Tens of thousands of women in Iceland, including Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, are set to participate in a one-day strike on Tuesday to protest against the persistent gender pay gap and gender-based violence.
This event, known as “Kvennafri” or “Women’s Day Off,” marks the seventh occasion when Icelandic women have ceased work to highlight gender inequality. It is anticipated to be the largest demonstration by Icelandic women in nearly half a century, as stated on the strike’s official website.
In a landmark action on October 24, 1975, close to 90% of Iceland’s female population went on strike, demanding gender equality. This original “Kvennafri” led Iceland’s parliament to pass a law guaranteeing equal pay the following year.
The current demonstration is being organized by approximately 40 organizations, including the Federation of the Public Workers Union in Iceland (BSRB), the nation’s largest association of public worker unions.
Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir announced her intention to participate in the strike, emphasizing her refusal to work on that day and expecting other women in government to stand in solidarity with Icelandic women.
Jakobsdottir stated, “As you know, we have not yet reached our goals of full gender equality, and we are still tackling the gender-based wage gap, which is unacceptable in 2023. We are still tackling gender-based violence, which has been a priority for my government to address.”
Organizers are urging women and non-binary individuals in Iceland to refrain from engaging in any paid or unpaid labor on Tuesday, including childcare and household chores, to emphasize the significance of their contributions to society, as mentioned on the strike’s website.
Men are encouraged to support the strike by taking on additional responsibilities at home and at work, enabling their partners and colleagues to join the protest.
In anticipation of the demonstration, schools are expected to shorten their hours or close, given that women constitute the majority of teachers in Iceland. Landspitali Hospital, the largest healthcare employer in Iceland, announced it would operate with reduced services, according to reports from the New York Times and Iceland’s national broadcaster RUV.
While Iceland has held the title of the best country in the world for women by the World Economic Forum for 14 consecutive years, organizers argue that significant issues persist.
Freyja Steingrimsdottir, a strike organizer and communications director for BSRB, expressed, “We’re talked about, Iceland is talked about, like it’s an equality paradise. But an equality paradise should not have a 21% wage gap and 40% of women experiencing gender-based or sexual violence in their lifetime. That’s not what women around the world are striving for.”
While the World Economic Forum reports a 21% wage gap between men and women in Iceland, other sources, including the OECD, estimate the gap to be closer to 10%.
In 2018, a study by the University of Iceland found that 40% of Icelandic women experience gender-based and sexual violence in their lifetime.
The gender wage gap in Iceland is wider than in some neighboring countries, such as Belgium and Italy, according to OECD reports. This gap persists, in part, due to the highly segregated job market that Icelandic women face, as indicated by research published by the European Parliament in 2021.
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Given its global reputation as a leader in gender equality, Steingrimsdottir emphasized that Iceland has a responsibility to live up to those expectations.