Iceland’s historic women’s strike for equal rights

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Demonstrators take part in a rally for equal rights, as Icelandic women strike for equality, in Reykjavik, Iceland, October 24, 2023. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS

In Iceland, nearly 100,000 women, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, took part in an unprecedented strike yesterday. This strike, the first of its kind in nearly 50 years, aimed to bring attention to the persistent gender pay gap and the prevalence of gender-based and sexual violence in the country. The strike marked the first full-day women’s strike since the iconic 1975 “kvennafrí” (women’s day off) when 90% of Icelandic women refrained from work and contributed to significant societal changes, including the election of the world’s first female president.

While there have been other women’s strikes since 1975, this event marks the first full-day strike. Operating under the slogan “Kallarðu þetta jafnrétti?” (You call this equality?), it is a grassroots movement organised by around 40 different organisations.

However, organisers of Tuesday’s strike, some of whom were involved in the 1975 movement, argue that the fundamental demand for equal pay of women’s work remains unfulfilled after almost five decades. Despite Iceland’s reputation as a global leader in gender equality, as evidenced by its 14-year streak at the top of the 2023 World Economic Forum’s global gender gap rankings, some professions still witness a 21% wage disparity between women and men. Moreover, over 40% of women have experienced gender-based or sexual violence, and occupations traditionally associated with women, like cleaning and caregiving, continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

Women across the nation were encouraged to refrain from all forms of work, both paid and unpaid, to underline the significance of their contributions to society. Around 100,000 participants gathered in Reykjavík’s city center, with others joining in 10 other locations around the country, making it the largest women’s strike in Iceland’s history.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has expressed her solidarity with the strike and did not go about her usual day’s work. Instead, she addressed the crowd in Reykjavík, saying the world was dragging its feet on gender equality but that Iceland was doing its best to deal with the issues around the gender pay gap, gender-based violence and sexual harassment. She also declared that she wants Iceland to achieve full gender equality before 2030.

The strike’s demands include closing the gender pay gap by disclosing the salaries of workers in female-dominated professions and taking action against gender-based and sexual violence, with a greater focus on the perpetrators.

 

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