Think women’s rights. Think of a place where you want to start off a career as woman. Think of a country where gender discrimination is quasi non-existent.
You guessed right: an island northwest of Europe, where on October 24th 1975, 90% of women took a day off to protest against low pay and the lack of recognition towards their work, both inside and outside the house.
After 25,000 women came together that day to fight in unison, the situation in Iceland started changing rapidly. Many young girls and women claim that autumn day is the day they became feminists and that it truly felt like a wake up call to all of them.
Within five years of that historical protest, Iceland voted for the first democratically elected female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. In 1983, for the first time in Iceland’s history, there was a sharp rise in the number of women in parliament: from the previous fifteen MPs, this number jumped to sixty in only one election.
Nowadays, Iceland has a multitude of laws and initiatives to constantly empower women and efficiently continues down its path to perfect gender equality. Around the country, 19 single-sex primary and nursery schools focus their teachings on transmitting both physical and emotional strength, courage and will to the young girls in their classes. Following the belief that these values must be taught from a very young age, Iceland strives to have a strong and tenacious population, regardless of gender.
In the year 2000, yet another big step was taken with the act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men. This law has the overarching goal of reaching full gender equality and discloses ways of doing so, both for businesses and the government.
Moreover, it commits to continuously doing research in gender studies. The law defines 9 areas of gender discrimination and outlines ways of getting rid of gender stereotypes and makes gender discrimination illegal in both the workplace and at school. It also includes that gender equality lessons must be included in school throughout all levels of education and emphasizes the importance for women to be able to juggle between their work and family obligations.
In fact, also in the year 2000 was yet another important milestone for Iceland’s: indeed, that is the year parental leave legislation came into effect. At childbirth, parents of the child receive three months of aid leave that is non-transferable. Since the pay that parents are entitled to is quite significant, many fathers also choose to take up the possibility of a paternal leave. This was a key step because it allowed mothers to go back to work faster. Additionally, some research has shown that paternity leave later increases the level of involvement of the father in childcare and housework.
So what lessons can we take from this country? A country that despite being an island is most definitely not isolated from progress. Through Iceland’s example, we can learn and observe ways of working towards a world with equal pay, opportunities and treatments. We can all witness that, by fighting in unison and by collaborating, ambitious goals can be attained.