Icelandic women

7 things we all need to learn from Icelandic women

It’s been dubbed ‘the most feminist country in the world’ – so what can we learn from the land of Northern Lights, blue lagoons and Sigur Ros?

In October 1975, a pretty spectacular 90 per cent of Icelandic women went on strike for 24 hours – refusing to go to work, complete any housework or perform any childcare from sunrise until sunset. Instead, they headed to a massive rally in Reykjavik, while all the men were presumably left staring in bewilderment at their briefcases and their babies, and wondering whether one would fit inside the other. And the strike was a success – within 12 months, the Gender Equality Council had been formed, and the Gender Equality Act made it illegal to discriminate against women at work. So, if we can just all get nine out of ten of our friends to take tomorrow off work, and we might be onto something.

According to ITV, a third of Iceland’s female population belongs to one single, private Facebook group. OK, sure, Iceland’s total female population is 320,000 – meaning that there are still significantly less members of the group than members of Girls Love Travel, for instance, but the focus on collaboration and communication remains the same. If we want to get ahead, then we need to help each other out. And that means leaving the comfort of our own little Facebook echo-chambers and talking to other women across the country with different backgrounds and experiences to us. Not least because, well, just take a second to think how freaked out one third of Iceland’s male population are by that Facebook group.

In October 2016, at 2:38pm, thousands of Icelandic women walked out of their offices and went on strike in a protest against the country’s wage gap of 14 per cent – much like their predecessors did 41 years earlier. And even the men got on board with the protest. ‘She should get a better salary in the future like the men,’ said one father, who went to pick his daughter up from school at 2:38pm so that she could take part.

Icelandic women

Despite a national population roughly the same size as Edinburgh, Iceland has raised a wealth of successful women for Icelandic girls to look up to. There’s the current president Johanna Sigurdardottir – the world’s first openly gay premier – who was preceded by the country’s first female president Vigdis Finnbogadottir, back in 1980. There’s an all-female political party, called the Women’s Alliance, and if we put politics aside for one second, there’s even Reykjavíkurdætur (or the Daughters of Reykjavik) – a feminist rap collective who rap about gender issues. We could go on, but needless to say, with role models like that lot, it’s no wonder Iceland has finished first in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap ranking for the last eight years.

No Barbie dolls or butterfly stickers in Iceland – instead, the focus is on teaching girls to be self-assured and independent, even when they’re in primary school. ‘We are training [our girls] to use their voice,’ explains Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir, the founder of Laufásborg nursery school in Reykjavik. ‘We are training them in physical strength. We are training them in courage.’ And we are wondering where can sign up.

Anyone who’s ever spent an afternoon Googling why the gender pay gap still exists (no? just us?) will know that a huge part of the inequality that still exists in the UK and many ‘developed’ countries comes down to parental leave. Yep – until maternity and paternity come into play, there isn’t actually all that much difference between the male and female career trajectories – in the UK, or in Iceland. Which is why Iceland have handled parental leave really cleverly, by implementing a non-negotiable system where women get three months leave at 80 per cent of their pay, men get three months leave at 80 per cent of their pay, and then there are three months left over for the parents to squabble over and divide up as they want to. And because every single family is given this – and because women can’t get all nine months, even if they ask nicely – most fathers take it. Meaning childcare is much more equal from the word ‘go’.

OK, OK, still not convinced? Just look at Bjork. Because Jesus Christ, any country that produces Bjork is doing something right.

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