women strike in iceland

Written by Hafsa Ammar 8:38 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

24th October: Women’s Day Off in Iceland

Yesterday Iceland witnessed its 7th women’s strike for gender equality and freedom. In a historical parallel to the strike 48 years ago in Reykjavik, women across the state decided to take the day off from any sort of work, be it a paid job or unpaid domestic labor. Many activists and protestors have been demanding reports from companies and businesses that clearly state the wages being paid to men and their female counterparts. Transparency and accountability were the cornerstones of this event.
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Hafsa Ammar is a student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of expertise are hybrid warfare, narrative building, and nuclear deterrence in South Asia.

An Organized Strike

Women across the country went on a strike at Arnaholl Hill, Reykjavik at 2 p.m.; immigrant women, who make up 22% of the workforce in Iceland, were encouraged to join as well because they face a large chunk of the discrimination without due praise or acknowledgment for their labor and contributions.

Over forty organizations had a hand in organizing this event; a few prominent ones are The Federation of Republic Workers Union, Zonta Iceland, Organization of Women in Football, The Root, The Women’s COunselling, Women’s Shelter, The Slut Walk, UN Women Iceland, Women’s Literary Blog, Icelandic Female Initiative, Iceland’s Women’s Rights Association, Women in Films and TV, and the Icelandic Confederation of Labor.

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The official website for the strike displayed the demands, statistics, aims, and frequently asked questions to assuage the queries of the public regarding the walk-out. The slogan of choice has been ‘Kallarou þetta jafnretti?’ which when translated into English means, ‘You call this equality?’ The primary goal of this strike by women was to bring awareness to both GBV (gender-based violence) and the gender wage gap in Iceland.

Women Will Not Go To Work On This Day

Iceland is seen and quoted as a safe haven for women, and rightfully so because of its top ranking on the Global Gender Gap Report. It has scored highest for the past 14 years. Iceland has, in 2023, been the only country to cross the limit of 90% when it came to the gendered gap. It scored a miraculous 91.2%.

Now, how is it possible that a state with such consistent results and statistics is seeing hundreds of thousands, from a small population of approx. 376,000, march for gender equality? The answer is quite simple. Due to Iceland’s history of going the extra mile for women’s rights, they are, on the whole, more viscerally aware of gender disparity and also know how to combat it.

1975 women's strike in Iceland
1975 Women’s strike
Photo/Ólafur K Magnússon, Morgunblaðið

Currently, the state is witnessing a whopping 21% wage gap between men and women, and over 90% of women of viable working age are already present in the job market. The problem lies just under the surface. Women are mostly found in areas where their profession is underappreciated and undervalued. They do not have high salary trends either. A vast majority of these jobs belong in either the education, service, or healthcare sector. Job security is also flimsy at best under such circumstances.

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If they are strapped for cash or stuck in low-level jobs, women, who are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than men, find it difficult to leave and/or separate themselves from their toxic households.

What Work Do Women Do?

There is a reason why emphasizing equal rights for women has proven to be successful through walk-outs; the strike calls for all women to take the day off from all kinds of work in Iceland. This includes working as teachers, stewardesses, waitresses, nurses, law enforcement officers, chefs, banking officers and more. These jobs can be lumped into a professional category.

The domestic labor that women are responsible for is more often than not more taxing, unpaid, and invisible due to socio-cultural norms. Movements for women’s rights often call out for awareness regarding the mental toll of domestic labor on women. Cultural ideologies have twisted the role of women in the house to general caretakers where they have to take care of the cooking, cleaning, pantry stocking, grocery shopping, and more.

Setting reminders for appointments, taking children to hospitals, attending parent-teacher conferences at school, and taking care of the sick and elderly are all roles that fall onto women. Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir announced that she too would be taking part in this event to bring peace, equality, and justice to the women under her care. She even encouraged other female political figureheads and MPs to take the day off as well.

Only emergency rooms and hospitals ran at full capacity on the 24th. All other offices and industries had to feel the absence of the fairer sex. Some schools even decided to shorten their timings due to a lack of teaching staff.

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Where are the Men in this Equation?

A necessary question when it comes to such movements. Answered by the official strike website, the men were to not participate but support their better halves, mothers, daughters, and sisters in this venture. They would carry the burden for the day by taking their kids to school, packing their lunches, planning the lunch menu, cooking, cleaning, running errands, and more.

The movement has been applauded from all around the globe. Its social media presence was magnified through the ‘#kvennaverkfall’ hashtag. The Women’s Day Off demonstration is a step toward economic justice for women not just in Iceland but all over the world. Where one will dare to go, many will follow.

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