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Kvennafridagurinn – The Day Icelandic Women Went on Strike

Where Iceland women wash their clothes, hot springs, Reykjavik, Iceland. Keystone View Company, publisher, manufacturer, c1926. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,//hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s26364.

Today, March 8, marks International Women’s Day, a day recognized by the United Nations and celebrated around the world.

The day is not the only day women are celebrated – many countries have domestic days designated to honor women. For example, yesterday, Jenny wrote about the Equal Pay Day in Germany, celebrated on March 7.

Iceland celebrates its national women’s day or wife’s day, konnuirdagin, in February. The day, which is centuries old, is marked by men taking the time to celebrate and dote on the women in their life.

Konnuirdagin should not be confused with Kvennafrídagurinn (Women’s Day Off), the topic of this blog post.

On October 24, 1975, Icelandic women – workers, mothers, and housewives – left their homes and workplaces to highlight the role and importance of women in Icelandic society. The day has been described as a watershed moment for Iceland, a country that now ranks as one of the most gender-equal in the world.

The event was unprecedented because of the huge backing it had among women at the time, credited in part to the fact that the organizers chose to call it “a day off” instead of a strike. It is believed that as many as 90% of all Icelandic women participated in the strike, by either not showing up to work or not performing any housework. In the capital of Reykjavik, an estimated 25,000 women gathered to protest. Since then, Icelandic women have gone on strike an additional five times, most recently in 2018. But none was so impactful as that first time in 1975. The year 1975 had been dubbed the International Women’s Year by the United Nations. During the World Conference the same year, the World Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women’s Year was adopted. At that time in Iceland, about 50% of women in the working age group worked outside the home and were also believed to do most of the housework. Some reports even state that Icelandic grocery stores ran out of hot dogs in response to the strike, as men tried to feed their hungry children.

In response to the strike, the first Gender Equality Act, banning discrimination based on gender, was adopted in 1976. The event has also been credited with paving the way for the election of Iceland’s first female president, Vidgís Finnbogadóttir, who in 1980 became the  first woman in the world to be democratically elected as a head of state. Looking back at the events of that day, she has reported remembering hearing children in the background of radio broadcasts, as fathers had brought their children with them to work. Iceland is yet to become the first country in the world with a majority women parliament. Currently, women hold 30 of the 63 seats in the Icelandic Parliament, following a recount in the 2021 election.

Current work related to gender equality

Iceland has received media attention for its work towards equality in the workplace, especially for its efforts to close the gender wage gap, but Iceland continues to have an unadjusted gender pay gap of 14% between men and women. Nevertheless, Iceland scores a perfect 100 on the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law 2021 report, meaning that its laws relating to mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension are equal for both genders.

Equal Pay Law of 2018

In 2017, the Icelandic Parliament passed the Equal Pay Certification Law, and  a related Regulation, which provides that Icelandic companies can receive an equal pay certification for being gender-neutral in their wages if they can provide proof. The rules took effect on January 1, 2018. Iceland has also adopted an Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights Irrespective of Gender, which entered into force in 2021. The Directorate of Equality – part of the Icelandic Prime Ministers Office – administers the Act and, among other things, works to end gender inequality in the workplace. There is still work to be done; for example, a report from 2018 showed that only 40% of senior management positions in Iceland are held  by women, compared to 43% in the United States.


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