In recent times we have lived under the purple wave of the feminist movement. Newspapers, the press, TV and news agencies are giving greater coverage to this topic. The substantial impact of the International Women’s Strike on March 8th reminded us of the old historical struggles. Iceland, with just 334,252 inhabitants, is the country that serves as a guide and standard for what our primary objective should be.

Woman holding sign during equality protest in Iceland

Gender Equality in Iceland

Even though its population is small, the Land of Fire and Ice played and is still playing a leading role in the feminist movement. It was the first country in European society to have a feminist strike back in 1975. This groundbreaking battle shook the foundations of democracies of the old continent. The revolutionary background of Icelandic politics does not only apply to feminism, but it also sets an example as to how to manage the economy. During the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, the Icelandic government did not step in to rescue the banks. They let them go bust as the world stood in awe, and Icelandic bankers went to jail for their recklessness.

Feminist milestones in recent European and American history are deeply related to the media and social impact of the Icelandic strike that took place on the 24th of October of 1975. It paved the way for upcoming modern feminist currents that ended up being tagged as “second wave feminism”.  Let’s not forget the importance of the first women’s suffrage movement.

1975 was considered the year of the woman by the UN. Several events were held to commemorate and emphasize that the role of women in the world was and is indeed essential. The former roles of women were slowly changing due to the incorporation of Icelandic women in the labor market and academic institutions such as universities. The new situation brought to light a new obstacle: the difference between wages and salary. It was utterly backward because women already held essential positions in different fields by the end of the 20th century.

Different types of women holding a women's sign for equality

This newfound problem had a profound impact on Iceland’s society, but it did not take long to be addressed. Several feminist initiative platforms decided to go on strike on their behalf and without any intervention from the union. This strike was the most important one in recent history and it came to be a model for the coming generations during the 20th and 21st centuries. To face the unfair situation of the wage gap and lack of recognition, 90% of women in Iceland did not go to work or perform their household duties. This strike caused significant damage to the nation’s economy and many realized just how necessary and underappreciated women were.

What happened exactly? Newspapers could not be printed as most of the typographers were women. Flights could not depart from the airport because most of the flight attendants did not show up. Teachers struck and schools closed. Fish factories could not keep their production as half of the staff were women. These are just some examples of how the national production chain was interrupted. More than 25,000 people in Reykjavik attended the protest.

Consequences did not only have an impact on the economy but also on the political landscape. In 1976 the protest produced results. Iceland was the first country to democratically elect a female president: Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Now the Nordic nation could be proud of being one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. They were always a step ahead with anything related to women’s rights.

Gradually, the rate of women in parliament increased to 48.1% by the end of 2016. Equality politics have diminished the wage gap between women and men by 18%. Plans are to lower it down to 0% with the new equality law introduced in 2017. When it comes to domestic violence, the weight of the law applies to the abusers, forcing them to leave the place of residence.

Iceland's Parliament seeks gender equality for women

Women are usually taken to a shelter to prevent further abuse. Since 2008, Icelandic law requires companies with over 50 workers to have a rate of equality of at least 40%, so both sexes are well represented within the company.

In regards to parental leave, both parents have the same amount of time to spend with their newborn. They are given three months for the mother, three months for the father and then, three months for both parents that can be shared however they see fit. The parental leave policy allows both parents to be involved in their child’s upbringing.

We cannot deny that the role of women in the Icelandic society was vital. In the past, they were taking care of their household, of the farms and the economy when their husbands were gone for months at a time while fishing. Women worked every single day to take good care of their families. Iceland’s society then took a look at the past and realized that women indeed played a fundamental role in their society. Therefore, any gender gap or sexist policy makes no sense and should be eliminated. Iceland is setting an example of how a fair society should be, and we hope that many countries follow suit.

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