being,” Wiking said. The finding on the happiness of immigrants “shows the conditions that we live under matter greatly to our quality of life, that happiness is not only a matter of choice.”
The United States was 11th in the first index and has never been in the Top 10. The report cited several factors to explain its falling ranking.
“The US is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards,” the report said.
It added that the “sociopolitical system” in the United States produces more income inequality — a major contributing factor to unhappiness — than other countries with comparatively high incomes.
The US also has seen declining “trust, generosity and social support, and those are some of the factors that explain why some countries are happier than others,” Wiking said.
One of the world’s northernmost countries stretching some 1,160 kilometers (720 miles) from north to south, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer at Finland’s northernmost point. During the winter months, the sun doesn’t rise at all for 51 days in Lapland, northern Finland.
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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.


Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Updated 21 June 2018
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Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

  • Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
  • “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”

CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.

Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.