REYKJAVIK, Iceland — For centuries, women in Iceland stayed at home while their husbands went out to sea for work. Without men present, women undertook responsibilities such as farming, hunting and building to help support their families. With this newfound contribution to Icelandic society, women became outspoken about their place in society. This disapproval prompted the women’s rights movement in Iceland in the 1850s, in which women demanded equal pay and more political visibility. During this time, women in Iceland began campaigning for equal rights, and soon the nation became the first to grant unconditional equal rights regarding inheritance.
In 1915, women in Iceland were granted the right to vote, five years earlier than women in the United States. In the 1970s, women in Iceland began to protest for equal rights. On Oct. 24, 1975, 90 percent of women in Iceland took the day off to protest. On this day women in Iceland refused to work, cook or look after their children.
Over the past two decades, Iceland has shown positive strides in the women’s rights movement. The country has had several female presidents and prime ministers. For the last eight years, Iceland has been recognized among countries in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap ranking, the country had been recognized for its efforts to reduce disparities between men and women in health, politics, education and employment.
In commemoration of the historical 1975 protest, women in Iceland gathered in the streets at 2:38 p.m. on October 24, 2016, to protest the gender pay gap. Through protest and social awareness, on March 8th, (International Women’s Day) women in Iceland found success with the passage of legislation that will make employers prove they pay all employees the same irrespective of sex, origin, sexuality or nationality. This decision is a major step for women’s rights and human rights. It will be exciting to see which country will be next to implement equal pay for equal work.
By comparison, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 to abolish wage discrimination based on gender in the United States. The act was designed to prevent employers from paying an equally qualified woman less based solely on the fact that she is a female. Despite this promising progress, many in the U.S. still suggest that employers need to actively encourage diversity and offer flexible work programs to their employees.
Many women are vexed by continued discrimination, which is one of the grounds as to why women all over the world decided to have a Women’s March a day after President Trump’s inauguration. This historic march on January 21, 2017 saw women across the globe marching in solidarity for this cause. There were hashtags throughout social media such as #womensmarch, #womensrights and #girlrising showing support for this movement. Women in the United States can learn from the perseverance from women in Iceland, and see that continued progress toward equality and equal pay can be achieved.
– Needum Lekia