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Iceland Women’s Strike: ‘Still a Lot to Fight for’ to Achieve Gender Justice, Says Ex-MP

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As tens of thousands of Icelandic women joined a historic 24-hour strike to protest for women’s rights, one local politician told CGTN Europe that despite the country’s high score for equality, there was still “a lot of things to fight for” to achieve true gender equity in the Nordic nation.

Across the small island nation, schools and libraries were closed or operated on limited hours on Tuesday as female staff stayed home for Iceland’s first women’s strike in 48 years, a protest against gender-based violence, the gender pay gap, and the lack of importance given to unpaid work such as childcare that often falls on women. Even Iceland’s prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir participated, stating that without a sustained fight, it could take 300 years to achieve gender equality.

​​”It’s amazing to see all the women and non-binary people gathering out in the streets of Reykjavik,” Rosa Bjork Brynjolfsdottir, a former Icelandic MP, told CGTN Europe as between 70,000 to 100,000 people came out in solidarity with the strikers. “It’s just wonderful to see all this unity where women are demanding gender justice.”

Such collective power – and its clear effect on everyday life in Iceland – went to prove the necessity of addressing the strike’s demands, said Brynjolfsdottir, who served as a parliamentarian from from 2016 to 2021. “Business, and of course schools and health institutions have felt the impact of the women’s strike today in Iceland. And that just reveals the necessity of women as a great part of the working force in Iceland.”

Organized under the slogan “Do you call this equality?” and comprising Icelandic women and non-binary individuals, the protest is the first full-day strike since an inaugural women’s event nearly half a century ago. In 1975, 90 percent of Icelandic women stopped work to protest gender inequality. 

Brynjolfsdottir said she hoped Tuesday’s demonstration would have just as profound an impact on Icelandic culture as the strike from five decades ago. Not only was the action in 1975 credited with leading Iceland to be the first country in the world to democratically elect a female president, says the former MP; “We also saw in the aftermath of the last strike, the creation of a feminist political party that actually put up the number of elected women, so that had a major impact on the political life and situation of women in Iceland at the time.”

Today, with a population of less than 400,000, Iceland is regarded as one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of gender equality and has topped the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index 14 years in a row. “We are doing something right,” says Brynjolfsdottir. “We now have a woman who is prime minister… we have six out 12 ministers who are women, so half, 47.6 percent of our members of parliament are women; a very huge part of the working force are women, as we witnessed today when they are going on strike.” 

But, as Brynjolfsdottir, points out, women still earn significantly less than men in some industries in Iceland, while 40 percent of women in the Nordic nation say they have experienced gender-based and sexual violence in their lifetime.

“We are still paid less than men, we are faced with gender based violence and the justice system is not that good,” she says. “Women’s income is still 21 percent lower than the income of men, so these are injustices that have to be turned around.”

And despite some of the more progressive steps made in Iceland over the last half-century to bring about gender equality, Brynjolfsdottir says that the #MeToo movement in 2017 revealed the extent of “misogyny in every aspect of our society, as is the case elsewhere in the world.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Iceland that hosted the first ever major international #MeToo conference, chaired by the prime minister  and aimed at “relegating sexual harassment to history”.

Brynjolfsdottir commends Iceland’s actions in tackling the issue of gender inequality. However, she says the battle is far from over. “Even though in Iceland, we have a very good situation when it comes to gender equality, we still have a lot of things to fight for.”

Source: CTGN

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