Iceland is a Leading Feminist Country and Here’s Why

Stunning Icelandic Sky

Beautiful sky in the feminist country of Iceland. Photo via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.

Iceland. A country, an island, and a feminist nation. I’ve never been there, but I would like to go one day to see the sun at midnight in summer and experience the society that empowers women. Iceland’s feminist-based ideology is one that I can wholeheartedly get behind.

Iceland and the Working Woman

The Economist recently chose Iceland as the best place for working women. The Nordic country got a better score on the index for women and work than Canada (11th place) and the United States (19th place). The UK was in 24th spot.

Let’s dig deeper into The Economist‘s findings. In Iceland, women have close to half (44 percent) of seats on listed-company boards. This is thanks to voluntary political-party quotas.

And, get this: Women achieved 48 percent of seats in Iceland’s parliament in 2016. This was (and is) a huge accomplishment as, according to the Huffington Post, Iceland was the first country to have that many women in a single legislative body. Wow. Compare that to the 19 percent of women in Congress in the U.S.

Furthermore, the Guide to Iceland explains that women compose 66 percent of total university graduates and that 80 percent of women in Iceland work. These numbers show that the small island is progressive, and makes noteworthy strides in gender equality largely because women have taken matters into their own hands.

A Feminist Looks Ahead in Iceland

A vision for gender equality in Iceland. Making strides as a feminist island nation. Photo via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.

Iceland’s Advancements in Gender Equality

By now you may be asking yourself, why is Iceland closer to achieving gender equality than Canada, the U.S., and so many other countries? Looking back at the island nation’s history helps provide insights.

For centuries, Icelandic women were at home while their husbands went to sea. The women were responsible for getting the food, creating the home and making sure everything didn’t hit the fan. They made sure money was spent reasonably and helped the country grow.

By the mid-1970s, though, women were fed up with this lifestyle, suggests The Guardian in a recent article. Women wanted to paid as much as men and to have more representation in parliament. Of the 63 members of parliament, only three of them were women. So, the women decided to take action themselves, forming a grassroots type of movement.

The date: October 24, 1975. On this legendary day in Iceland, feminists stepped onto the streets of its capital and biggest city, Reykjavik, to protest the current conditions for women. This march of 25,000 women joins the Fifth Avenue protest in Manhattan on August 20, 1970, as a momentous occasion. And that’s not all. An even stronger message was sent by the 90 percent of women who went on strike, from that moment, both in the home and the workplace. They didn’t do housework at home or tasks at the office.

This action would prove that women could not be forgotten and were, indeed, indispensable in all areas of life. Shops closed, as did banks and factories. Men took their children to work as they had no option but to do so. This momentous day in 1975 has come to be known in Iceland as the Women’s Day Off.

The feminist movement continued to gain strength. The Women’s Alliance, a political party comprised entirely of women, was formed and followed by a rise in the number of females elected to parliament. The Women’s Alliance was represented in parliament in 1983, just four years after the United Nations declared all women should have the right to vote. The UN made this announcement at the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

One year after the UN’s CEDAW declaration,  a major power shift occurred. In 1980, Iceland elected the world’s first female president in a democratic society. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became head of the state, beating out her three male opponents. She would go on to run the country for four terms (1980-1996). Finnbogadóttir was named UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Languages in 1998.

Female President of Iceland

Iceland’s Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in 1985. The first democratically-elected female present in the world. Photo by Rob C. Croes / Anefo (Nationaal Archief (cropped)), CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, via Wikimedia Commons.

Another key step in Iceland’s path toward gender equality came when parental leave laws were passed in the year 2000. Today, mother and father each get three months of leave, which they are not allowed to transfer, and an addition three months that either parent can take. That is nine months altogether. Parent get impressive financial support – 80 percent of their salary or up to a maximum ISK350,000 (about $3,120 USD) per month.

The result? Men take their parental leave too. Yes, men spend time with their babies! Think of the bonding that must happen and how that time provides a strong base for the relationship between the child and father, in addition to child and mother. Also, this system would encourage a good balance of parental responsibility, starting right from infancy.

But Even Iceland is Not Perfect

With all of that being said, Iceland still has aways to go. There are still significantly less female managers to males, states The Guardian; women are only 22 percent of this job category. And, yes, my heart sinks as I type these words: Icelandic women earn 14 percent less than men, on average.

In trying to come to terms with how this gender wage gap can still exist, in spite of the legal strides that have been made there, many reasons can be given. Perhaps women take more of the lower-earning positions there. Or, maybe it all comes down to gender bias? Plus, are Icelandic women taught not to boast about their accomplishments, which would mean they wouldn’t ask for raises at work?

