Standing Up

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Iceland is considered one of the most gender-equal countries in the world based on income, education, and health. The country elected the world’s first female president, noted Time magazine. Icelandic women founded the first all-female political party.

So it may be surprising then, that many of the women in the Nordic island, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, went on strike in October to protest unequal pay and gender-based violence. “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,” Jakobsdotir told local media. “I will not work this day … I expect all the women (in the cabinet) will (not) do as well.”

The demonstrators at the “kvennafrí,” or a “women’s day off,” carried banners that read “You call this equality?” referring to equal pay laws that are supposed to make sure that Icelandic women receive the same compensation as men, wrote Al Jazeera. On average, Icelandic women earned more than 10 percent less than men in 2021, a gap that widened to almost 30 percent in financial industry jobs.

The statistics reflect deep cultural currents. Much of the inequity, for instance, stems from the kinds of jobs that women overwhelmingly perform in the mountainous, volcanic island in the North Atlantic, reported the Associated Press. While plenty of women in the country, including Jakobsdóttir, win top jobs, women still dominate the labor pool for domestic work, childcare and similar low-paying positions.

Icelandic women are more likely than men to work fewer paid hours while bearing the brunt of household chores and other work, added Iceland Review. They are also more likely to communicate with their child’s school and oversee other activities. Icelandic men, meanwhile, prioritize their professional careers.

That said, toxic masculinity is real in Iceland, say researchers. More than 40 percent of women in Iceland report having experienced gender-based or sexual violence. One in four women claim to have been raped or sexually assaulted. The justice system, furthermore, has failed to address women’s concerns and crack down on perpetrators.

A Scandinavian Journal of Public Health study cited in Foreign Policy highlighted the brutality of domestic life in Iceland, describing how data from emergency room visits at Reykjavik’s main hospital testified to high rates of domestic violence. The research was a “blunt and confronting illustration of the home environments for many Icelandic women,” wrote the magazine.

Iceland might be ahead of much of the world in terms of gender equality but as the women on the street noted, it’s not enough.

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