The Icelandic phenomenon of gender equality
« Iceland is still unequal in some ways but we have come a very long way. Without the political movement of women, without women organizing and demonstrating and running for office, nothing would change. People, or shall I say… men, don’t easily share their power. It’s up to us, the voters, to demand changes and equality.»
This is how Brynhildur Heidar Og Omarsdottir, Director of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association and co-organiser of 2016 Icelandic Women’s Strike presents the situation in her country. In Iceland, indeed, women have run for power and have been successful at it. As a result, it created a society profoundly favourable, not only for women, but for men, particularly young fathers, and families.
The conference takes place in a room with wide stained-glass windows and human size paintings of Swiss daily life, on the upper floor of Lausanne’s main station. I might well be the youngest, but I don’t mind. Activists, students, or just curious souls are here to learn about this Icelandic phenomenon of it being the best country to live in as a woman.
This phenomenon is in part due to the fact that they require companies to have a Gender Equal Action Plan. It is a way of both helping companies to implement fair and equal opportunities, but also to verify that gender equality requirements are respected, the possibility for employees to take time off for their families, equal access to promotions and creating a harassment-free work place. Last year, Iceland passed a new law mandating that companies prove that they are paying women and men equally by implementing the Equal Pay Standard. It requires the companies to analyse their pay structure and correct it if inequalities are found. If the company does not meet the requirements, it will face a daily fine.
But Iceland has not only worked on the gender pay gap. Indeed, some other aspects of society have been adapted to better fit families and the work-personal life balance. « They can’t expect us to work like we have no family, and have children like we don’t work, » explains Brynhildur. « So day care goes hand in hand with the opportunity for women to work. » The Icelandic state provides a universal day care, available throughout the whole day for an affordable price. Besides, paternity leave, which in Switzerland hasn’t even managed to reach discussions in Parliament, has become widely part of society life in Iceland. The parents dispose of nine months, three for each parent and three they can share. Feminism is also on most of Icelandic high-schools’ agenda, because they believe equality starts in the schools.
In order to achieve this level of equality, women of Iceland have gone on strike six times since 1975. They leave work at the exact minute when they stop being paid, calculated on the comparison with their male colleagues’ salary. These mobilisations have had had a huge impact, and not only in Iceland; this year in June, Swiss women will walk out of their jobs for a day to protest the gender pay gap.
Brynhildur is a lively, beautiful woman, passionate about her work and eager to laugh about society’s stupid aspects. Laugh, yes, but never without fighting. A role model for any young feminists (or less young like me) starting in the job.
Icelandic Women's Rights Association: HERE
Swiss Women's Strike Collective: HERE