Women in Iceland including the prime minister go on strike for equal pay and an end to violence


HUSAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland’s prime minister and women across the volcanic island nation went on strike Tuesday to push for an end to unequal pay and gender-based violence.

Icelanders awoke to all-male newscaster teams announcing shutdowns across the island nation: schools closed, public transport delayed, hospitals understaffed, hotel rooms uncleaned.

Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir said that she would stay home as part of the women’s strike — “kvennaverkfal” in Icelandic — and expected other women in her Cabinet would do the same.

Iceland’s trade unions, the main organizers of the strike, called on women and nonbinary people to refuse both paid and unpaid work, including household chores, for the day. About 90% of Icelandic workers belong to a union.

Schools and the health system, which have female-dominated workforces, said they would be heavily affected by the walkout. National broadcaster RUV said it was reducing television and radio broadcasts for the day.

Tuesday’s walkout, which lasts from midnight to midnight, is being billed as the biggest since Iceland’s first such event on Oct. 24, 1975, when 90% of women refused to work, clean or look after children, to voice anger at discrimination in the workplace. In 1976, Iceland passed a law guaranteeing equal rights irrespective of gender.

Since then there have been several partial-day strikes, most recently in 2018, with women walking off the job in the early afternoon, symbolizing the time of day when women, on average, stop earning compared to men.

Iceland, a rugged island of around 380,000 people just below the Arctic Circle, has been ranked as the world’s most gender-equal country 14 years in a row by the World Economic Forum, which measures pay, education, health care and other factors. No country has achieved full equality, and there remains a gender pay gap in Iceland.

“We have not yet reached our goals of full gender equality and we are still tackling the gender-based wage gap, which is unacceptable in 2023,” she told news website mbl.is. “We are still tackling gender-based violence, which has been a priority for my government to tackle.”

Her Cabinet is evenly split between male and female ministers, and nearly half of lawmakers in Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi, are women.

But while women in Iceland have pushed or broken the glass ceiling to top jobs — from bishop to leaders of the national wrestling association — the lowest paying jobs, such as cleaning and child care, are still predominantly done by women.

The work, essential to Iceland’s tourism-dominated economy, also depends heavily on immigrants, who on the whole work longer hours and take home the lowest salaries. Around 22% of the female workforce is foreign born, according to Statistics Iceland.

“Foreign women are more vulnerable,” said Alice Clarke, a cloth designer from Canada who has lived in Iceland for 30 years. “Hopefully what is being done today will help to change that.”

Large parts of the center of the capital, Reykjavík, will be closed to traffic ahead of a rally on Tuesday afternoon. Hand-painted protest signs, posted on social media before the event, hit back at the notion that Iceland is already a paradise for women with the slogan “You call this gender equality?”

Clarke, who will be among the speakers, said she was planning to bring a banner and a large cup of coffee, because “all the cafes should be closed.”

Iceland’s 1975 strike inspired similar protests in other countries including Poland, where women boycotted jobs and classes in 2016 to protest a proposed abortion ban.

In Spain, women staged a 24-hour strike in 2018 on March 8, International Women’s Day, under the theme “If we stop, the world stops.” The country’s major unions estimated that 5.3 million people joined the strike.

Acting Equality Minister Irene Montero said Tuesday that the 2018 strike was inspired by Iceland’s 1975 walkout and expressed full support for the latest protest.


Jill Lawless in London, and Ciarán Giles in Madrid, contributed to this report.

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