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Icelandic women set for massive strike against gender inequality

By Jake Beardslee · October 24, 2023

In brief…

  • Tens of thousands of Icelandic women to participate in one-day "Women's Day Off" strike on Tuesday
  • Seeking to protest ongoing gender pay gap and gender-based violence
  • Could be largest such strike since 1975, when 90% of women walked out
  • Iceland praised globally as pioneer for gender equality but organizers say problems persist
Icelandic women are staging a massive one-day strike on Tuesday to protest the country's persistent gender pay gap and high rates of gender-based violence despite its reputation as a leader in gender equality.  Dickelbers/Wikimedia

Iceland has long been heralded as a pioneer for gender equality, but tens of thousands of women are expected to participate in a one-day strike on Tuesday to protest the country’s ongoing gender pay gap and gender-based violence.

On October 24th, Icelandic women are participating in a strike called “Kvennafri” or “Women’s Day Off” for the seventh time. The purpose of the strike is to draw attention to gender inequality issues. Organizers say it could be the largest such demonstration in almost 50 years, since close to 90% of women participated in a 1975 strike that led to a law guaranteeing equal pay the following year.

This year’s strike is being planned by some 40 groups, including the Federation of Public Workers’ Unions, and has the backing of Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir. “We are still tackling the gender-based wage gap, which is unacceptable in 2023,” she said to the Icelandic Monitor, vowing not to work that day in “solidarity with Icelandic women.”

The organizers are urging women and non-binary people to refuse to perform any paid or unpaid labor on Tuesday, including childcare and housework, to, according to their website, “demonstrate the importance of their contribution to society.” Men are being asked to take on extra duties to allow the women in their lives to join the strike.

As a result, schools will shorten hours or close entirely, and the country’s largest hospital will operate on reduced staffing, as women dominate both professions in Iceland.

Despite its stellar reputation, Iceland still has a 21% gender wage gap, per the World Economic Forum, and 40% of women experience gender-based or sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to a 2018 study.

“An equality paradise should not have a 21% wage gap,” said strike organizer Freyja Steingrimsdottir to the New York Times, adding that Iceland has a duty to live up to global expectations.