The Takeaway from Iceland on Feminism

What we can surmise though, on a brighter note, is that women CAN make a difference when it comes to politics and society, just as they did with the grassroots campaign on October 24, 1975. We saw this back in 1912 when Nellie McClung and other leaders in Manitoba’s suffragette movement formed the Political Equality League and spread their message at halls across the province to anyone who would listen. In 1916, Manitoba was the first Canadian province to provide full suffrage rights to women.

By looking to the past for lessons and inspiration, from Iceland, Canada, and other countries, hopefully, we can take strides toward gender equality to one day make it a global reality. At least I can hope so. Without hope, what do we have?

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98 thoughts on “Iceland is a Leading Feminist Country and Here’s Why

  1. Great article. It seems to be such a simple solution for those countries that are lacking to emulate those that are advanced and have the know-how to apply change. Sadly, it is not a common thing.
    I was listening to a guy on the radio today who was talking about doing business and working with India as they are similar to Canada is so many ways. I personally don’t see it 🙂 But the population of young spenders between 18-22 is 400,000 million. Guess we know the priorities, eh?
    Grassroots would work out in the long run but most prefer the grab and go these days. For shame. And WELL DONE Iceland!

    • Thanks, Lesley. Like you, I wish there was a more empowered feeling women shared in more countries but at least we can use this spotlight on Iceland as a building block for our own home country. Oh yikes, priorities, that’s quite the figure you pointed out :S Thanks for the support for women, Iceland, and this blog! Oh and edits are done 😉

  2. Iceland it’s a very progressive country, like most Scandinavian countries are, we can learn a lot about from them. One of my Teachers used to say: “The day women rule government, we would have a chance for peace, justice, and equality for all.” 🙂

    • Ohhhh that’s one smart teacher you had 😉 No wonder you are so clever as you have had good teachers. Don’t you find that having quality teachers is so important?!

      • Yes, it is, he also said women should empower themselves, since they are the strong sex, and hold the keys to the change of the status quo on gender equality. 🙂

  3. I kept thinking “Wow — I never knew!” and in a good way, until you got to the 14% shamefully deficient wages problem. But still, go Iceland!
    People who fear empowering women always seem to find a way around things, a way to pay lip service to a problem. Such as (USA) government jobs — the “grade” system supposedly is “the great equalizer” for equal pay for men and women. So to get around that, they just populate the lowest grade jobs with women. The higher up the ladder you go, the fewer women you see.
    Christy, this was a brilliant post. Mega hugs!

    • Hi Teagan, aww I didn’t want to burst the bubble on the great work being done in Iceland but I also wanted to share a realistic picture and it’s not perfect anywhere.. I’m so glad you found this post useful and hope it makes your day brighter knowing I feel your hugs and am hugging back ❤

  4. So much to learn from Iceland… An example, for sure.
    But, as you say… even in a country in which being a female is a privilege, the first country to ever had a woman president, where women lead business; etc, there are still tasks to accomplish when it comes to achieve complete gender equality…
    I hope that one day there will be no differences or gender gaps: for that we might take action every day and keep in mind that each little thing counts in the final count!.
    Very well documented-written post, CB…. Love & best wishes ⭐

    • Indeed, Aqui, there is still so much to accomplish.. We have to be realistic that change happens slowly.. yet Iceland seems further along the continuum of reaching gender equality than does Canada or the US. How does Argentina fare? I’m so thankful for your support and assistance always xxoo Love you!

      • Such a coincidence you asked me about Argentina as this local newspaper in English has a quite thorough article about that! 😀 I´d say we are doing pretty well (Iceland is in the 1st place, Canada ranked 19th place, Argentina 31 st). The Labour gap is still an issue though. I am attaching the link for you to read: https://goo.gl/xfJ18B … Love you too, Chris 😀

        • Great update and link too! I think the article you showed me is helpful for showing how far different countries have come and still that there is a ways to go ~ let’s keep empowering women! 🙂 ❤

  5. Well now, I did not know that.. and what an interesting discovery… My Daughter has on her wish list to go to Iceland, now she has all the more reason to go 🙂
    A wonderful informative post Christy… xxx

  6. Thanks, Christy, for sharing this article. Hooray for Iceland, whose women started a grassroots movement to make gains. The bottom line is society makes strides when both men and women are recognized as being indispensable members of society.

