Tens of Thousands of Women Strike in Iceland Over Pay Gap, Gender-Based Violence

“An ‘equality paradise’ should not have a 21% wage gap and 40% of women experiencing gender-based or sexual violence in their lifetime,” said one organizer.

By Julia Conley. Published 10-24-2023 by Common Dreams

Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir is seen at a conference. (Photo: Herve Cortinat/OECD via flickr)

Schools, health systems, and television broadcasters in Iceland were among the businesses that said they would have to close or reduce services on Tuesday due to the country’s first full-day women’s strike in nearly 50 years—potentially helping to prove the point that tens of thousands of women and non-binary workers are hoping to make by demonstrating that their labor is vital and must be paid accordingly.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is among the women taking part in the kvennafrí,” or “women’s day off,” and told reporters she expects women in her cabinet to strike as well, as organizers push to close Iceland’s gender pay gap and end gender-based violence.

While Iceland has been recognized for 14 straight years as having the smallest gap in gender equality among the countries in the World Economic Forum’s annual rankings, strike organizer Freyja Steingrímsdóttir toldThe Guardian it is hardly an “equality paradise,” and women are demanding greater action from the government to ensure true parity.

On average, Icelandic women still earn about 10% less than men, and as much as 21% less in some professions. Forty percent of women report experiencing gender-based violence.

“An ‘equality paradise’ should not have a 21% wage gap and 40% of women experiencing gender-based or sexual violence in their lifetime,” said Steingrímsdóttir, communications director for the Icelandic Federation for Public Workers. “That’s not what women around the world are striving for.”

Taking place 48 years after the last full-day women’s strike, in which 25,000 people rallied in Reykjavík and 90% of women staged a work stoppage affecting paid and unpaid labor, this year’s protest has adopted the slogan, “Kallarðu þetta jafnrétti?” or “You call this equality?”

Icelandic President Gudni Th. Johannesson expressed his support for the strike, saying women’s “activism for equality has changed Icelandic society for the better and continues to do so today.”

The country’s trade unions—which count 90% of Icelandic workers as members—are key organizers of the action and are calling on women and nonbinary workers to join the strike.

The 1975 action was tied to passage of an equal rights law the following year and the election of the country’s first female president—the first woman to be democratically elected president in any country—in 1980. Other successes have followed in recent years, such as the passage of a law that requires some companies to prove they’re paying people of different genders equally for equal work.

Former Climate Minister Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir told The Guardian that men continue to fail to take responsibility for domestic labor, leaving unpaid work such as childcare to women who are also attempting to succeed in the workplace.

“If you look at it economically women seem to be punished for taking these extra burdens, which is not righteous,” Halldórsdóttir told the outlet. “It’s something that we need to look into and need to change.”

Organizers are calling for the wages of workers in female-dominated professions to be made public and for the federal government to take greater action against gender-based violence, ensuring perpetrators are held accountable. One 2018 University of Iceland study found that only 12% of survivors of sexual assault press charges, and those who do have their cases dismissed nearly 75% of the time. Women told researchers they feared the “shame, guilt, and condemnation” that would come with having their cases tried in the justice system.

“We are now trying to connect the dots, saying that violence against women and undervalued work of women in the labor market are two sides of the same coin and have an effect on each other,” Drífa Snædal, spokesperson for Stígamót, an anti-sexual violence group, told The Guardian.

Kate Jarman, a director of corporate affairs at a National Health Service hospital in the United Kingdom, said a similar women’s strike in the U.K. would force numerous workplaces with majority-female staff to “recognize our worth.”

The Left in the European Parliament also expressed support for the action.The Left in the European Parliament also expressed support for the action.

“Solidarity with the strikers,” the progressive political party said.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 

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