Women across Iceland – including the prime minister – went on strike Tuesday as part of a campaign pushing for greater gender equality in the country.
It marked the seventh time that women in Iceland have gone on strike in the name of gender equality, campaign organizers said on their official website. The first strike took place on October 24, 1975.
The strike, known as the “Women’s Day Off” or “Kvennafrí” in Icelandic, was arranged to raise awareness about the “systemic” wage discrimination and gender-based violence faced by women in Iceland, according to organizers.
Among those taking industrial action was the country’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who told news site Iceland Monitor on Friday that she would not work on the strike day and expected other female members of government to do the same “in solidarity with Icelandic women.”
“As you know, 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. We are still tackling gender-based violence, which has been a priority for my government to tackle,” Jakobsdóttir said.
The strike was acknowledged by government departments on Tuesday, and was backed by the country’s largest federation of public workers unions, the Federation of the Public Workers Union in Iceland (BSRB), the Icelandic Nurses’ Association and the Icelandic Association of Women’s Associations, among others.
“Women in Iceland are striking today, for the 7th time since the famous #womensdayoff in 1975,” Iceland’s President Gudni Johannesson posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, accompanied by a black and white photo of a huge crowd. “Their activism for equality has changed Icelandic society for the better and continues to do so today.”
Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a tweet Tuesday: “Today we repeat the event of the first full day women’s strike since 1975, marking the day when 90% of Icelandic women took the day off from both work and domestic duties, leading to pivotal change including the world’s first female elected president of a country.”
Icelandic employers have historically gotten behind the strikes and not prevented or docked the pay of employees who participate, according to organizers.
For 14 years in a row, Iceland has been ranked the best nation for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEP), which said the country has closed 91.2% of the gender gap.
Strike organizers wanted to draw particular attention to the plight of immigrant women whose “invaluable” contribution to Icelandic society they say is “rarely acknowledged or reflected in the wages they receive.”
Writing for CNN in 2019, Jakobsdóttir described how testimonies from migrant and ethnic minority women marked a turning point in Iceland. “They revealed that while Iceland has made internationally recognized progress on gender equality, we have not sufficiently confronted the intersections of gender, racial and class injustices,” she wrote.
Organizers called on men to show their support for women striking by “taking on additional responsibilities” in home and at work.
Meanwhile, the Icelandic government is focused on a recently launched research project into the wage disparity between professions traditionally dominated by men versus those dominated by women, according to Jakobsdóttir.
“We are looking at how these jobs are different… because we estimate that the difference in wages that exists is due to this,” Jakobsdóttir said.
Jakobsdóttir’s government has previously committed to eradicating the gender pay gap by 2022.