    Sadly, with the paternalistic viewpoint so ingrained in our culture and religion, some of the worse enemies for gender equality have been women themselves. In the 70’s, there was bipartisan support to pass the equal rights amendment in the USA, but it was Phyllis Schlafly who spear-headed to defeat this amendment because women. She argued that the ERA would take away gender-specific privileges, including “dependent wife” benefits under Social Security, separate restrooms for males and females, and exemption from the Selective Service (the Army draft). This is irrational. Tell that to my mother who was widowed with 5 children and forced to go back to work to support her family.

    Hiliary Clinton brought up a good point that misogeny probably played a major role in why she was defeated. It is troubling that polls during the election indicated many believed society was becoming “too soft and feminine” and there seemed to be a backlash to women in power. I hate to think we are going backwards, but the grassroots movements in the USA have given me hope.

    Best regards,
    Linnea

    • Hi Linnea, thank you for sharing this comment that touches on areas of history in which women have not supported one another as it indeed shows how we can bring one another down in addition to elevating each other as women. Two sides of the coin, and so many grey areas in between.. Your mother is inspiring! She must be someone you look up and she must be so proud of your accomplishments. I think Hilary had to face backlash from women and men who did not respond well to the concept of a female in power, whether it was because it was threatening or for another reason ~ and Trump didn’t have that same response. There is still so much work to be done! Grassroots really can make a difference and I’m inspired by the Icelandic women in what they accomplished with this type of movement. BIG hugs for you

  7. I have often heard of Iceland’s women being really united and ready to rally. It’s remarkable. And while it’s good to have a benchmark, I like how conclude too: it isn’t perfect yet either. So we’re all still striving.

      • Thanks, Christy…. however, I felt like a bit of a fool for not complimenting you on the fabulous article you wrote. I learned a lot about women in Iceland, whom I knew not much about. Thank you!!! You rock 2! ⭐

        • You are not a fool – you are enthusiastic about women’s rights like me and enjoy learning ~ and that’s why you’re so special to me ❤ Thanks for the nice words!

  8. Interesting, I was never too much interested in Iceland. Latvia had also a female president, she was ok, but heavily manipulated, in fact. I personally think many European countries have absolutely no problem with whatever gender takes responsible positions. I would say it is historically so that women had actually louder voices, even in soviet times.
    I have never felt in my life that I had less value or importance, or impact, or choice than any men. I don’t know, it might be so that there is a struggle when it comes to CEOs of huge companies, etc. The problem of this time is that leaders are not chosen because they are the best person for some particular job, but because they belong to some party, they are one gender or another or they represent some ideology. I don’t think the answer is in whether men or women, I believe the answer is really in equally assessing everybody’s potential and ability to deliver results.
    I also have mostly worked just as editor at Latvian publishing houses, in newspapers, or lecturer at colleges and high schools, so these were places where we saw very few men. Even when I was studying foreign languages at the Latvian University, it was mostly women. I think, women have better education traditionally in European countries, etc. That explains it. I also believe Europe offers more equality naturally. Canada is tied up by political correctness, and meanwhile, nothing good really happens because it’s all talk. I’m not sure how women are paid in Canada, less than men or maybe more in some industries because I didn’t manage to find any work here, although I have masters degrees and experience in lots of fields.

    • Great article and I agree completely with your thoughts on assessing employees at any level on individual merit. ‘Equal’ pay sounds like the solution, but what I think women really mean is fair pay. Fair and equal are completely separate concepts. Being paid for the skill, responsibility, and results I believe part of the reason the pay gap exists is because women often lack the confidence to voice what they want to be paid. We know there is no difference in performance. So the problem is not our work, its our approach. I wrote an article on this, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts. https://lawyerlauren.com/2017/03/08/three-cheers-for-men-on-international-womens-day/

      • Aha, I like the differentiation you make between “fair” and “equal”, Lauren. Your comment is so well written. Would you be interested in fleshing out what you wrote a bit for a guest blog post here? No pressure, just an idea I had this very moment! I’ll be over to read your post today

    • Hi Inese, how fortunate that you have not felt gender discrimination in any way. You are right that it could be the country where you were or that you were in an industry that is female-dominated as two reasons to explain your feeling of equality to men (which is wonderful!). It’s great to hear that positive experience.
      As for Canada, which is where I live, yes, there is a gender wage gap. While there are areas where it has gotten better, women on average make about 75 percent of men. This is an interesting Canada-focused article on the women’s wage gap that you may want to read: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/wage-gap-oxfam-1.3478938

  9. A tiny country with a sparse population of just about 333,000 and a land area of a little over 100,000 sq kilometres is nothing more than a ripple in a sea dominated by countries heftier in terms of size, resources, population and geopolitical significance. Yet Iceland serves as a shining role model of feminist power in the form of the first duly elected woman president, the presence of an exclusively women’s party within its polity and as the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. Nearer home, there is Sri Lanka, another small island country, though relatively larger than Iceland, which boasts of having elected the world’s first woman prime minister as head of the country’s government nearly sixty years ago, an event that was since followed by the democratic rise of women prime ministers in India, Israel and U.K. This is not to mean that patriarchy is over and done with. Attaining gender balance may still be a long journey but the aforementioned milestones along the path serve as bright prospects of a glorious consummation at the eventual destination. Timely feature on Iceland yours is, Christy.

    • It’s a small island big with feminist ideas ~ let’s keep looking to the gender equality goal and taking steps forward, as you suggest Raj. So wonderful to have you in this discussion!

  10. This was a very interesting and insightful post. Like you, I too was disappointed to read about the 14% in salary discrepancy between men and women. But I did like their paternal leave policy.:)

  11. Another well-written post about gender equality, Christy. It is amazing to see how women are accepted in politics with almost half of the seats in parliament go to women. The figure is no where near that in Australia’s political arena. The Women Alliance sounded like a very bold initiative back then – and it is amazing to see the impact it had. These days you do get rallies for gender equality in Australia and also around the world, but they don’t seem to have the same impact.

    Sad to hear the pay divide still exists and there are more men in general in managerial roles in Iceland. It will be a gradual process before this changes, but until then, we need more voices like yours to convince women that they are worthy of who they are and what they can do.

  12. Iceland is so far ahead in the ways you brilliantly describe as well as others: for example it pretty much discovered that some breast cancers were hereditary because they know who everyone is descendants of, so they could track how the disease ravaged families. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s a very cool place…

  13. This goes back many years many years I had a layover due to bad weather on a flight. I found the people to be very friendly and one thing I noticed which stayed in the back of my mind was the key roles ladies held in upper management. Interesting after all these years I read this article… well done Christy.

    Hugs

  14. Great discussion! The gender issues are complex and must be viewed within the a multi-disciplinary context: economic, social, and history to name only a few. We all play a part in this arena. This is our watch, our moment in the history of human endeavour. This cannot be a zero-sum game. Nor can we approach this problem with anger; true progress is made within a compassionate community. “Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.” Mary Parker Follett (mother of management physiology and theory)

  15. A powerful and thought provoking article, thanks so much for allowing me insights into a country I knew little about. Here in ‘Australia’ we have a very long way to go. The ‘Crocodile Dundee’ image, and our constant promotion of all things ‘sport orientated and male dominated’ is going to be difficult to change. But, change is coming, slowly and with steady footsteps the groundswell is being felt. Too-much … too-little … too-late? NO! Watch this space…

  16. This was such an educative article Christy! Thank you for sharing this and being appreciatve of those who are taking the right steps All of us should definitely take a cue from them!☺☺
    Have a great day, love and hugs❤❤

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  18. A wonderful article, Christy.
    I was joking with a couple of shop assistants recently. She, and a male colleague were working Easter Sunday. (I have known them both for some years and enjoy friendly repartee.) She was leaving work a few hours earlier than her lovely male counterpart. I acknowledged this and stated: Won’t it be a wonderful day when we (girls) have to make a stand to ensure our male co-workers are given equal opportunities!?
    To this we all laughed and nodded knowingly, with respect for each other.

  19. Equal wages are always going to be a sticking point I guess. We were in Iceland in December. It’s a wonderful place but very, very expensive. I think the women need every penny they earn.

  20. Awesome post Christy! It’s great to read the examples and progress of gender equality in Iceland. In my opinion, gender equality is our most important issue. Of course — it’s the right thing to do. But beyond that, the ripple effect of gender equality into the well being of the whole world is difficult to argue — it would improve or resolve so many other issues.

    I hope you have an opportunity to visit Iceland. We had a short stop there a couple years year ago and it was amazing. We’re also planning on visiting Norway. Along with seeing the country, the culture will certainly be of high interest to me.

    • It’s true that the culture would be as appealing to see as the landscape for me too, Dave. Great to hear that you visited Iceland and I’m humbled by your kind words about this post. Excellent point you make about the ripple effect!

  21. I had read about the big miracles of small countries. You opened my eyes on this aspect, I didn’t know about the empowering of women in Iceland; there are great achievements there, even if they are related to the specific geological and sociological situation which the country went through in its history. But thanks to these situation, we have a good example to follow.

  22. Pingback: Iceland is a Leading Feminist Country and Here’s Why — When Women Inspire | MGH

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